Exercise tips: Keeping memory sharp

Our memory is linked to many factors. While there is no magic pill that guarantees the ability to retain and recall information, there are steps we can take to help keep memory sharp.

The healthier the heart, the healthier the brain. Knowing your “numbers” can help provide a good starting point from which to assess your current state of health. Record your weight and waistline measurement and have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. If they are elevated, take a good look at your lifestyle habits. The brain must be supplied with sufficient oxygen and nutrients for the cells to stay alive and work properly. Conditions that reduce blood flow can starve all-important brain cells, which include those associated with memory.

Exercise! Physical activity is crucial for heart and brain health, improving circulation, strength and stamina, reducing stress and helping to manage weight. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by nearly half. Strive for a minimum of at least 30 minutes every day. When performing cardiovascular exercise, strive for a moderately winded pace., such as brisk walking.

Workouts aren’t just for your body. Thoughts dictate action, making brain training just as important as physical training. Throughout your lifetime, your brain is capable of adapting, reorganizing and even building new neural pathways, dubbed the ‘information highways’ of the brain. These neural pathways form the basis of your cognitive skills, which not only make up IQ but also influence your ability to process, retain and recall information.

Sleep. Studies and imaging of the brain have shown the impact that sleep deprivation has on learning and memory. The ability to remember is tied to the memory becoming stable in the brain, a function known as consolidation. It is believed that inadequate sleep interferes with consolidation, no matter the memory type. Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep nightly.

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Don’t smoke! Aside from increasing risk of lung damage and heart disease, smoking can affect blood flow to the brain. One study on the effects of smoking on over 5,000 people concluded that smokers were much less likely to retain information. Subjects were shown 15 words for two seconds each and then asked to write down as many as they could remember. The smokers in their 40s and 50s had significantly lower scores than the non-smokers, and those who smoked the most scored even lower. Research found that those who decided to kick the habit saw their ability to recollect information restored to almost the same level as non-smokers.

De-stress. We live in a fast-paced society, typically on the go from the moment we wake up in the morning. This makes it all the more important to seek out ways to de-stress and regroup. The body reacts to chronic stress by increasing production of the hormone cortisol, which has been linked to memory loss.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. Write to her in care of the Dayton Daily News, call her at (937) 878-9018 or send email to marjie@ohtrainer.com.

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