Whether you’re trying to recall the name of someone you’ve just met or the last item on your shopping list, forgetfulness is a natural part of aging. As we get older, the structure of our brain changes, making it more difficult to remember and learn things.
The good news is there are ways to help keep your brain sharp and improve your cognitive function at any age. It involves a combination of mental exercise, healthy living and a few memory techniques.
Here are some strategies to help slow down the effects of aging and encourage peak brain function.
1. Challenge Your Brain
Exercising your brain helps keep it alert and working. Try some of these activities to engage your mind each day:
- Join a book club, make regular trips to the library and read newspapers and magazines.
- Set aside time to work on jigsaw, crossword, Sudoku or logic puzzles.
- Arrange regular Scrabble or chess dates with friends, or download game apps onto your phone so you can play any time.
2. Spaced Repetition
If you’re trying to commit something to memory, try a technique known as spaced repetition. This involves repeating information to yourself at regular intervals, gradually increasing the time between repetitions until it’s memorized.
For example, if you’re trying to remember a banking password, write it down and refer to it a few times a day, repeating it out loud. Then reduce it to once a day, and then every other day. This technique also works with phone numbers, lists or vocabulary when learning a new language.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Have you ever forgotten something mid-task because another thought popped into your mind? As we get older, distractions can get in the way of how well we remember or learn things.
Take a moment to be more conscious of what you’re doing throughout the day. If you’re at a busy shopping center, you’re more likely to remember where you parked if you take a moment to note the stall number or parking level instead of thinking ahead to what you need to do once you’re inside.
4. Use Memory Tricks
It’s easier to remember bits of information if you make associations. Perhaps you can remember your new acquaintance’s name is Rose because you played rummy — another word starting with the letter R — together. Or you can try visualization and picture Rose holding a flower.
You can also visualize the errands you need to get done. If you have to go to the library, dry cleaners and pharmacy, picture your route before you leave home so you remember where you need to stop.
The tried and true acronym trick is also useful: If you need milk, apples and peaches, think “MAP.”
5. Be Physically Active
Exercise is important for your heart, lungs and muscles, but it also helps boost memory and thinking. Being active promotes healthy brain cells, improves mood and quality of sleep and reduces stress, all of which lead to better mental performance.
Now you have more reason to swim, play tennis, take a brisk walk or sign up for an exercise class: It’s good for your brain, too.
6. Follow the MIND Diet
Researchers have developed an eating plan that is shown to slow brain aging by a remarkable 7.5 years and reduce the risk of dementia.
Known as the MIND diet, it combines two approaches to eating: the DASH eating plan, developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to reduce hypertension, and a traditional Mediterranean-style diet.
The MIND plan focuses on foods such as leafy green vegetables, berries, fish, nuts, beans, lentils and soybeans. These foods contain vitamin B, vitamin E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, omega-3 and other nutrients proven to reduce cognitive decline. The diet also suggests eating less meat and using olive oil for cooking instead of butter and margarine.
7. Commit to Lifelong Learning
Studies show that when we learn something new, our brain builds more connections between neurons. As we get better at a task and build our skills, the neurons become more efficient. Keep your brain strong by making an effort to continually acquire new knowledge.
You can sign up for piano or flute lessons, learn a new language or take a drawing class. You may even want to pursue formal learning in an area that’s always interested you and take a class in literature, science or the humanities.
Riddle Village is a luxury retirement village in Media, Pennsylvania that inspires a healthy and independent lifestyle. Schedule a visit to learn more about our array of amenities, including a fitness center, healthy dining options, clubs and other activities.