Recovery Messages & News

Memory and Aging

By Sue Newton, MN, RN 

The same practices that contribute to healthy aging and physical vitality also contribute to healthy memory. The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. Just as it is with muscle strength, however, you have to use it or you lose it. Your lifestyle, health habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. Whatever your age, there are many ways to improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your grey matter.


To reduce memory loss and cognitive decline:


Exercise regularly. Scientific research has found that regular physical activity is the most important factor to improve memory in an aging brain. Exercise boosts brain growth factors and encourages the development of new brain cells. Exercise also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Exercise also makes a huge difference in managing stress and alleviating anxiety and depression-all of which leads to a healthier brain.


Stay social. People who don’t have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties. Social interaction helps brain function in several ways: it often involves activities that challenge the mind and it helps ward off stress and depression. Join a book club, reconnect with friends, or join the local fitness center. Being with other people will help keep you sharp!


Watch what you eat. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and drink green tea as these foods contain antioxidants in abundance, which can keep your brain cells from “rusting.” Foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed) are particularly good for your brain and memory. Eating too many calories, though, can increase your risk of developing memory loss or cognitive impairment. Also avoid saturated and trans fats. This lowers your cholesterol level and reduces your risk of stroke.


Manage stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. Even before that happens, stress or anxiety in small doses can cause memory difficulties in the moment. When you are stressed out or anxious, you are more likely to suffer memory lapses and have trouble learning and concentrating.


Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the process of forming and storing new memories so you can retrieve them later. Sleep deprivation also reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making.