Memory loss isn’t natural. Even as we age, it doesn’t have to be this way. Memory is fluid like water; Is your cup half empty or half full?
Picture this: You’re on your way to meet some friends after caring for your dog for the night. Once get to the restaurant, start up a conversation, and decide to check your phone after 45 minutes. Three missed calls and five text messages later, you realize you forgot to tell your partner about everything. How did this happen again?!
Sound familiar? It shouldn’t be, yet 1 in 9 US adults over 45 report memory loss and signs of changes in their memory. Although memory problems are common, that doesn’t mean they’re normal.
Memory loss is a well-known aging phenomenon. Yet, many wonder whether their memory loss is due to aging. Or even worse, the onset of a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia. So before we can even debate this subject, we must ask, “Can we avoid memory loss altogether as we age?”
The answers may surprise you.
1.) Brain’s Change Through Novel Experiences
Memory is fluid and virtually limitless (just ask The Rain Man). And research findings have revealed that memory may be more fluid throughout life than we had originally thought.
The hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for visuospatial awareness and the formation/recollection of memories, is one of two areas that continue to create new neurons throughout our lifetime.
Fortunately, these newer discoveries provide a unique opportunity for potential treatments to form new memories and recall old ones. Most researchers closed the books decades ago after deciding that the adult brain could no longer grow or create new neurons once fully matured.
So how do we change the brain?
With novel experiences like reading books, moving our bodies, and learning new information. Change stimulates our brains to modify our behaviors. One of the best ways to change the brain is to pick up a new habit, like playing guitar or a musical instrument. New habits can cause significant changes in the way the brain processes information and facilitate creative thought processes.
Playing music can even help us recruit specific circuits in the frontal and temporal lobes for greater concentration and focus, allowing us to utilize more of our mental real estate to help us solve problems.
So if you’re still jealous and want to learn how to play “Wonderwall” by Oasis, now is your chance to make it happen. Do it for your brain, not the popularity.
2.) To Avoid Memory Loss, Movement Is the Language Of The Brain
Movement specialist Anat Baniel states, “movement is the language of the brain,” and she’s 100% right about it.
Physical exercise is arguably one of the most critical factors in maintaining the neurological architecture of our brain and body. It’s also a significant factor in creating new neurons throughout the hippocampus, with some studies showing neuronal growth in these memory-forming centers following simple bouts of aerobic exercise.
There’s also a very good reason babies move around in the womb. Movement drives the growth and development of our nervous system. And essential for reaching developmental milestones throughout our lifetimes. Some researchers are even going as far as saying the only reason we have a brain is to promote movement! (Don’t believe me? Check out Daniel Wolpert’s Ted Talk “The Real Reason for Brains.”)
Luckily, physical movement is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to increase neuronal growth in your memory centers. And research shows it decreases the size of our amygdala, the next-door neighbor responsible for initiating our fear responses. Exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve our mental health and well-being, possessing the capability to change up to 9,815 molecules in our blood following one bout of physical movement. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get out of the office, breathe fresh air, and clear your head.
So as Aerosmith would say, “Walk This Way.”
3.) Sleep Solidifies Memory for Life
Sleep is no longer just an “option”; it’s a priority for surviving in the chaotic environment we currently live in. It’s also a significant factor in memory consolidation, with leading researchers suggesting that memories aren’t formed for long-term recollection unless REM (Rapid-Eye Movement) and slow-wave sleep patterns are utilized during rest.
While the regenerative benefits of sleep have been well documented, sleep deprivation is still a significant issue for the health of our population, with 1 in 3 adults reporting not getting enough sleep at night. The problem with this equation is that sleep isn’t just restorative for the brain; It’s restorative for the body.
And sleep is a significant factor in producing the brain-changing protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF is the glue that binds neurons together to form new thoughts, memories, and experiences.
Let Us Remember to Avoid Memory Loss
We live in the golden age of understanding the brain and cognitive neuroscience. This research puts us light years ahead of most civilizations who have walked the face of the earth.
And we live in an information-overloaded society. It’s full of false information and questionable popular opinions that cause us to question everything we encounter.
The beauty of the brain is that it is constantly changing. And applying neuroscience is the final frontier in optimizing the brain and body. It’s time to start prioritizing your brain to change your life.
If memory truly serves us, these simple steps will only be the start of the journey. They can lay the necessary foundation to live the life you’ve always wanted. So start living!