Forgot something? You’re not alone. One in eight baby boomers has memory lapses, at least once in a while, according to a recent survey.
Whether you’ve forgotten where you put the car keys or the name of your favorite Olympic ice-skating move (toe loop? triple?), even small slips leave you wondering whether your gray cells still have what it takes.
There’s no health threat that scares people over age 55 more than dementia. One in five will experience brain drain from fuzzy thinking and memory lags to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But a lot of it doesn’t have to happen. While some causes are genetic, it’s never too early or too late to build a bigger, more nimble brain and postpone memory loss by a decade or far more. Here’s how it works:
Brain scientists love to say that the brain is “plastic,” which means it’s flexible and capable of growing new cells and making strong new connections between them, at any age. That means brain-friendly lifestyle changes can help protect you from developing memory problems. And giving your gray matter a little extra love after you notice moments of less-than-perfect recall will help you, too. Start with these lifestyle upgrades:
1. Eat right: Enjoy plenty of produce, lean protein, good fats, 100 percent whole grains and a little fat-free dairy, while steering clear of added sugars, syrups, trans and saturated fats and any grain that’s not 100 percent whole.
2. Exercise: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise daily. According to new reports, you’ll build a bigger, sexier brain – the only organ in the body where size really does matter – in just three months. Exercise enlarges the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory, and an area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps regulate emotional intelligence.
3. Learn something new: Such as a skill, hobby or game, or even find a new route to a place you visit regularly. It will create more connections that also help enlarge your hippocampus.
4. Learn to manage stress: Stress is the greatest cause of hippocampal shrinkage. You can use meditation and behavioral modification to control your reaction to stressful events.
5. Get your blood sugar in shape: Slightly raised sugar levels – even if you don’t have diabetes or prediabetes – will mess with your memory. Excess blood glucose causes inflammation, which damages brain cells. In one new study, people had their sugar levels tested and were asked to memorize 15 words, then repeat them a half-hour later. Those with higher levels of blood sugar remembered, on average, two fewer words. Lower blood sugar is, like regular exercise, linked to a bigger hippocampus.
6. Take in enough magnesium: This mineral ensures strong links between your brain cells, so you have a big network ready to solve problems – and remember where your car is parked at the mall. You need 420 milligrams daily, but most of us fall short. Turn to brown rice, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, shredded wheat, lima beans and bananas to top off your tank.
7. Help vitamin D-3 protect your DNA: Shortchanging yourself could leave your brain cells vulnerable to damage from free radicals (rogue oxygen molecules that attack DNA). Aim for 1,000 IU daily from a D-3 supplement.
8. Sleep well: While you snooze, your brain’s busy taking out the trash. A new lab report reveals that during sleep, the brain may turn on its “self-clean” function. This newly discovered process may help explain why most of us need eight hours of sleep nightly for optimal learning, problem-solving and recall.
9. Go for the yo: The beneficial effects of good bacteria in your gut reach all the way to your brain. You can get them from fermented foods like low-fat, no-sugar-added yogurt. One study showed that women who ate yogurt containing live cultures had more connections between an important part of the brain stem and a brain area involved with thinking skills.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.