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2 Weeks to a Better Memory

4-Step Plan Engages Body & Mind to Improve Memory
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 13, 2005 -- Improving your memory could take as little as two weeks, new research shows.

Recently, a small group of adults tried a two-week memory improvement program. They followed four rules:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking).
  • Practice relaxation exercises.
  • Challenge the brain with brain teasers and memory-training techniques.

After two weeks, their brains apparently became more efficient in handling memory.

The finding comes from Gary Small, MD. He's a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UCLA medical school.

Implications for Alzheimer's Disease?

"To me, it is interesting that a healthy lifestyle can have a significant impact on cognitive and brain function in just two short weeks," Small tells WebMD.

"Because these lifestyle behaviors are associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease, the implication is that if people maintained a healthy lifestyle for longer periods of time, that would delay the onset of dementia," he continues.

"The potential impact of such behavioral change on a large population would be great: If our assumptions are true -- that the healthier lifestyle habits actually improve brain health and that some mechanism would effectively help people alter lifestyle -- then the prevalence of dementia could be reduced significantly within a few years," Small writes.

About the Study

Small's study included 17 healthy adults aged 35-70. Participants had normal scores on memory tests. None had dementia.

Eight participants followed Small's memory improvement plan. The others followed their usual daily routines. Brain scans were done at the study's start and end.

Healthy Living, Sharper Minds

After two weeks with the specified lifestyle changes, participants had a 5% drop in glucose (sugar) metabolism in an area of the brain involved in memory.

Cells of the body metabolize, or break down, glucose for fuel. That suggests greater efficiency in that part of the brain, Small writes in his report.

The findings were presented in Waikoloa, Hawaii, at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

More Details on the Diet

Want the fine print on the foods featured in the plan? Here are the details.

Participants following the memory-improvement program ate five daily meals emphasizing:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish (such as salmon and herring), walnuts, and flaxseeds
  • Carbohydrates low on the glycemic index. Think of whole grains and vegetables, not pastries or refined products, such as white bread.
  • Antioxidants, which are natural chemicals found in a wide variety of plants

What's Next?

Small wants to find out how each aspect of the plan -- diet, exercise, brain training, and stress reduction -- affects memory on its own.

He also plans to test whether memory improves best when different strategies of healthy living are enacted together.

Though there's more research to do, the plan's basics are widely recommended by health experts for many reasons, including physical health and mental wellness.

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