7 ways to protect your memory
by Danielle Braff, Health Magazine
It happens to all of us: You stop at the store and forget the one thing you went for. You blank on your co-worker's husband's name -- Is it John? Jim? And where are those darn keys?!? It's normal to be forgetful once in awhile, especially if you've got a lot on your plate.
But even if you're years away from worrying about senior moments, research shows that memory loss can actually begin as early as your 20s, and it continues as you age. Thankfully, taking a few easy steps throughout your day can help you stay sharp -- and maybe even help you remember where you put those keys!
Step 1: Eat Toast for Breakfast
Skipping carbs may harm your memory. A Tufts University study found that folks who eliminated carbohydrates from their diets performed worse on memory-based tasks than those who included them. Why? Your brain cells need carbs, which are converted in your body to glucose, to stay in peak form, says study co-author Robin Kanarek, PhD, professor of psychology at Tufts.
Pick whole grains and other complex carbs -- they're digested more slowly, so they deliver a steadier stream of glucose. Grab a whole-wheat muffin or slice of toast with a scrambled egg and cup of berries for a breakfast that'll jump-start your gray matter.
Step 2: Take a Kickboxing Class Before Work
Exercise increases the blood flow to your noggin, bringing much-needed oxygen and glucose for fuel, explains Sandra Aamodt, PhD, co-author of Welcome to Your Brain.
In fact, you can learn vocabulary words 20% faster if you try to memorize them after doing an intense workout rather than a low-impact activity, suggests a study in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Up the ante even more by taking a dance or kickboxing class -- anything that requires you to remember a routine.
Step 3: Change the Font on Your Morning Memo
Is Times New Roman your go-to? Try using a different, slightly difficult-to-decipher font -- it's been shown to improve your long-term retention, according to research published in the journal Cognition.
Focusing on a new font may make your brain's processing center work a little harder, upping your recall. Change to Comic Sans Italicized (the font used in the study) for a quick fix that you may not notice but your brain will.
Step 4: Do a Web Search During Lunch
Spending an hour a day looking online for something you're interested in (like researching spots for your next vacation) may stimulate the part of your frontal lobe that controls short-term memory, according to a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles.
"The neural circuits involved in decision-making, visual-spatial, and verbal skills become very active when you do an Internet search," explains Gary Small, MD, lead author of the study. Don't just mindlessly surf, though: If it's too easy, Dr. Small says, it won't be effective. (Facebook won't do the trick!)
Step 5: Eye Your Parking Spot
Always forget where you parked your car? When you stop at the grocery store to pick up your dinner, try this exercise: Get out of your car, notice where you're parked, then move your eyes side-to-side every 1/2 second for 30 seconds while standing in place.
Practicing this simple eye movement may increase your long-term memory by up to 10%, say researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. "That little extra boost might be just what's needed to help you recall an important piece of information," says Andrew Parker, PhD, the study's lead author.
Step 6: Drink a Little with Dinner
While being a heavy tippler can lead to memory loss, a new study finds that drinking in moderation may actually lower your risk for memory problems. In an analysis published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, participants who downed seven or fewer alcoholic drinks total per week had the lowest risk for cognitive impairment, compared with women who didn't drink at all and those who imbibed more.
Researchers believe alcohol's anti-inflammatory properties may be the reason. Or it could be that people who drink moderately also tend to lead a healthier lifestyle. Cheers to that!
Step 7: Floss Before Bed
It's good for your smile -- but it may also do wonders for your mind. When you don't floss, your gums become inflamed, making it easier for bad bacteria to enter your bloodstream, explains Jonathan B. Levine, DMD, an associate professor at New York University and author of Smile!
Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can cause inflammation throughout your body, including in the brain, which can lead to cognitive dysfunction. So floss daily (twice is ideal) to keep the absentmindedness away.