Nearly half of people age 50 or older complain of mild age-related memory problems.
Good news: Studies show that 55% of aging's effects—including memory-erasing aging of the brain—are not caused by genes but by lifestyle. That means you can take action to prevent memory loss.
A brain-healthy diet, regular exercise, stress reduction and memory-boosting techniques are four effective ways to keep your memory sharp.
Recent finding: Combining these lifestyle strategies can strengthen your brain and improve your memory immediately. Scientists at the UCLA Center on Aging conducted a study of 17 people, average age 53, with mild memory complaints typical of middle age. Eight participants went on a 14-day program consisting of a brain-healthy diet, aerobic conditioning, relaxation exercises and memory training...nine did not.
Before and after the program, all 17 participants were tested for memory and mental ability. They also had brain positron emission tomography (PET) scans to observe blood flow in their brains. After the 14 days, those on the brain-healthy program showed anaverage 2Oo/o improvement on a test of mental ability, and their scans showed an average 5o/o greater efficiency in a brain arcathatregulates memory. The control group showed no significant changes.
Here's what to do to preserve and improve your memory starting today…
The Diet That Fights Memory Loss
Healthful dietary strategies can nourish the brain…
- Limit your calorie intake. A high body mass index (BMI) is a risk factor for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Being overweight also increases risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to stroke or death of brain tissue, as well as resulting memory loss or dementia.
- Eat low glycemic index carbohydrates. Fast-digesting carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour, cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to diabetes-a disease that reduces circulation to the brain.
- Recent finding: People who have "borderline diabetes"—slightly higher-than-normal blood sugar levels—have almost a 70% higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than those with normal levels, reported Swedish researchers at last summer's International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders in Madrid, Spain.
The glycemic index (Gt) is used to measure how quickly carbohydrates metabolize. Slow-digesting foods that are low on the GI include most whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy products. Make these the bulk of your diet.
- Keep blood sugar levels steady. Eating three smallish meals and two snacks a day helps keep blood sugar levels even. For snacks, try mixtures of healthy carbohydrates and protein, such as raisins and almonds...or fresh fruit and low-fat cottage cheese.
- Consume ample portions of omega-3 fatty acids, and reduce omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids—in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring and albacore tuna, and in walnuts, flaxseeds and their oils—keep brain-cell membranes soft and flexible.
Recent finding: Dutch researchers tested the mental sharpness of 210 healthy men between ages 70 and 89 over five years. The researchers reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that those who regularly ate fish rich in omega-Js had a slower decline in mental function than those who didn't eat fish.
Omega-6 fatty acids—found in margarine, mayonnaise, most processed foods and fried foods—may contribute to chronic brain inflammation.
- Favor antioxidant-rich foods. Oxidative stress—basically, internal rust from everyday cellular wear and tear—accelerates brain aging. Antioxidants slow that process. Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants.
Best fruits: Berries of all kinds, cherries, kiwi, oranges, plums and red grapes, as well as prunes and raisins.
Best vegetables: Avocados, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, corn, eggplant, onions and red bell peppers.
Recent finding: In a study of 1,800 older people, published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine reported that drinking three or more four- to six-ounce servings per week of antioxidant-rich fruit or vegetable juice cuts the risk of Alzheimer's by 76%.
The 10 Minute Remedy
Exercise improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients to brain tissues and may promote growth of brain cells. Studies show that people who are active between the ages of 20 and 60 are three times less likely to develop Alzheimer's.
Recent finding: Walking for as little as 10 minutes a day reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 32%, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Try out several forms of aerobic exercise—walking, swimming, biking and other activities that comfortably raise your heart rate-and choose those that you enjoy most and that you can fit into your day. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week is a good prescription for brain health.
Laboratory research shows that animals subjected to continuing stress have fewer cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in memory and learning. In human studies, even just a few days of exposure to high levels of stress decreases memory performance.
Ways to beat stress include getting enough sleep and not having too much to do. Also, practice stress-reduction techniques, such as the following self-hypnosis exercise…
Sit in a comfortable position...take three long, deep breaths...and try to relax your muscles. Focus your attention on a spot on the wall or on a piece of furniture. Tiy to clear your mind of any thoughts. Concentrate on your focus spot, and breathe slowly. Repeatedly tell yourself that the longer you pay full attention to the spot, the deeper your sense of relaxation will be. Do this for five minutes. Build up to 10-minute sessions twice a day.