Memory is fluid like water; Is your cup half empty or half full?
Picture this: You’re on your way to meet up with some friends, right after you took care of feeding your dog, taking her out, and making sure she’s all set up for the evening. You get to the restaurant, start up a conversation, and decide to check your phone after 45 minutes. 3 missed calls and 5 text messages later, you realize you forgot to tell your partner you fed the dog, took her out, and make sure she was taken care of. How did this happen again?!
Sound familiar? It shouldn’t be, yet 1 in 9 US adults over the age of 45 report memory issues and signs of changes in their memory. Although memory problems are common, that doesn’t mean that they’re normal.
Memory loss is a well-known phenomenon of aging, yet many aging adults struggle with wondering whether or not their memory loss is actually due to old aging or the onset of a true neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia. So before we can even debate this subject, we must ask the question; “Can we avoid memory loss altogether as we age?”
The answers may surprise you.
1.) Brain’s Change Through Novel Experiences
Since memory is fluid and has been shown to be virtually limitless (just ask The Rain Man), recent findings in the field of neuroscience and embodied cognition have revealed that memory may be more fluid and capable of change 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 of the brain that continue to create new neurons throughout our lifetime.
These newer discoveries provide us a unique opportunity for potential treatments and therapies to improve our ability to form new memories and recall old ones, especially since most researchers had closed the books decades ago after deciding that the adult brain can 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, having stimulating conversations with mentors, and learning new information that we can use to change our behaviors. One of the best ways to change the brain is to pick up a new habit, like playing guitar, which 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 wanting 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.) Movement Is the Language Of The Brain
Movement specialist Anat Baniel has a saying that goes “movement is the language of the brain”, and she’s 100% right about it.
Physical exercise is arguably one of the most important factors in maintaining the neurological architecture of our brain and the overall structure of our 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. This movement drives the growth and development of our nervous system and is essential for reaching developmental milestones throughout our lifetimes. And 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.”)
Physical movement has been shown to be one of the fastest and most efficient ways to increase neuronal growth in your memory centers, with research showing it can also decrease 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 best, yet underutilized 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 the consolidation of memory, with leading researchers suggesting that memories aren’t truly 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 the fact that sleep isn’t just restorative for the brain; It’s restorative for the body. Sleep is also a significant factor for the production of the brain-changing protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which can be equated to the glue that binds neurons together to form new thoughts, memories, and experiences.
Let Us Remember
The best part about being alive in 2020 is we are in the golden age of understanding the brain and cognitive neuroscience, placing us light years ahead of most civilizations to have walked the face of the earth.
The worst part about this situation is the fact that we are living in an information overload society, full of false information, popular opinions that may or may not be accurate, and vastly changing times that may cause us to question everything we encounter.
The beauty of the brain is that it is always changing, which is why neuroscience is truly 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, but it will lay the necessary foundation to live the life you’ve always wanted.