Lifestyle choices for boosting your memory
Episodic memory function refers to the creation, storage and retrieval of personally experienced memories from specific places and times. These memories are crucial to carry out daily living tasks and to engage in meaningful social interactions. They are also particularly vulnerable to age-related decline. However, research has shown that some lifestyle habits can influence the rate of memory decline in late life.
Did you know?
Memory has been defined as the ability to acquire, process, store and retrieve information. It is considered essential for learning, adaptation, and survival of every living organism.1
Memory is critical to being able to complete complex cognitive tasks, like using prior knowledge to approach new problems and drawing conclusions from existing knowledge.2
Grey matter volume and memory performance decrease with age, regardless of educational differences.3
Memory impairment has also been associated with common age-related diseases such as heart failure, diabetes or cancer.4 However, lifestyle factors like hydration, smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity may also play a major role.
How memory works
The three main processes involved in memory are encoding, storage and retrieval (or recall).2
Encoding. Encoding is the process where information is received, understood and converted to a memory that can be stored in the brain. There are several types of encoding, the most common ones being:
Storage. Storage refers to the volume, length of time, location and method used to store information in the brain so that it can be accessed in the future. Encoded information may be stored in short-term or long-term memory.
Retrieval. Once information is stored within short- or long-term memory, individuals need to recall or retrieve it to make use of information. Short-term memory is retrieved sequentially (e.g. remembering a new phone number while you add it to your contact list), while long-term memory uses association to store and retrieve information (e.g. looking at old photos and remembering people or events from the past).
Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome14
What can we do about it
Quit smoking. Tobacco use is associated with faster brain aging, inflammation and poor memory. Avoid firsthand and secondhand tobacco smoke to preserve your brain function.
Exercise more. A study showed that adults, of all ages, had better memory and cognitive performance after riding a stationary bike for even one 15-minute session of moderate exercise.27
Train your brain. Brain and memory training apps, like Lumosity and Elevate, are available for iPhones and Androids. A study found that young adults who played brain training games improved their brain processing speed, working memory and executive functions.28
Eat less added sugar. Eating too much sugar can impair memory. A study showed that people who drank more sugary drinks, including soft drinks and fruit juices, had poorer memories on average than those who drank less than one drink per day.24
Eat foods rich in omega-3s. A review of studies showed that when adults with mild symptoms of memory loss took omega-3 supplements rich in DHA and EPA, they experienced improved episodic memory. Omega-3s can be found in seaweed and algae, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans.25
Eat berries. Berries are rich in antioxidants, such as flavonoids, and may help improve memory. One large study of over 16,000 women found that women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries slowed memory loss and cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years, when compared to those who ate the least berries.26
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a risk factor for memory problems and cognitive decline. Maintaining a healthy body weight may protect you from memory issues associated with obesity.
Get enough sleep. Sleep helps consolidate memories and convert them from short-term to long-term ones. It is recommended that adults sleep seven to nine hours per night.
Cut down on alcohol. Memory can be affected by alcohol due to tis neurotoxic effects on the brain. Binge drinking ,in particular, can damage the hippocampus, a key area of the brain associated with memory.
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17. Willette AA, Xu G, Johnson SC, Birdsill AC, Jonaitis EM, Sager MA, et al. Insulin resistance, brain atrophy, and cognitive performance in late middle-aged adults. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(2):443-9.
18. Grabenhenrich LB, Roll S. Higher glucose levels associated with lower memory and reduced hippocampal microstructure. Neurology. 2014;83(1):102.
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20. Bettcher BM, Wilheim R, Rigby T, Green R, Miller JW, Racine CA, et al. C-reactive protein is related to memory and medial temporal brain volume in older adults. Brain Behav Immun. 2012;26(1):103-8.
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22. Oei NY, Elzinga BM, Wolf OT, de Ruiter MB, Damoiseaux JS, Kuijer JP, et al. Glucocorticoids Decrease Hippocampal and Prefrontal Activation during Declarative Memory Retrieval in Young Men. Brain Imaging Behav. 2007;1(1-2):31-41.
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24. Pase MP, Himali JJ, Jacques PF, DeCarli C, Satizabal CL, Aparicio H, et al. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer's disease in the community. Alzheimers Dement. 2017;13(9):955-64.
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Memory is the ongoing process of information retention over time and its importance goes without saying. Adopt a healthy lifestyle to give your memory a boost and prevent cognitive decline.
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