From the moment we are born, the surrounding world pumps us with constant information. Our brains absorb this information and use it to understand the world around us. We, then, keep our experiences in our memories.
As we grow, our brains learn and process information in two ways: we have short-term memories that last minutes or hours and long-term memories that last years. We also have a working memory that our brains use when we memorize information such as your address when you first move into a new house.
Our senses — sight, sound, smell, taste and touch — trigger our memories. Senses explain why we salivate when we smell baked cookies or recall an event when we see a landmark. Our lifestyle, such as how we eat, sleep and play, also affects our memory and brain function over time.
Through memories, we best relate to our lives and shared experiences with others. Both big and small moments make up our lives, and we want to cherish them forever. Keeping the mind and body healthy is the key to having a long-lasting memory.
Here are five ways to improve your memory and brain function:
Processed sugars and refined carbohydrates damage your memory. Refined sugars have been shown to reduce brain volume, and processed simple carbohydrates lead to short-term memory recall issues. Eating more whole, unprocessed foods will protect your brain and memory.
Studies show that playing brain games improves your long-term memory and helps reduce the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, bridge and Tetris are a few examples. There are memory apps for your phone and computer, which have also been shown to improve short-term memory recall and improve concentration and problem-solving!
Meditation is a soothing way to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase memory and grow gray matter in the brain! Gray matter contains neuron cell bodies and decreases as we age. This decline directly affects memory and cognition. Mindfulness is a part of mediation but can be practiced throughout the day. This practice is the awareness of your surroundings and feelings during your daily experiences. Being mindful has been shown to reduce stress, improve retention and decrease age-related memory loss.
Exercise is great for both physical and mental health. Studies have shown that bouts of exercise for as little as 15 minutes have positive effects on cognitive performance and memory. Maintaining a healthy body weight also plays a role, especially in conjunction with exercise, as it will improve memory and decrease the risks of dementia.
Lack of sleep has long been associated with poor memory. During sleep, the brain consolidates short-term memories into long-term memories. The quality of sleep especially impacts children when it comes to memory and brain cognition. It is recommended that adults get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, while children should be getting nine to 12 hours. A good night’s sleep allows cells in the entire body to heal and grow, which is especially important for the brain’s neurotransmitter cells.
How we care for our brains and bodies impacts both short- and long-term memories. Getting a little more sleep, adding in more whole foods and moving your body on a regular basis greatly impacts memory in the long run.
Do you remember the first time your eyes locked with someone you love and you felt the butterfly feeling? Do you remember your first date, second kiss, proposal, wedding, first pet, new baby? To keep these memories as fresh as the moment they happened, we must take care of the brain and how it functions.
About the Author
Coach Kati Epps is the founder of MyBody GX with a background in chemistry from Colorado State University, an ACE certified personal trainer, health coach and nutrition specialist.