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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 UCLS Center on Aging and author of The Memory Bible and The Memory Prescription, “the big four” in promoting the brain’s health and memory capability 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 bllod 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.”