How can we improve our memory and better mental health in the long term? Is it possible to do so?
The human brain is wonderfully complex and has a remarkable ability to adapt to conditions and situations even in old age. As the brain makes necessary changes via a process called neuroplasticity, it modifies existing connections and forms new neural pathways.
This ability to change means that we can program our brains to collect new information, boost memory, and strengthen cognitive abilities. So, how can we improve our memory and better mental health in the long term? Here are a few handy healthy living essentials in this regard:
1. Physical exercise
Exercise and adequate sleep are a must: Our ability to remember things are bolstered when our brain receives enough rest gets proper nutrition, and when we remain physically active. Exercise increases blood flow or supply not only in the body, but also in the brain, thereby reducing the risk of memory loss. Such activity also protects the brain cells and betters the effects of brain chemicals.
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Sleep is also highly important, because the brain is unable to perform at its best when you are sleep deprived. Critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity are compromised when one gets anywhere less than six hours of sleep on a constant basis. This becomes evident while working, multitasking, studying, etc. However, adequate sleep is also crucial for memory retention and enhancement. This is because the brain’s memory enhancing functions take place during the deepest stage of sleep.
A very important component of healthy living for families is by fostering healthy relationships: Human beings are social animals, so even though we need our phases of solitude and ‘personal space’, relationships and social ties stimulate our brains.
Researchers over the years have established that having strong support systems and healthy bonds with people are central to both emotional and mental health. In fact, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that those with the most active social lives enjoyed the slowest rates of memory deterioration.
That is not to say that you need to go out of your way to surround yourself with people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without setting aside any time for yourself. Socializing by way of volunteering, contacting lost long friends, and even interacting with animals can help significantly in strengthening your memory in the long term.
3. Remaining stress-free
Stress is one of the most common causes of memory loss or poor memory, not to mention failing mental health and disorders like clinical depression. This is because stress destroys brain cells and the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that forms fresh memories and retrieves old ones.
Stress-induced depression can hamper concentration, the ability to make decisions, and recall certain things or events. This leads to mental sluggishness. An apt solution for this is meditation, which makes the cerebral cortex thicker and triggers connections between brain cells, thus making an individual mentally sharper and boosting memory.
4. Having the right foods
The brain needs fuel just like the body does, so you must make it a point to consume Omega-3 fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Cold water fatty fish such as trout, mackerel, salmon, halibut, tuna, herring, and sardines also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. For those who do not eat fish, viable options include walnuts, soybean, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and fish oil supplements.
Foods rich in saturated fat, such as whole milk red meat, cheese, sour cream, butter, etc. have been found to increase the risk of poor memory and dementia, so you must limit their intake.
Make the most of super foods like green leafy vegetables, mangoes, apricots, watermelon, cantaloupe, and others packed with antioxidants to enjoy good mental health for life. If you drink, you can also have red wine in moderation since it is packed with a flavonoid called resveratrol, which increases blood flow within the brain and prevents Alzheimer’s disease. Non-drinkers can opt for cranberry juice, fresh berries and grapes, peanuts, and grape juice.
5. Performing ‘mental workouts’
The brain develops innumerable pathways by the time we are adults. These pathways solve familiar problems, process information quickly, and execute routine tasks with minimum effort. When these paths are used frequently, the brain ceases to remain stimulated. As such, you need to perform mental workouts to break your routine and develop new pathways.
The brain exercises you take up must be new, challenging, and last but not least, fun. Mnemonics or clues that enable us to remember something by way of associating the information with a visual word, line, photos or image are a great way to fortify memory. You can also use rhymes, acronyms, and chunking or breaking a long string of information into smaller bits to remember things better.
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Apart from the above information, make it a point to limit distractions when you need to pay attention and focus on understanding simple, basic ideas instead of memorizing remote details. Review what you’ve learned and remember- bettering your memory can be all play instead of work if you make it a fun ‘self assignment’!