By Dominic O’Brien – 8 Times World Memory Champion
Some of the people who attend my courses do so because they have begun to notice problems with their memory – whether it’s forgetting names, appointments or because they can’t remember why they went upstairs to do something.
This can be quite worrying for some people as they may think this is the onset of dementia when really there are whole host of reasons why they have memory lapses.
Trying to multitask, being preoccupied with another thought, lack of sleep or feeling a bit stressed are all reasons that we might have moments of forgetfulness. Or, it could just be our mental processes slowing down a little as we age popularly referred to as ‘Senior moments.”
Tips for avoiding ‘Senior Moments’
The common thread I find with those who come for help is that they’re leading stressful lives. Stress, and in extreme cases depression, are among the worst conditions possible for your memory.
There are a number of ways to relieve stress from simply concentrating on breathing, to yoga, meditation and mindfulness training.
Whatever you want to call it, the aim is to focus on the present, to be in the moment and not be distracted about thoughts from the past or concerns for the future.
There’s mounting evidence that exercising in this way can help relieve depression, boost self-esteem and raise creativity levels, an ideal state for learning and remembering and this works particularly well with school children.
- Aerobic exercise
Regular exercise not only counters the numbers of stress hormones in your body, but releases powerful mood-enhancing endorphins to give you that ‘feel good’ factor. These days the top performing memorisers train, physically as well as mentally, harder than ever before as this sport gets ever more competitive.
Regular, high intensity exercise, using equipment like treadmills or exercise bikes is ideal. Lifting weights can also be good for your memory.
Even short aerobic bursts can have a very positive effect on memory. I recommend 15-minute sessions of aerobic or strength exercise, 3 days a week and ideally 5 days a week to see the maximum benefits to your memory.
Brainy or essential fats such as Omega 3 when taken in an equal amount with Omega 6 can increase the efficiency of your brain and elevate your mood.
Cold water oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon have a good supply of Omage-3 as do flax seed or linseeds.
What seems to shine through all this research is that keeping to a so-called Mediterranean diet, low in saturated fats and red meat, but rich in vegetables, is the option to go for to ensure the best chance of staying mentally sharp late into life.
So, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish and other types of seafood, whole grains, and supplement your diet with either olive oil or mixed nuts.
- A Good Night’s Sleep
A lack of sleep or, more importantly, good quality sleep, can contribute to a build-up of stress. This can negatively affect not just your memory but your mood, problem-solving abilities and creativity.
Try to the follow the principles of ‘sleep hygiene’ and avoid stimulants such as caffeine before you retire to sleep. Make sure your room is dark and quiet. Your bed is comfortable and that you follow a pre-sleep routine that will prepare your body and brain that it’s time for bed.
For example, you might turn out the lights in a particular order, or you might have a pre-sleep meditation.
- Stimulation and Memory training
Research tells us that brain stimulation at any age can help to slow down decline on memory. I believe one of the most vulnerable times of our lives is when we come to retire. If we make a decision to switch off both physically and mentally, this can be a recipe for cognitive disaster.
Even when you retire it’s essential to keep stimulating your brain by challenging it. Give it activities that leave it feeling slightly out of breath. Reading, learning a new language, playing bridge or chess, joining a dance group, anything that gets those brain cells ticking will help to slow down or even halt, cognitive decline. I believe that the best challenge for your brain is, of course, playing the game of memory, which you can do in very practical ways on a daily basis.