Have you ever forgotten what you ate for lunch? Where you left your keys? The name of that second cousin on your mom's side? If you answered yes, you're not alone. Most people experience forgetfulness at some point or another.
Different stages of life can play a part in those brain cells getting sluggish. For example, many new parents report an increase in forgetfulness due to lack of sleep (no surprises there). You may feel understandably distressed upon noticing a decrease in your memory, but don't worry! You have plenty of options to boost your memory naturally.
The foods you consume fulfill many roles. Some components - like protein - can play a more significant part, but you can fine-tune your diet to maximize your memory. You may need to try cutting back on some of your favorites, like alcohol and added sugars.
Drinking large quantities of alcohol at once is notorious for creating memory deficits. Sugar, especially refined sugar like the kind jam-packed into candy, acts very fast. As you digest sugar, you can feel an almost euphoric burst of energy. This may seem like a positive aspect of sugar, but that roller coaster comes back down very quickly and you'll find all the benefits from your sugar high lead to a much longer period of sluggishness and decreased mental acuity.
But it's not all bad news: a sizeable array of delicious memory-boosting foods awaits!
Complex carbohydrates far outweigh refined carbs in boosting memory. Refined carbs like white bread have been stripped of many important nutrients and usually contain added sugars. As you have just read, sugar doesn't do your memory any favors. Complex carbs take longer to digest, which helps your blood sugar stay more stable throughout the day. Whenever you can, choose whole grain over white bread, oats over sugary cereal and brown over white rice.
Fatty foods are great brain boosters. Now, you can't devour a boatload of just any fat (sorry, bacon). But foods high in unsaturated fats will give your brain some of what it needs to function at maximum capacity. How can you tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats?
Saturated fats solidify at room temperature, while unsaturated remains liquid. This is due to its chemical composition, namely, a bunch of hydrogen atoms. The importance of this difference lies in the fact that saturated fat behaves as an artery-clogger and can lead to cardiovascular disease and inefficient oxygen delivery to the brain.
Fish like salmon and trout are bursting with good unsaturated fats and shellfish are high in fat as well as Vitamin B1.
Most fruits and vegetables are absolutely packed with brain-boosting goodies.
- Dark-skinned berries like blueberries, blackberries and cherries contain nutrients that positively impact almost all body systems and protect your brain cells.
- Broccoli has compounds that have been shown to decrease neurogenic disease. You can also find these in Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale.
- Grapes have another antioxidant that not only helps your brain but benefits most major body systems.
- Watermelon, a classic summer treat, is full of lycopene, a very powerful antioxidant with big brain-boosting effects.
Fantastic news: chocolate is good for you! Well, dark chocolate. And in moderation. But, still great to hear. The good-for-you part of chocolate is called cocoa flavanol. Studies have found that this delicious treat not only improves brain function but your vision, too. The healthiest chocolate should contain at least 70% cocoa and can usually be found in the fancy chocolate section.
Coffee and Tea
The antioxidants (and even the caffeine) in coffee and tea can help your brain function. Pretty much everyone in the world has experienced a short-term brain boost after consuming a caffeinated beverage. But did you know that it can also help your long-term memory?
Dark-roasted coffee holds the award for most antioxidants. The trick with tea is to brew it yourself - many pre-made teas carry a lot of extra ingredients you don't want. Green and black teas are packed with antioxidants that your brain will love!
Let's talk supplements. Any convenience, grocery, or department store will probably contain a very large supplement display. While you have to be careful with mixing and matching supplements, some have been shown to help your brain.
Fish oil and vitamin D especially seem to slow mental decline. Supplements are not held to the same regulatory standards as medications, so be careful to choose products that have been tested by a third party, such as USP or ConsumerLab. It may also be a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a new supplement. Once they give you the green light, go for it!
When you exercise, your body becomes ultra-efficient. During physical exertion, your body ups its production of hormones like vasopressin and cortisol that quite literally give every system in your body a lift. It also increases neurotransmitters, which you can think of as your body's tiny bike messengers.
Exercise promotes neuroplasticity, which means letting your brain cells change and grow. It also decreases insulin resistance so your body can more efficiently transform sugar into energy. Any kind of exercise that elevates your heart rate starts this process, and if you can keep it going for at least 20 minutes, the effects are magnified. You can go for a run, do strength training or put in your favorite Richard Simmons VHS. Shoot for three exercise sessions a week, but even once a week will make a difference. Get that heart rate up and have some fun!
Do you ever feel like your brain is on a runaway train and headed toward impending disaster? Our thoughts can crowd into our skull like a too-full subway car until we think surely not one more can make its way through.
Mindfulness and meditation provide an exit point for this unwelcome party. Not only does this practice make a big difference in your daily life and health, but it has also been shown to decrease inflammation, enhance memory, and even prompt brain growth.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds
- Breathe out through pursed lips over 4-6 seconds
- Hold your breath for 4 seconds
If that one doesn't do it for you, have no fear! Keep trying different exercises and you will find the one that works best for you.
It will probably not shock you to hear that sleep deprivation negatively affects the brain. Everyone has experienced this at some level, at some point in their lives. But more research is finding that sleep also affects long-term memory.
Sleep serves as cement to our memories - it allows our brains to firmly hold onto what we experienced that day, which is why sleep is especially important for students. For adults, seven or more hours of sleep are recommended most nights to keep functioning at maximum capacity.
Some easy ways to improve your sleep include:
- Avoid screens before bed
- Don't eat or drink a lot before sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Go to bed around the same time every night
- Keep your room cool, dark, relaxing and comfortable
6. Brain Games
Logic-based games provide a fun way to keep your mind sharp. One study found that people who did crossword puzzles every day showed improved short-term memory. In this new tech-savvy world, a mountain of memory games is at your fingertips!
Word games, sudoku...the options are endless. Not only do these games help your short-term memory, but they can also stave off dementia as you age.
You can do so many things to help boost your memory naturally. If this list feels overwhelming, that's okay. Try picking one or two to get you started and see how it goes. Your future self will thank you!