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9 Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

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 become even more common and frequent.

Yet you don't have to resign yourself to memory loss. Try 9 simple steps that can help keep your brain sharp as you age.

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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 conditions that can lead to memory loss, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Stroke

Some studies suggest that physical activity also triggers the release of a protein called BDNF, which 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, but one eating style in particular may be best for preserving memory. "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 develop thinking and memory problems than people who didn't stick to a Mediterranean eating plan.

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 and discuss the score, 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 enhances memory through its effects on mood. "We see a lot more depression in people who are socially isolated," Husain says. "Depression itself can cause dementia."

5. Sleep Right

Try to get a good night's sleep. "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 your bedtime.
  • Avoid smoking or other forms of nicotine.

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