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Memory: 5 Ways to Protect Your Brain Health

A Johns Hopkins expert offers simple lifestyle tips that can benefit your brain and protect against memory problems.

Q&A
What Can I Do Now to Strengthen and Protect My Memory?

“The best thing for memory is exercise,” says Rick Huganir, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neuroscience. Although researchers aren’t clear just how it works, the benefit may be related to increased blood flow to the brain, which strengthens connections between memory-forming cells. Or it may be that exercise triggers the release of certain brain chemicals, including growth factors that are also important in stimulating these connections.

Everybody’s memory goes on the fritz now and again. (Where did I put those keys?) Many lapses can be blamed on normal, fleeting problems like inattention or an overly busy day.

More concerning, though, are certain ongoing kinds of memory problems, which is why it’s worth doing everything in your power to minimize their odds of happening.

“Memory is just a tiny part of brain functioning, and there’s a lot you can do to protect your brain health,” says Johns Hopkins neurologist Barry Gordon, M.D., Ph.D.

Five of his top suggestions:

1. Weave heart-pumping exercise into your daily routine.

“A surprising amount of evidence points to this as the No. 1 thing you can do to improve brain health,” Gordon says. In addition to lowering your risk of hypertension and diabetes, improving mood and sleep, and helping with weight control, aerobic exercise may activate certain beneficial genes in the brain. Benefits accrue no matter what age you start, he says. 

2. Take care of any medical problems.

Diabetes, heart disease, stroke and hypertension are all known to damage brain health. The good news: You can reduce your risk of each of these health conditions—or potentially control them better.

3. Get enough sleep, and get help for existing sleep problems.

There’s increasing evidence that sleep disorders can cause problems with mental functions—including memory. Two of the most common sleep zappers: obstructive sleep apnea and stress.

4. Review the medications you’re taking with your doctor.

Some drugs, such as sedatives for anxiety, can affect thinking, says Gordon.

5. Stay socially engaged.

Challenging your brain by learning new things has many benefits. Even better is pursuing interests that connect you with others. “It’s probably better for brain health to have a conversation over lunch with a friend than to memorize numbers in reverse, for instance,” Gordon says. 

 

#TomorrowsDiscoveries: Preserving Memory - Mollie K. Meffert, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Mollie Meffert and her team investigate how genes and electrical flow interact to strengthen connections between neurons. These studies lay the groundwork for new therapies for brain disorders in which the connections between neurons fail to grow or function properly, such as Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia.

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