Your memories are an essential part of who you are. Your memories contain every lesson you’ve ever learned, every person you’ve met, and everything you’ve ever enjoyed, hated or loved. People unknowingly do things every single day to erase them but the good news is that there are ways to avoid doing this too.
- Eating junk food
There are two primary ways eating junk food harms your brain. First, the lack of certain vitamins in your food can impair your memory and cognitive abilities. Research has determined that B6, for example, can improve cognitive function and the lack of it has a detrimental effect on cognition and memory. The second diet-related behaviour that hurts your memory is indulging in a high-fat diet. Diets high in fat can slow brain function. A brain healthy diet would include more lean protein, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Try to make healthy choices overall and enjoy your indulgences in moderation.
- Drinking too much alcohol
Including a powerful depressant like alcohol in your diet can slow your brain function and increase your risk of brain damage over time. One study completed by the University of Kentucky found that the effects of heavy alcohol use on the brain are strikingly similar to the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease – it may even be a risk factor for the development of the condition later in life. Enjoying your favorite adult beverage is best in moderation to prevent long-term damage to your brain.
- Not sleeping enough
While insufficient sleep is dangerous to your health and brain in many ways, it can also cause memory damage. Not getting at least seven hours of sleep a night can prevent your brain from regenerating the cells it needs to create and secure new memories in your brain. A lack of sleep directly relates to short-term memory problems.
Smoking is the cause of a host of health problems and also makes it more difficult for oxygen to flow to the brain. While a person might not see immediate memory problems, the lack of oxygen to the brain correlates with cognitive decline in middle-age. Quitting smoking is not easy because your brain gets addicted to it, but if you would like to preserve your memory and ditch the cigarettes, there are plenty of resources to help you get started.
- Ignoring mental health issues
Mental health disorders, diagnosed or undiagnosed, can cause problems with memory as well. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions have been linked to memory loss. Also consider the fact that memory loss on its own could point to a larger mental health disorder or behavioural problems that need to be addressed by a professional. If you find yourself experiencing memory loss, consider speaking with a doctor to make sure that a mental health issue isn’t the cause.
- Stressing out
For many people stress is a normal part of life. Every time you experience stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Often called the stress hormone, cortisol has been tied to everything from having difficulty losing weight to memory loss and cognition problems. Over time, chronic stress can actually cause brain damage. Reducing the stress in your life isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but if your memory is hanging in the balance it becomes essential to take steps to reduce the stresses in your life.
- Not exercising
In addition to it being good for your body, exercise is essential for your brain to function optimally. In terms of memory, studies have found that exercise helps to increase blood flow to the brain which can in turn increase brain health and improve memory and cognition. Exercising also releases endorphins into your body, which can help to improve your mood and mental health, and has even been used in conjunction with medication and therapy to treat depression and other mental illnesses.
- Not getting enough Vitamin D
Exposing your skin to sunlight helps the body produce Vitamin D. A Vitamin D deficiency can cause long-term cognitive decline and memory damage. Individuals with a consistent vitamin D deficiency throughout their life are up to four times more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as they age.
The amount of time in the sun you need depends on your skin tone. For a person with fair skin, just 10 minutes in the sun at midday is enough to generate many times your daily requirement of Vitamin D. Darker skinned individuals can often meet their vitamin D needs in 15-20 minutes of sun exposure a day.