Connecting to Health

A Health and Wellness Blog

Back to Blog Home

June 20, 2017

Smart Ways to Protect Your Memory

by John Hastings

Standing in a room, unsure why you’re there. Looking for the reading glasses perched on your head. Recognize the face, can’t place the name: We’ve all been there, and it’s annoying. Is there a way to cut down on these so-called senior moments? There is, says Maria Torroella Carney, MD, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at Northwell Health. First, realize that run-of-the-mill brain freeze is no reason to worry. “Your short-term memory, like remembering a new phone number or a new acquaintance’s name, may start to become less reliable as you get older,” she says. “But just because you can’t find your car keys doesn’t mean you’re getting dementia.” Then, says Dr. Carney, take a few easy steps that research shows can help you cut down on frustration and keep your memory sharper:

Train Your Body. The evidence is clear: The habits that keep your body in shape also give your mind a boost. “Exercise improves circulation, which means plenty of blood gets to your brain with oxygen and nutrients,” says Dr. Carney. Researchers have found that being physically active actually helps prevent brain shrinkage. In fact, one study showed that walking an hour a day just three days a week helped elderly volunteers do better on tests of attention and decision-making. Their brains worked more efficiently after just six months of walking, the researchers reported.

Work Your Brain. Keeping your brain active won’t guarantee that you’ll steer clear of memory problems, but it does seem to reduce the risk, says Dr. Carney. There’s no need to pay for pricey “brain game” programs; you can benefit your brain simply by socializing with friends, taking up challenging pastimes like chess, backgammon or bridge, or doing crosswords or other puzzles. Or try to learn an instrument or a new language, or start knitting. Anything that engages you mentally and makes you stretch can help your brain stay younger.

Drink Smart. There are all kinds of reasons that health experts want you to limit alcohol to one drink a day if you’re a woman, or two if you’re a man – doing so protects you against a number of alcohol-related diseases. It also helps preserve the brain neurons you need for processing information, says Dr. Carney. Long-term heavy drinking can shrink parts of the brain crucial for problem-solving — and for memory.

Eat Smarter. This one is easy! The nutrients that help your brain are found in the foods that help your heart, your waistline and your general health. Dr. Carney is a particular fan of the Mediterranean approach to eating, which limits sugar (reducing inflammation, which can be hard on your brain) and emphasizes fish, nuts and produce. Those all are packed with healthy fats and brain-saving antioxidants. “Salmon, avocado, walnuts, blueberries – also known as brain berries -- these are all foods that have been tied to brain health,” she says.