Many people are unaware that their daily lifestyle choices can affect memory. You can maximize memory health by identifying whether any lifestyle factors are interfering with your memory performance and learning. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you are leading a memory-healthy lifestyle:
Keeping active can make it easier for your memory to be at its best. For example, two recent studies found that both men and women remembered better if they participated in moderate exercise (such as walking) on a regular basis. These findings mesh well with the Surgeon General’s recommendation for people to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week (or roughly 30 minutes most days of the week).
Achieving good memory fitness also requires getting a good night’s sleep. Because fatigue interferes with attention, it makes learning new things more difficult. Fatigue can also make it harder to recall things you know well, such as a word or name. Having a regular, relaxing sleep routine will boost your chances of getting adequate rest. If you have trouble sleeping on occasion, you can try some other ways to help your memory the day after a poor night’s sleep, including the following: Take more frequent notes, take extra care to avoid distractions, and — most important — keep in mind that it’s your sleep, not your memory, that is the problem. The National Sleep Foundation’s Web site, www.sleepfoundation.org, has some helpful information about good sleep habits. If you have a persistent sleep problem, your health-care provider can help you find out more about the cause and potential treatments for your sleeplessness. Most prescription medicines for sleep disturbance are best used only for short-term treatment, so your physician or sleep specialist will likely recommend behavioral strategies or treating underlying conditions rather than sleeping pills to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Your memory will be healthier if you eat a healthful diet. While there is no special diet for improving memory, following the current dietary guidelines of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is a safe bet because high blood glucose levels have been linked to cognitive impairment. Although more study is needed, there is some evidence that hypertension (high blood pressure) can contribute to memory problems. People with hypertension or those at risk for hypertension may want to work with a dietitian to incorporate the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan into their lifestyles. The DASH diet, which encourages reducing red meat intake and eating more whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Adding a reduction in sodium intake along with the DASH plan has shown even greater improvements in blood pressure.
Alcohol abuse has been shown to cause memory loss and possibly increases the risk of developing dementia. The ADA says that consuming alcohol in moderation (no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men) is OK for most people with diabetes. A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. Although you may have seen reports of studies finding that moderate alcohol consumption can lower risks of heart problems, results are still preliminary, and no national health organization advocates starting to drink if you do not drink already.