17.NOV.2017 4 MIN READ | 4 MIN READ

Do you find yourself forgetting things, like your colleagues’ names, your best friend’s birthday or where you left your house keys?

Don’t panic. Forgetfulness is normal. There are many simple ways to improve your memory and prevent more severe memory loss in the future.

Combat forgetfulness with our list of 5 things that help and hurt your memory.

Things that help your memory

Help 1: Eating more fish

Did you know that about 60% of your brain is made of fat? Almost half of that is the omega-3 kind.

Eating baked or broiled fish such as salmon, trout and sardines boosts your brain with omega-3 fatty acids, which are used by your body to develop better learning and memory brain and nerve cells.

Additional health benefits from eating fatty fish are thought to include slower mental decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Help 2: Exercising your brain

exercising the brain
Just like the rest of your body, your brain needs exercise. Research suggests keeping an active mind not only helps to boost memory but also prevent a decline later in life.

So what you can you do to keep your brain busy?

  • Learn a new language
  • Practise playing a musical instrument
  • Read more
  • Enrol in a study group or take up a new hobby
  • Play games with your children, friends or family
  • Complete crosswords or other brain puzzles
  • Play online memory games

Help 3: Meditating

Meditation closely connects with memory, according to a recent study. Neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School have found that the art of meditation increases the amount of grey matter in an area of the brain associated with memory and decision making.

Think of mindfulness as exercise for your brain. Sit or lie down, relax, breathe naturally and focus on what you are doing and how your body moves as you breathe. Just 30 minutes of this every day is thought to boost your brainpower.

Help 4: Keeping a memory notebook

keeping a memory journal
If you struggle to keep track of things, psychologists recommend writing your thoughts down in a memory notebook, and then referring to it throughout the day. Writing things down helps you to process the information in your brain and then recall it more easily.

This also goes for those long meetings at work – studies suggest taking notes by hand is better than using a laptop, as your brain has time to process the information as you write it down, meaning you can remember what was discussed more easily.

Help 5: Snacking on blueberries

Blueberries are packed full of natural antioxidants, which help to protect your brain from inflammatory conditions and neurodegenerative diseases.

Several studies have concluded that eating blueberries regularly will help to boost memory and delay short-term memory loss in the long term. One such study saw participants drink wild blueberry juice for 12 weeks, which resulted not only in improved memory functions but also reduced depressive symptoms and healthier glucose levels.

For a quick brain boost, try sprinkling blueberries on your cereal, adding them to your morning juice or snacking on them at work.

Things that hurt your memory

Hurt 1: Not sleeping enough

Approximately 44% of Singaporeans sleep less than seven hours a night on weekdays, many preferring instead to stay up using their mobile phones in bed.

But sleep is essential to help your brain process information from the day and create new memories. Without enough sleep, you don’t consolidate these new memories, which makes it harder for you to absorb and recall information in the long run.

To keep your mind sharp, establish a regular sleeping pattern of up to 9 hours a night, and take the time to unwind properly before drifting off.

Hurt 2: Eating late at night

eating late at night
Staying up late to work, socialise or watch TV? You may be tempted to creep to the fridge for a late-night snack after an extra-long day. But we bet you didn’t know that eating when you are supposed to be sleeping can negatively affect your memory.

According to a recent study, disrupting your sleep patterns with food impacts both short- and long-term memory. So, as well as a regular sleep cycle, you should eat regularly and healthily to help preserve your brainpower.

Hurt 3: Putting off exercise

Exercise isn’t just good for your energy levels, weight and overall health. It also helps to prevent memory loss and improve brain function.

As well as stimulating the release of chemicals in the brain that help to grow healthy brain cells, exercise is thought to create more volume in the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory. It can also help to reduce stress levels and improve sleep quality, which we already know can negatively impact your brainpower.

Adults aged 18 – 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.

Hurt 4: Feeling stressed

stressed at work
The release of the stress hormone cortisol is thought to reduce synapses in the brain, which can cause short-term memory loss.

That means low-level stress over your daily commute, a big presentation at work or your bank account may be affecting your brain’s ability to recall certain information.

To tackle this, consider trying Help #3 (meditation). If you are experiencing high stress levels or feelings of anxiety, consult your doctor.

Hurt 5: Being overweight

Having a higher body mass index (BMI) could be hurting your memory, according to research by the University of Cambridge.

In the study, people with a BMI greater than 25 scored 15% lower in memory recall tests than people with a BMI under 25.

Not sure what your BMI is? You can calculate it here. Additional risks of a high BMI include conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure.

If you are concerned about your weight, consult your doctor.

 

Article reviewed by Dr Lee Kim En, neurologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital

References

5 Everyday Activities That Hurt Your Memory. (2016, January 2). Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3056025/five-everyday-activities-that-hurt-your-memory

11 Best Foods to Boost Your Brain and Memory. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2017, from  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods

Brain Exercises and Dementia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/preventing-dementia-brain-exercises#1

Carlotti, P. (2016, March 15). Why Your Weight May Be to Blame for Your Horrible Memory. Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.menshealth.com/health/fat-and-memory-loss

Colwell, C.S., Flores, R. E., Ghiani, C. A., Jami, S.A., Loh, D. H., O’Dell, T. J. & Truong, D. (2015). Misaligned Feeding Impairs Memories. eLife.

Godman, H. (2014, April 9). Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills. Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science 25 (6).

Physical Activity and Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2017, from http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/

Schulte, Brigid. (2015, May 26). Harvard Neuroscientist: Meditation Not Only Reduces Stress, Here’s How It Changes Your Brain. Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/?utm_term=.d6cd5d0673e4

Sleep Deprivation and Memory Loss. (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-deprivation-effects-on-memory#1

Ng, Abigail. (2017, January 11). Singaporeans Not Clocking Enough Sleep, Study Finds. Retrieved November 6, 2017, from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/singaporeans-not-clocking-enough-sleep-study-finds

What is Obesity? (n.d.). Retrieved November 6, 2017, from https://www.healthline.com/health/obesity#overview1

17.NOV.2017
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Lee Kim En
Neurologist
Mount Elizabeth Hospital

Dr Lee Kim En is a neurologist practising at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore. His clinical interests include intensive care medicine and stroke treatment.