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Promote brain health and challenge your mind 

If you’ve ever forgotten a familiar person’s name or important items on your to-do list, why shrug it off?  Medical experts recommend taking steps to improve your memory.

According to Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and author of The Memory Bible and The Memory Prescription, “the big four” in promoting the brain’s health and memory are:
– Mental aerobics. Mentally challenging tasks work on the use-it-or-lose-it principle and build new neurological pathways that protect brain health. Options: brainteasers, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, even novel ways to perform familiar tasks (a right-hander brushing his or her teeth left-handed).
– Physical exercise. “Regular cardiovascular workouts will protect the brain,” says Dr. Small, explaining that such regimens help to ensure adequate blood flow to the brain and thus provide a safeguard for mental capability. “Some studies have found that just 10 minutes a day of brisk walking reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, improves blood circulation, and reduces the risk of medical conditions that impair brain function, including hypertension and diabetes.”
– Brain food. The so-called Mediterranean diet—rich in fresh fruits, veggies and omega-3 fat—promotes heart health and is also a “brain protective” way to eat, says Dr. Small.
– Stress reduction. In laboratory research, animals under prolonged stress have smaller hippocampus memory centers in the brain, according to Dr. Small; human volunteers injected with the stress hormone cortisol have temporary impairment in memory. Among recommended stress busters? Regular exercise and adequate sleep.

As effective as the “big four” are, Dr. Small adds this important caution: “Anyone with a new concern about increased forgetfulness or sudden change in memory should consult a physician.”

Remember This 

To build powers of recall, Gary Small, M.D., recommends mastering three basic skills: look (“actively observe what you want to learn”); snap (“create mental snapshots of memories”); connect (“link your mental snapshots together”).

For example, to remember a person’s name, make sure you consciously listen to the name; then create a visual image of the name and, finally, connect it to the face with a mnemonic device. “If Mrs. Stockton has a round face,” says Dr. Small, “think of a balloon falling on a ton of stock certificates.”
A clever way to remember a list of errands is to employ the Roman room method, originally devised by ancient Roman orators to help recall lengthy speeches. Pick a familiar room, and in your mind, travel to its key locations, placing items to remember as you go. Observes Dr. Small, “You can then retrieve the information when [retaking] a mental walk around the room.”