IT'S a common assumption that, just like greying hair and worsening eyesight, losing your memory is an inevitable part of ageing. But recent Australian research suggests this is a myth — getting older doesn't have to mean getting forgetful.
Staying healthy in your 40s and 50s can have a major impact on whether your memory declines. And from having sex on a regular basis to eating plenty of fruit — particularly cherries and berries — there are simple steps you can take day-to-day to help your memory work at its best.
Dr Yen Ying Lim, head of the Cognitive Aging Laboratory at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Victoria, says it helps to imagine your brain having a wall around it — and anything you do to strengthen that protective wall is good for your brain and memory.
"Due to genetics, some of us have a higher wall and some have a lower wall, but there are also things we can do to break down that wall or to maintain it," Lim explains.
"Things that break down that wall include being physically inactive, being obese and having high cholesterol and blood pressure."
So what can you do to build that wall up and boost your memory? Try these:
HAVE SEX REGULARLY
HAVING sex helps memory, particularly if you're young and female. A Canadian study found the more sexually active women were, the better they recalled random words during memory tests.
Other studies have shown that sex brings memory health benefits for older people, too — researchers believe it increases the growth of nerves in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that helps form memories.
"Sexual activity is an indication of health, social engagement and mental health so it captures that you're probably in a healthy weight range, socially engaged and aren't depressed or anxious," Lim says.
And these are all good indicators for healthy brain function and memory
ENJOY SOME CHERRIES
WHILE all fruit is good for you, some may be better than others for your memory.
University of Wollongong researchers found that cherry juice helped improve memory in older people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's type dementia.
People who drank 200ml of cherry juice daily for 12 weeks did "significantly" better in memory and word-recall tests.
The key here may be nutrients called flavonoids such as anthocyanin that gives cherries and berries their red, blue and purple colour. Flavonoids improve connections between areas of the brain linked to learning and memory and may help prevent the build-up of the brain-damaging amyloid plaques that are linked to Alzheimer's disease.
MAKING an 'almost right but not quite right' mistake helps you to remember the right information.
"Mistakes that are a 'near miss' can help a person learn the information better than if no errors were made," says Dr Nicole Anderson of the Baycrest Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, Canada.
"These types of errors can serve as stepping stones to remembering the right answer."
If you're making mistakes, it also suggests you're challenging your brain — which is also good for your memory.
IF YOU regularly juggle different jobs at the same time, it's time to stop.
"We multi-task too much and that creates distractions," Lim says.
"If you're always busy and have little time to pay attention to what you're doing, you don't remember things as well.
I keep multi-tasking to a minimum because I don't think it's beneficial to memory to split our attention."
Lim's thinking is backed by studies from Stanford University in the US, which found that multi-taskers particularly those who juggle emails, texts, watching TV and website hopping — are more likely to be distracted and forgetful.
EAT DARK CHOCOLATE
IN MUSIC to chocolate lovers' ears, new research from Loma Linda University in California shows that eating dark chocolate is good for your brain. Chocolate with at least 70 per cent cacao has a positive effect on mood and memory, and researchers says it's the protective flavonoids in cacao that seem to be beneficial.
Italian researchers have also revealed that having a small portion of dark chocolate daily can help memory — and it's particularly helpful if you're sleep-deprived.
It's believed to work on the hippocampus in the brain, which is connected to memory.
HAVE A DRINK
IT TURNS out that having a few drinks may make it easier to remember short-term — but moderation is key.
British researchers gave people a word-learning task, then half of them had a few alcoholic drinks and half didn't drink at all.
The next day, the drinkers remembered more words.
"The leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learnt information into long-term memory," explains Professor Celia Morgan at the University of Exeter in the UK.
MAKE A FIST
CLENCHING your fists seems to help memory and recall: Clench your right fist when you want to remember something and clench your left fist later to help recollect that memory, say researchers at Montclair State University in the US.
They asked people to clench their fists while they memorised and recalled words, and found it's important to make a fist with the right hand first and to rely on the left hand to bring back the memory.
"Your brain has a glymphatic system, which is like a waste-clearing system. As you sleep, it gets rid of toxins and one of those is the amyloid plaque related to the development of Alzheimer's," she adds.
"There's a theory that poor sleep may increase the rate of its build-up in your brain, which can lead to memory decline."
--SARAH MARINOS, bodyandsoul