Follow the advice of Gary Small, M.D., and your forgetful episodes will soon be just a memory. Dr. Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging and author of The Longevity Bible, prescribes a combination of small lifestyle changes and mental gymnastics that can dramatically improve short-term memory in just 14 days. And his smarten-up strategies are not just for the AARP set. "Studies have shown that signs of brain aging begin to show up in the late 30s," he says. So start early!
To keep your mind sharp, Dr. Small suggests a regular regimen of puzzles, games, reading and hobbies. Traveling, learning a musical instrument or going back to school will also expand your mental horizons. But make sure to train, not strain, your brain, he says. Find the level of challenge that keeps you interested without frustrating or exhausting you.
To fight forgetfulness, use Dr. Small's three special memory techniques:
- Look: Focus attention on what you want to remember.
- Snap: Imagine a mental snapshot of the information.
- Connect: Link the snapshots together in your mind. For instance, if you want to make sure to remember to buy bread, baking powder and vacuum-cleaner bags at the store, you might imagine a picture of a baker vacuuming bread crumbs from the floor.
Don't Forget Other Areas
Lifestyle modifications are every bit as important as mental exercises, says Dr. Small. For starters:
- Eat more antioxidant-rich fruits, nuts and vegetables and less high-fat animal foods. Antioxidants help protect brain cells, and regulating glucose helps prevent diabetes, which has a strong link to Alzheimer's disease.
- Stretch and walk for at least 10 minutes each day. Physical exercise improves blood circulation -- speeding nutrients and oxygen to the brain -- and stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins.
- Regularly practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and guided visualization, all of which help reduce anxiety and suppress the release of cortisol, a hormone known to shrink the brain's memory centers.
Dr. Small tested the practices on a group of volunteers and found that after two weeks, the regimen significantly improved brain efficiency in the area of memory. One 46-year-old woman's memory improved to the level of a 25-year-old, he reports. So... what are you waiting for?