Staying Young: Develop a Memorable Memory

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Dr. Oz shares seven ways to prevent memory loss and keep your brain operating at maximum efficiency.
By Michael Roizen & Mehmet Oz

Our brains sure do have a way of messing with our minds. One moment, you can be spitting out the names of your entire third-grade class, the batting statistics from the 1974 St. Louis Cardinals, the color dress you wore to the eighth-grade Sadie Hawkins dance, or the entire script from your favorite Seinfeld episode. The next minute, you space on the name of your cat.

Call them what you want—senior moments, doomsday, dementia—but the truth is that we all experience these neurological hiccups as we age, and we all wonder exactly what they mean. Some of us write them off to stress, fatigue, or some kind of neurological overload that’s caused by the ogre who signs our paychecks, while others worry about whether a spat of forgetfulness means we have a first-class ticket on the express train to Alzheimer’s.

No matter what we may think causes our decline in mental acuity, most people share a pretty big assumption about our gray matter: Either our brains are genetically determined to be Ginsu sharp for the duration, or that we’re eventually going to live life putting on our underwear last. That is, we believe that our genes completely control our neurological destiny. That simply isn’t true.

Like babies and brats, all your brain wants is this: attention. Feed it, challenge it, care for it, and you’ll smack a bad genetic destiny square in the face with five knuckles of good information and smart action. One of the key things to do is constantly stretch your mind—be it through crosswords, Scrabble, chess, or learning how to speak Chinese (if you don’t already). Thankfully, there are many ways to keep your brain operating at maximum efficiency, maximum power, and maximum quality.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

Teach a Lesson:
In life, we have all kinds of teachers—first-grade teachers, biology teachers, ballet teachers. While they may have been responsible for teaching us how to read, how to dissect a frog, or how to do the perfect plie, they also taught us perhaps one of the most important lessons about aging: Teaching can save your brain. You’re far more likely to retain information if you have to explain it to somebody else. The degree to which you can effectively explain information indicates how well you’ve actually learned it.

The lesson: Take advantage of mentoring opportunities—whether it’s instructing a class in your favorite hobby at a community college, or inviting the neighborhood teens over to teach them how to change a tire or make a soufflé. Teach the next generation, and you’ll power up your own generator.
Be a Lifelong Learner
Yeah, sure, we know what your ideal picture of retirement looks like: One hammock, one baby-blue ocean, four naps a day. That’s great and all, but one of the best ways to ensure that your mind doesn’t liquidate into the consistency of a pina colada is to continue to give it a reason to function. Work it. Challenge it. Teach it new things.

When you increase your learning during life, you decrease the risk of developing memory-related problems. That means your brain has a fighting chance—if you keep it active and engaged, if you keep challenging it with new lessons, if you learn a new game or new hobby or new vocation. You have to challenge your mind—even making it a little uncomfortable by pushing yourself to learn tasks that may not come naturally. Doing tough tasks reinforces the neural connections that are important to preserving memory. Like a clutch athlete, your mind has a way of rising to the occasion. Challenge it, and it will reward you.

Stop and Think About Thinking
Like breathing, thinking is designed to be an automatic process. Don’t believe us? Then do this. Don’t think of a bruised banana. Don’t picture it. Don’t let the image cross your mind. Ha! The only thing you can think of right now is that darn banana. The other vantage point here is that you can’t do anything but think when you’re thinking. Thinking is an involuntary reflex; while you can often control what you think about, thinking is as natural as an ocean’s ecosystem—stuff just kinda floats around and goes where it wants to go.

Now, try this when you’re doing a simple activity, like waking up. Instead of just rolling out of bed, splashing water on your face, and dreading your 8 a.m. meeting, think about your surroundings—listen for birds, notice the drips of water beading down your leg in the shower, savor the sips from your orange juice, think about every tooth you’re brushing. It doesn’t take any more time; it just helps train your brain. We’re not trying to go all philosophic on you; thinking about the thought process is really about awareness and is one of the tools you can use to strengthen your neural connections.

Live in the Moment
When it comes to your brain, stress acts as noise in your system—only it comes in the form of nagging tasks, job dissatisfaction, bills, and fights about who’s going to which family’s house for the holidays. One of the keys to having a healthy mind is to live as much as you can in the moment—that is, thinking about what you’re doing right now, not worrying about the mistakes you made yesterday or the headaches that await you tomorrow.

More stress means the inability to concentrate, and that’s been shown to contribute to a shrinking of the pre-frontal cortex. Is living in the moment hard to do? Of course it can be, but it’s a behavior you can learn with practice, similar to our previous strategy of thinking about thinking. Example: When you’re playing with your kids and letting tomorrow’s work day weigh on you, force yourself to concentrate on Candyland—making it a great experience for your kids rather than a distant one for you. It takes some time and effort, but in the end, the act of living in the moment rewards not only you, but also the people around you.

Feed on Brain Food
While physics would dictate that your food would travel down after you eat it, a certain amount travels up to your brain (via arteries after it’s been through the digestive process, of course). One of the best nutrients to help keep your cerebral power lines strong are omega-3 fatty acids—the kinds of fat found in fish like salmon and mahi mahi. These healthy fats, which have been shown to slow cognitive decline in people who are at risk, not only help keep your arteries clear, but also improve the function of your message-sending neurotransmitters. Aim for 13 ounces of fish a week, or if you prefer supplements, take 2 grams of fish oil a day.

Add a Dash of This and That

Several substances have been shown to help cognitive function. These are the ones we recommend:

*Carotenoids and flavonoids, which are vitamin-like substances that can act as antioxidants. Not essential for life, they tend to give color to fruits and vegetables.

*Lycopene and quercitin. Good sources include tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, leafy green vegetables, red apples, onions, cranberries and blueberries.

*Resveratrol, found in red wine, although the high doses that have been researched might require too much alcohol, so also consider a high-dose purified product as a supplement.

*A variety of flavonoids found in dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent pure cocoa (just don’t overdo it, because chocolate is high in calories).

*Turmeric and curcumin, spices found in Indian and curried foods. Mustard also contains turmeric and can reduce Apo E4 levels.

Detox Your Life:
If you’re experiencing memory problems that are causing you alarm, eliminate some key chemicals from your lifestyle first, before adding anything new. That includes such things as artificial foods (like sweeteners), MSG, and even shampoo (better to make sure the inside of your head is clean, isn’t it?).

Finally, despite their life-saving benefits, statin drugs can uncommonly cause reversible memory loss, a discussion that you should pursue with your doctor if you are more concerned about your memory than your heart.

Surprising tidbit: Even over-the-counter cold and allergy medications can contribute to memory problems; in fact, injecting lab animals with the active ingredient in Benadryl (diphen hydramine) is a research model for memory loss that immediately simulates Alzheimer’s

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