By Olivia Janisch

Our brains are incredible parts of our physiology, supporting our ability to do everything from picking up a pencil to driving a car to coping with challenging situations. Its critical we do activities that promote brain health and reduce decline. Over time, our memories begin to weaken, but there are simple steps we can take to improve memory function and make our lives much easier.

Walk to Grow Your Brain

Studies show that walking is on of the best things you can do for your memory. Walking oxygenates the brain and increases the size of the hippocampus, the memory-creating center of the brain, by 1-2%, This translates into one to two years of memory decline that would occur otherwise with normal aging. It turns out that the human brain is modifiable even into later stages of life, so even if brain shrinkage does occur as we age, it’s possible to keep it healthy and strong with right activity.

The beauty of this is that you don’t need a rigorous exercise regimen to improve your memory, just a commitment to taking a 20-30 minute walk a few times a week. No matter what your age, it’s an accessible health promoting activity. Studies have proven over and over again that even moderate amounts of activity have substantial benefits on memory and brain health.

Reduce Stress and Enjoy Life

Stress interferes with the memory production center of your brain. Cortisol, the hormone released when we get stressed, reduces synapses in the pre-frontal cortex of rats, the place where short-term memories are housed. Chronic stress also reduces the number of neurons that assist in information processing and can make you more vulnerable to developing mental illness. Young people exposed to excessive stress tend to be more prone to anxiety, learning difficulties, and mood disorders as they get older.

To reduce stress, try the following:

1. Identify triggers

Knowing what makes you stressed will help you properly manage it and/or cut it out of your life if it doesn’t serve you.

2. Eat a healthy diet rich in omega-3s

Eating foods rich in nutrients will nourish your cells and enable your body to work efficiently and with ease. Omega-3s are hugely important for brain function and promote creation our natural stress relievers.

3. Drink Water

Water hydrates brain cells and enables us to think more clearly. Even slight dehydration of the brain causes us to perceive tasks as more difficult and significantly impairs brain function, raising stress levels.

4. Do stress relieving activities

Walk, read, nap, take a shower, play with your dog – doing things that triggers the pleasure centers of your brain helps you release stress and promotes the release of feel good hormones.

When in Doubt, Eat Chocolate

A new study suggests that the dietary cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate can reverse age-related memory loss. These flavanols were shown to increase blood flow to a critical region of the brain’s pattern recognition center called the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus. It’s thought that these results are due possibly to the fact that flavanols increase blood flow to the brain, or that they cause dendrites to grow, which are the message-receiving branches of neurons.

Bear in mind, the study was funded by the chocolate company Mars, so you may not want to use this as an excuse to eat chocolate all day every day. But, from what I can see, a little organic dark chocolate every once in a while never ruined anyone’s life.

Photo by Jonas Nilsson Lee

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