Here at Best in Nature we have what we refer to as “The Two M’s for Quality of Life”; memory and mobility. For mobility, we’re constantly engaged with advice about calcium, exercise and the like but what about memory? Let’s take a look at some tips we’ve come up with for improving your memory and concentration.
Get Your Daily Dose of Exercise
The brain, like every other organ in the body, benefits from better blood circulation. Getting out there and getting the heart pumping with some aerobic exercise is the best way to boost your circulation. According to the BYU College of Life Sciences, exercise also results in the formation of new synapses that help with learning memory and the formation of long-term memories. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week.
Don’t Forget to Exercise Your Brain Too
Leg day, arm day; every day should be brain day. Just the way that your body needs exercise to stay in shape, your brain needs a variety of regular activities to stay in shape too.
Reading, doing crosswords, playing word-recall games, and even using mobile apps for memory training are excellent ways to improve and maintain your memory. A variety of studies support this with several concluding that keeping your brain active in these ways led to improved short-term memory, increased long-term memory, and decreased risk of dementia.
Related: Brain Exercises to Boost Memory
Eat a Brain-Boosting Diet
What kind of food fuels the brain? A brain-healthy diet should focus on healthy fats like those from avocados, fatty fish, olive oil, and nuts. Another point of focus should be on antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and berries. Antioxidants prevent and curb oxidative damage helping to protect brain function and memory as you age.
There are also some things you’ll want to exclude from your diet.
Saturated fat and cholesterol. Research shows that diets high in saturated fat increase your risk of Alzheimer's. Sources of saturated fat include foods like red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, cream, and ice cream.
Added Sugar and refined carbohydrates. Foods like sugary cereal, cakes, cookies, white rice, and white bread can be damaging to your memory. A study on adults in the US found those who ate breakfast cereal daily had poorer cognitive performance than those who didn’t. A similar study on children in Korea had similar findings regarding refined carbohydrates.
Looking for a little extra help? Consider VigorBrain. We carefully chose ingredients known for their neuroprotective and antioxidant properties.*
Make Time for Friends and Family
Keeping your brain fit and healthy isn’t just eating broccoli and doing crosswords though. It’s also about making time for friends and family. Research from Harvard Health cites that strong social ties are crucial to brain health. As you spend time with others, your attention and memory are stimulated strengthening neural networks. In fact, one study found that loneliness could increase dementia risk by as much as 40% among its participants.
Get Enough Sleep
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve all had those late nights and then spent a day working through a thick bout of brain fog. Adults are recommended to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Yet many get hours less and there are consequences. Memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills all suffer whenever we’re sleep deprived.
Sometimes improving your memory is about having fewer things to remember. To get started, try to implement some routines and organization. For example, having your contacts, appointments, and other important information all over the place will just make remembering and finding the information you need more difficult. Organize or digitize your information for easier access.
Also, try placing the things you use every day in the same place every day so you’ll always know where they are.
Get Your Stress Under Control
Stress isn’t just a bit of a distraction. It physically damages the brain with negative effects on your memory and concentration. Unchecked, chronic stress destroys neurons and damages the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory formation and retrieval.
Studies on the matter have also linked stress directly to a loss in working memory and attention resources. So if you want your memory and concentration performing at their best, you’ll need to get your stress under control. Here are a few tips.
- Try daily meditation (Here’s our favorite meditation technique)
- Set boundaries between your work life and your home life
- Take regular breaks throughout the day
- Address sources of chronic stress like your job or relationships
Keep a Healthy Body Weight
If you need a little extra motivation to help you on your fitness journey, here it is. Maintaining a healthy body weight will help you improve your memory. Many studies had previously cited being overweight as a causal factor for memory decline. So researchers wanted to find out if the opposite held true. Would weight loss actually improve your memory?
Early indications are that it can. A study of 20 menopausal women who were put on a paleo diet for 6 months wanted to test if weight loss would improve cognitive function. The result in short was that the diet-induced weight loss improved episodic memory linked to increased hippocampal activity.
Identify and Manage Health Problems
If you feel like your memory and concentration are in a bit of a slump, it could be tied to a health problem other than just Alzheimer's or dementia. The brain is an organ relying on other organs so a range of health conditions and even some medications can affect your memory and concentration.
The heart pumps blood throughout your body including to your brain so when it’s not working at its absolute best, it’s likely that your brain may not be either. High cholesterol and high blood pressure, factors associated with heart disease, have been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities.
High sugar intake and diabetes
Research has shown that increased sugar consumption isn’t just bad for your waistline. It’s bad for your memory too. Sugar is an inflammatory food and that inflammation in the brain can interfere with the hippocampus resulting in impaired memory.
Furthermore, those with diabetes are more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Manage Your Medications
This is especially important for older adults. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t stop taking any medication you’re prescribed without the advice of your doctor.
In the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Guide for Individuals and Families, they list “Manage your medications” among their “Top 3 actions you can take to help protect your cognitive health as you age.”
A few common classes of medications that may hinder brain function are
- Non-benzodiazepine sedatives
We often say “memory and concentration” without giving much thought to how they’re different. Memory is about retaining information whereas concentration is the ability to maintain focus on something that is happening.
So what can we do?
Even if you think you’re a good multi-tasker, the statistics say you’re probably not. If you want to improve your concentration or you’re working on a task that critically depends on your ability to concentrate, do not multitask.
Multitasking leaves us more vulnerable to distractions, impairs executive function, and increases the number of mistakes we make. So if you’re looking to improve your concentration, simply work on one thing at a time.
Set up a Dedicated Work or Study Space
If possible, you should have set locations for work, sleep, and leisure while at home. Having a dedicated workspace allows you to focus and eliminates distractions. Additionally, when you sit down at this space, you’re mentally in the headspace to concentrate on work.
While creating your dedicated workspace, you should pay particular attention to lighting. A well-lit working environment can increase your alertness and ability to concentrate. Natural light is king but when you need to add lighting, LEDs are a great alternative since they can be dialed in to your needs and preferences. A light temperature of 6500 kelvin was found to have the most benefit in the linked study.
As functions of the brain, memory and concentration are heavily reliant on our overall health. So prioritize maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise. On top of that, you can get organized, work in a dedicated space and pay attention to things like lighting.