The distractions of daily living—noise, interruptions, or lack of sleep—can all impair memory and focus. Age takes its toll on the brain and disease, head injuries, and mental illness all affect the brain. There are ways to improve your memory and focus, maintain your brain health, and deter some of the inevitable effects of aging.
Play Brain Training Games
Memory and concentration games are more than pastimes: they are exercises for your brain. Doing puzzles, playing chess, word search games, and brain training apps help deter cognitive deterioration and might even help prevent dementia. Just 15 minutes of brain training a day five days a week improved brain functioning in a study conducted in 2015.
Rely on Your Brain First
If you knew the name of that song or that movie in the past, that information is still in there somewhere. Resist the temptation to grab your phone to look it up. Give your brain a chance to search its files first. This stimulates the areas of the brain involved in memory. Similarly, learning new things forges new neural pathways, refreshing and exercising your brain. So, take a class, learn a craft, or find a new route to the office. These activities refresh your brain and help it stay healthy.
Practice Mindfulness and Reduce Stress
When you’re under stress, your body and brain are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol, which can impair the hippocampus, your brain’s memory manager. Learn to meditate or adopt other stress-reducing practices, like doodling or writing in a journal, that allow you to process your emotions or alleviate boredom.
Exercise and Lose Weight
Physical exercise improves both your body and your brain. Studies have shown that regular exercise improves performance on cognitive tests and may decrease the risk of dementia. Aerobic exercise pumps up the oxygen to your brain, nourishing brain cells.
Obesity has been linked to a greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Insulin resistance, diabetes, and inflammation are all associated with obesity and all can damage memory and slow down your brain.
Improve Your Diet
Cut down on sugar, which is associated with lower brain volume and poor memory, not to mention weight gain. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and don’t neglect healthy fats from fish. Cut out refined carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, noodles, and fast foods, which can reduce brain function and impair working memory.
Get More Sleep
Sleep is your brain’s opportunity to organize, clean up, and process information. Your brain packages and stores short-term memories while you sleep, turning them into information you retain for a longer time. Getting enough sleep is one of the simplest ways to improve memory and focus. If you didn’t get a solid seven to nine hours of sleep, napping can help make up for it. A 90-minute nap has the best effect, but even 30 minutes will do your brain some good, giving it a chance to sort information and create memories.