Preserving your memory—whether working, short-term, or long-term—is quintessential to living a meaningful and fulfilling life. But how can you stay out of the clutches of age-related cognitive decline? While memory decline is common with increasing age (research suggests it could happen as early as middle age!), it's not inevitable.
You can take active steps to ward off memory issues. In this article, discover the five things you could do to protect your brain.
#1: Get moving
Been sitting too much? Here’s something that might get you itching for some movement: studies have consistently suggested that just a single session of exercise is enough to improve recall. And, of course, the cognitive benefits "snowball" if you consistently stick to a regular exercise routine over years or decades. More specifically, doing so may not only improve memory but could also help fortify against future memory problems.
As for how much exercise you need? At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity weekly, coupled with muscle-strengthening exercises twice weekly—according to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
#2: Try these brain exercises
Don’t forget to “exercise” your brain, too:
- Learn something new (e.g., musical instrument or language): According to a 2020 systematic review published in Neuropsychology Review, bilingual individuals develop dementia later than those who only speak one language. And interestingly, a 2017 study published in Musicae Scientiae found that people over 60 who took piano lessons scored higher on episodic memory tests six months later than those who didn't.
- Do some math: Skip the calculator app. This study published in Age found that seniors given basic math and reading problems to work on daily for six months experienced boosts in cognitive functions, including memory.
- Have fun with crosswords: Forget “cognitive boosting” web games. In a 2022 study published in NEJM Evidence, researchers randomly assigned participants to either a group that played online cognitive games (focused on memory, processing speed, and executive function) or a group that solved online crossword puzzles. After 18 months, the researchers found that participants in the latter group showed improvement in cognition—including attention and memory—and experienced less brain shrinkage than those in the former group.
- Make time for meditation: Preventing your thoughts from straying can be challenging. So, unsurprisingly, research has shown an association between mindfulness/meditation and greater neuroplasticity, reduced brain aging, and improved cognitive abilities.
#3: Eat more plant-based foods
Specifically, the ones rich in polyphenols. That’s because researchers in a 2021 12-year prospective study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research have found that a higher intake of polyphenol-rich, plant-based foods could help reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. Examples of noteworthy polyphenol foods highlighted by the study’s authors include apples, blueberries, oranges, pomegranates, cocoa, and mushrooms.
#4: Supplement with natural nootropics
While there isn’t a magical pill you could pop for instant improved memory, a few natural nootropics may bolster your cognitive functions as you age. These include:
- Resveratrol: A 2014 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that 200mg of resveratrol daily for 26 weeks improved memory in a small group of healthy older adults.
- Creatine: Not just for bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts; research suggests that creatine supplements can improve memory and thinking skills in individuals who don’t eat meat.
- Ginkgo Biloba: Believed to increase blood flow to the brain, ginkgo biloba has been found to improve memory and thinking skills in healthy middle-aged people.
- Bacopa monnieri (aka Brahmi): This traditional Ayurvedic herb has been found to improve thinking skills and memory in healthy individuals and older adults suffering from a decline in brain function.
#5: Actively pursue happiness
Feelings of happiness can boost your memory. Or, at least, that’s what a 2016 study published in Cognition & Emotion found. According to the researchers, positive mood helped enhance working memory capacity, while negative mood did not influence performance. That’s all well and good…but it's not like you can "turn on" happiness like a switch, right? True, but here's a science-based hack you could try to feel happy within the next five minutes: recall a happy memory. Other happy-inducing hacks you could try include practicing gratitude, deep breathing, and simply smiling.
Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.
Medically Reviewed by:
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center After clinical practice, she founded a medical device company where she invented six patented medical devices for both life-threatening and non-life-threatening conditions.