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Keep Your Memory Sharp | Winter 2007 Out Here Magazine

Charleen Dew enjoys playing strategy games on the computer to stimulate her mind. Anything that makes you think — puzzles, for example, or playing an instrument — improves your long-term memory.

Reverse forgetfulness with diet, exercise, and a few strategies

By Bethanne Black
Photography by Donnie Beauchamp

Memory inefficiency and aging go hand in hand. Beginning in your early 20s, your brain begins losing neurons, and the body starts to make less of the chemicals that the brain requires to work properly.

"Normal aging is accompanied by a number of changes in your brain. The brain shrinks starting at age 20 to 30 and has a number of small strokes, which often go undetected. There are also cellular changes that occur, such as plaques and tangles," explains memory expert Dr. Bill Beckwith of Naples, FL, author of Managing Your Memory.

Memory inhibitors may include being iron deficient or stressed out. Fortunately, you can slow this process with diet, exercise, and other simple memory boosters.

Beckwith offers ways to keep your memory sharp and techniques to help you remember:

  • Have a routine physical exam that includes blood work to check for anemia, thyroid function, and vitamin B12 levels These are good indicators of your overall health.
  • Be aggressive about managing blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Exercise nearly every day. Aim for aerobic exercise that you can tolerate for 40 minutes. This does not have to be done all at one time and can range from swimming to walking to doing housework. Consider weight training two to three times a week.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods. Eat fruits, vegetables, and fish to enhance antioxidant levels and meet your vitamin requirements.
  • Unclutter your home. The more organized your spaces, the better you will remember.
  • Use alarms as reminders. "I once had a client remember to play bridge by reminding himself on the morning of bridge days to set his 'Bridge Clock' alarm," Beckwith says. "The clock rang about an hour before he had to leave to play bridge. When he went to turn off the alarm, the clock had a note on it that it was bridge night. He didn't forget bridge any longer." Another approach: Put your pill minder next to an alarm, so when you turn it off, the pills are right there.
  • Be social. People who interact and socialize concentrate and remember better than those who are isolated and possibly depressed.
  • Stimulate your mind by doing what you love. If you don't like crosswords, don't do them. Choosing things that you love means that you won't have to push yourself to do them. Go to museums, play a musical instrument, study and grow orchids, walk on the beach, or watch and recall facts about sports. Anything that makes you think improves your long-term memory.
  • Use your calendar daily; it helps you organize time and memory.

Above all, stop trying to remember. Instead, use these strategies to keep your memory sharp.

Bethanne Black, of Atlanta, is a freelance journalist who specializes in health care.