9 Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss

Everyone has memory blips from time to time -- the word that's on the very tip of your tongue or the house keys that aren't where you swear you left them. As you get older, these kinds of slip-ups may happen more often.

You don't have to resign yourself to memory loss. These simple steps can help keep your brain sharp.

1. Step It Up

A 30-minute daily walk is one of the best things you can do for your body, including your brain.

"Physical exercise has the best evidence for preserving memory and mental function with aging," says R. Scott Turner, MD, PhD, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Exercise can help prevent things that can lead to memory loss, such as:

Some studies suggest physical activity also triggers the release of a protein called BDNF that promotes healthy nerve cells in the brain. That could give your memory a boost.

2. Go Mediterranean

A healthy diet is always good for your brain. One eating style may save your memory best. "There's good evidence for the Mediterranean-style diet," says Argye Hillis, MD, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Keeping to a Mediterranean diet doesn't mean pasta and pizza, she says, "but lots of fruits and vegetables, fish rather than red meat, and olive oil."

One study found people who closely followed this diet were nearly 20% less likely to have thinking and memory problems.

3. Engage Your Brain

"Just like physical exercise, mental exercise is good for you," says Mustafa Husain, MD, director of the geriatric psychiatry division at Duke University School of Medicine.

Play cards, join a book club, watch a football game with friends, or play a brain-training app. Any mentally challenging activity will keep your mind sharp.

4. Stay Social

Card games and book clubs also keep you socially active -- another plus for your brain. "The more social connections someone has, the better they are at preserving mental function and memory," Turner says.

Social interaction also helps memory as it helps your mood. "We see a lot more depression in people who are socially isolated," Husain says. "Depression itself can cause dementia."

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5. Sleep Right

"Attention and concentration go down when sleep is restless, and mental function is not as sharp as it is in those who have normal, restful sleep," Husain says.

Try these tips to get better sleep:

  • Avoid big meals before bed.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
  • Don't drink caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Avoid smoking or other forms of nicotine.

6. Stop Stress

"Being under stress is very bad for your brain," Turner says. High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, make it harder to pull information from your brain's memory.

Try different ways to relax, like meditation, yoga, or massage.

7. Stub Out Cigarettes

Smoking speeds up memory loss as you age. If you smoke, quit.

Smoking's effect on memory is probably due to small strokes it can cause in the brain, Turner says. Try nicotine replacement, medicine, or counseling to help you kick the habit for good.

8. Get Checked

Sometimes, medical conditions can cause memory loss. Examples include:

Certain medicines, such as sleep and anxiety drugs, can also affect your ability to remember. See your doctor to get checked and treated for these problems and to go over all your medicines.

9. Use Memory Tricks

When you have trouble with everyday memory, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Every time you learn a new name or word, say it out loud to seal it in your brain. Mentally connect each new name with an image. If you meet a girl named April, picture a tree in bloom to represent the month of April.

To help with recall, post sticky notes around the home and office or set reminders on your phone so you'll know when it's time to take your medicine or head to an important meeting.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 17, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Ackermann, S. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, November 2013.

Argye Hillis, MD, professor of neurology, Johns Hopkins Medicine.

CDC: "Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic."

Dregan, A. Age and Ageing, November 2012.

Harvard Medical School: "Preventing Memory Loss."

Mustafa Husain, MD, director, geriatric psychiatry division, Duke University School of Medicine.

National Institute on Aging: "Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help."

R. Scott Turner, MD, PhD, neurologist; director, Memory Disorders Program, Georgetown University Medical Center.

Tsivgoulis, G. Neurology, April 2013.

Yang, J. Neuromolecular Medicine, March 2014.

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