Forget something? You may be asking yourself that more and more as you get older—and that’s totally normal. “As we age, there are changes in memory and mental functioning that occur, just as there are changes in vision, skin, and kidney function,” says Susan Lehmann, M.D., clinical director, Division of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neuropsychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Most people over the age of 50 notice that it becomes more difficult at times to recall names of people or the title of a book they just read or a movie they recently saw.”
These issues are generally a common part of aging and don’t pose any real health problems. However, there are instances when memory issues could be a more serious sign of dementia and you should see your doctor. These include often forgetting recent conversations or events, getting lost in familiar places, or frequently misplacing things. But even the most benign blips in your memory can be a pain to deal with. The good news is, you don’t have to start tying string around your finger every day. There are many practical health and wellness tricks to keep your memory in tip-top shape. Read on to learn how to boost your brain health and keep remembering everything you want to.
Get enough Z’s.
Research shows that sleep is crucial for memory. “It’s important for the consolidation of new memories, and during sleep, the brain clears away toxins,” Dr. Lehmann explains. She stresses the necessity of getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night to maintain brain health. Also worth noting: You can’t make up a bad night’s sleep with daytime naps, as short bouts of Z’s don’t allow the brain to go through normal sleep cycles.
To ensure quality sleep at night, Dr. Lehmann recommends avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine in the evening, keeping your bedroom dark and cool, shutting down your phone and any other tech gadgets two hours before hitting the hay, and maintaining a consistent bedtime to reinforce your internal clock.
Exercise your body…
Working up a sweat isn’t just good for your muscles. It also boosts your mood and your mind. “Some studies have shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the brain structure most associated with memory,” Dr. Lehmann notes. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise (even just a moderately paced walk) four times a week to reap the rewards.
…and your mind.
“Keeping the mind active and engaged is good for brain health, and studies show the importance,” Dr. Lehmann says. “But there’s no one particular way to do this that has been shown to be of more benefit than others.” Depending on your interests, you can keep your noggin sharp by reading a biography, playing a game of cards with friends, or working a crossword puzzle with your spouse.
Turn off your tech.
A study published in the journal Memory found that relying on tech to search for information makes the memory lazy, so try to think of the answers to questions on your own rather than googling them. Smartphones also hurt your ability to remember by distracting you, Dr. Lehmann says. “We often use these devices in a quick manner, switching our focus from one topic or conversation to another. That rapid change in focus can prevent an idea or thought from registering in memory sufficiently.” Limiting your tech use (especially before bedtime!) may help lessen the effects.
Make time to meditate.
Whether you take five minutes to go through a guided meditation on your phone or you sit through an hour of om-ing in a yoga class, any activity that quiets your mind can help strengthen it by nixing stress. “Stress is a frequent part of life and can impact mood, emotional resilience, and overall physical, mental, and cognitive well-being,” Dr. Lehmann explains.
Focus on brain food.
Turns out your head and your heart can both benefit from a healthy eating plan. Cutting out processed foods and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish (especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon) can boost your brain health, Dr. Lehmann says. “Diabetes and high blood pressure are both health conditions that increase the risk for cognitive impairment, so maintaining a diet that is low in cholesterol and sodium and controlling blood sugar help these conditions and support good brain function too,” she adds. Bonus: Foods high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, can also help sharpen your memory.
Meeting a friend for coffee isn’t just fun—it could also be important for brain health. In a 2017 AARP survey of people older than 40, those who reported more social ties and a denser social network had significantly higher mental well-being and memory scores than those who felt isolated on a regular basis. “Using your mind in an active way and staying socially connected are both good for memory,” Dr. Lehmann says. Along those lines, if you’ve got the blues, don’t put off seeing a therapist. Treating feelings of depression can also protect your mind and keep your memory strong.