Are you having a problem recalling information in quizzes and exams? If the teacher just spoke the answers, will you forget parts b) and c) while putting ink to paper? You are not alone. Memory loss spans all groups of society, not just those in school. As we age, many adults forget personal experiences and the faces and names of people known because we do not regenerate our brain cells, as we did when we are young and active. The key is activity. It is true that the aging process and genetics do affect memory but the brain was created as a powerful organ that renews its cells for the duration of our lifetime. With lifestyle changes there is no reason most people cannot improve short-term and long-term brain functions at any age.
The brain’s memory center is where we store our knowledge and experiences. It is called the hippocampus. This is a Latin word for seahorse because the hippocampus is supposed to resemble a seahorse and not a hippopotamus. The hippocampus is part of the limbic system located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe, near the center and gives us our ability to recall facts and events. The hippocampus does not control short-term memory, which we use in our day-to-day activities. The cortex and the cerebellum, both of which are structures in the limbic system, regulate short-term memory and procedural memory.
So how do we ensure that our entire limbic system, especially our hippocampus is at optimal peak to remember stuff? Here are some useful tips:
Forming New Habits
There are three processes to remembering things –attention, storage and retrieval. In order to remember someone or something, they or it must have made an impression on our minds, otherwise the bus passes by but we see no one on it, even though people were sitting in it. Once you paid attention to the thing, the brain then stores it and when it is needed, the brain recalls it.
Dr. D. A. Williams and Dr. M. Carey of the University of Michigan suggests that those of us who are forgetting to do things, such as to lock the door or turn off the light when we leave a room, pay attention. We must tell ourselves out loud not to forget to turn off the light and close the door. If we still forget, keep trying until the old habit is broken and a new habit is created. Or we must repeat people’s names to ourselves when we meet them or to them –like hello John, good-bye John, so the next time we see them we remember their names.
Dr. D. A. Williams and Dr. M. Carey also suggest developing our senses –what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. By paying attention to what is going on around us, we live less in our distracting thoughts and stay present in what is going on in the now.
Rearranging our homes and throwing away things that should not be there, placing things in the right places and repetitively doing new stuff to wake our sleeping brains helps with memory recall. The more new activities added to our lives, the more our brain grows to facilitate us learning. It is a genius creation.
Activities for the Brain
Engage in brain activities that stimulate the brain. There are tons of brain games online that are geared towards improving memory and cognitive skills. There are also techniques like mnemonics that are taught from the pre-school level to the tertiary level to improve memory. Mnemonics is the use of letters and symbols to represent nouns and objects –like ‘my very educated mother just showed us nine planets (MVEMJSUNP –Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Socialize and Pick Up Hobbies
Socializing can be tough because many of us do not know how to get along with different personalities but by taking up new interests and hobbies, we automatically meet new people and stimulate our brains both ways –for everything about new people and new tasks is challenging. Doing the same routine lulls the brain to sleep. To build new brain cells the brain must be challenged. Learning to paint, sew, kick-box, play the piano or write stories engages the brain. Every discarded skill you wished you had but failed to even try, pick it up. Picking up hobbies and interest come highly recommended as activities to challenge and strengthen the brain.
Omega 3 improves memory and brain health. It is found in fish oil but for those vegans who are not interested in supplements, Omega-3 is also found in walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, pinto beans, soybeans, spinach, broccoli and in high doses in coconut oil. Reduce the consumption of Omega 6 (processed vegetable oils) and balance the ratio between Omega 3 and Omega 6 with uncooked coconut oil.
What we eat or do not eat nourishes or malnourishes the brain. Sugars and simple carbs do not energize the brain, in fact they malnourish the brain. Biscuits, buns, bullas and white bread are simple carbs and sodas, drinks and most juices not purchased in a supermarket are made of simple sugars that drain the body of energy. Juices made from raw fruits are best for the brain.
The brain is fuelled by ketones, which the body derives from fatty acids when deprived of carbohydrates for an extended period of time. Coconut oil and other sources of healthy fatty acids nourish the body to generate ketones. Eating between ten o’clock in the morning and six in the evening facilitates the 16 hours of fasting the body requires to begin metabolizing its brain fuel or going on a ketogenic diet can do the trick. Ketogenic diets are high in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbohydrates and are best designed by a doctor because it affects blood sugar levels, the heart and the kidneys.
Two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) supplies 20 grams of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) will help to prevent and treat some degenerative neurological diseases.
Getting sufficient sunlight also increases nerve growth in the brain. Sunlight provides the body with vitamin D, which affects the brain’s ability to plan, to process information and to form new memory cells. Vitamin D receptors are located in the in the hippocampus and cerebellum.
The gut is also very important to brain function, our psychological state and our behavior. Bacteria are transmitted from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve. Abnormal gut flora correlates with abnormal brain development. The gut is also where neurotransmitters like serotonin -which affects mood- are produced. Avoiding sugars, simple carbs and eating healthy bacteria found in brewer’s yeast and yogurt are three of the best ways to support a healthy gut.
Aerobic exercise such as anything adrenaline based, like running, skipping, hiking or brisk walking is good for improving memory. Aerobic exercises, cardiovascular training, simple weight training and movement therapy are recommended to improve the memory. The body is able to burn excess carbohydrates and sugar, which makes it turn to its fat stored, synthesizing Ketone –brain fuel.
Sleep deprivation affects problem solving, as well as creative and critical thinking skills. Napping during the day is known to improve memory recall and restore brainpower. Sleeping or napping after study sessions causes better recognition in patterns of new information. Get restful sleep at nights. Sleep enhances your memory. Sleeping four to six hours improves the clarity of your thinking.
Avoid TVs, laptops, tablets and phones at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by the screens of these devices trigger alertness and suppress hormones such as melatonin that make the body sleepy. Avoid energy boosting beverages and black tea; they keep the body awake.
Meditation improves depression, anxiety, chronic pain, high blood pressure, focus, concentration, creativity, memory and learning.