The past week has brought the issue of my diminishing memory sharply into focus. The good news is that a) I’m definitely not alone, and b) I can work smarter at improving it.
When did my memory go into early retirement?
I’ve never been good at remembering names – ever. I instantly recognize a face of someone I barely knew from 30 years back, but a name…. it’s gone as quickly as it was mentioned. My memory for detail has always been exceptional – down to minutiae on cost estimates and financials years back. On Monday afternoon, I tried to remember the details of a meeting I’d had on Saturday afternoon – I even had notes to prompt me – but for the life of me, the information hadn’t stuck anywhere. And with the arrogance of having had exceptional recall, I hadn’t made detailed-enough notes…
One of my favorite times of the week is my not-to-be-missed 8am call with my sister on Saturday mornings. We’ve been doing it for years, and everyone knows not to mess with our weekly appointment. Recently I’ve been noticing how often I want to tell her something, and before she’s finished her sentence it’s already slipped away into the shadows… Thankfully, it happens to her too and we laugh and try and retrace our conversation to figure out what might prompt us.
This past weekend I was asked what had been happening in my life that was of significance in 2013… how to explain that I can barely remember things from 48 hours back, never mind the details from 7 years ago!
And words …. How often they’re now on the tip of my tongue… words I’ve used regularly and would have tripped off my tongue in a torrent. Gone. I feel them, search for them, cogitate… and hours later or in the middle of the night – there it is!
The fact is that a diminishing memory is a fact for all of us – in some way or another. As midlife approaches we are all going to start experiencing cognitive decline.
Fact: cognitive decline can start as early as 45 and will very slowly progress with age. Most people over 50 will experience some kind of memory loss or difficulty recalling things they would normally not have trouble remembering.
What really troubles me is all the research that is showing that those of us in our mid-40s and fifties have a long road ahead. We’re going to be living longer – but in worse health – than those in their late 50s, 60s and 70s. So, the fact that we don’t pay nearly enough attention to exercising our brain and working on re-enforcing and building on new neuropathways is troubling. Exercising our brains – just like our bodies – is crucial, and the sooner we get started, the better.
The Mayo Clinic and many other institutions recommend ‘staying mentally active’. Thankfully I do – and always have done – a lot of “brain work”. I knit complex patterns, I do Sudoku, crosswords, the odd puzzle. Much of my work involves complex problem solving. With all of that, I’d expect my brain to be in great shape. And yet suddenly I am noticing the difference in my ability to remember.
Move it or lose it
Physical activity does 2 things for your brain: It helps circulate oxygen in the brain, encouraging better function; immediate improvement in brain activity and memory after just a short spurt of exercise. The more you exercise, the better the long-term improvements on your old grey matter.
Movement is a key part of keeping our cognitive ability as sharp as possible, but often our need for learned, habitual behavior is a hindrance, not a help. When we do feedback sessions with new members of TheOptimal.me, a regular comment is that members stick to the same workout over and over again until they’ve learnt it. And that defeats the objective!
TheOptimal.me’s IMRs have been created by Jannie to challenge and build our cognitive ability as we age – and can literally turn back the clock if we stop looking for perfection and try to follow the varying patterns in the workouts. The variation is what works the brain! That’s the “secret sauce” we all need in our fitness routines. Instead of wanting to know exactly what to do and what comes next, we should open our minds to embracing the unknown and working towards regular, small, incremental improvements.
The only thing you need to remember
Maybe now’s the time we embrace changing things up – we can get moving at home where no-one’s watching, there’s no judgement of how “good” we are. We can just do it – every day – knowing that in the future we’ll be dazzling our grand and great grandchildren with our amazing recollection of the 80s and maybe even all their friend’s names!
If you find yourself trying to recall what you read about memory in this post, here’s all you need to hang onto:
- Keep your mind engaged though mentally challenging/ stimulating activities like Sudoku
- Exercise is crucial! Try to get in as much exercise as possible – even if it’s just 15 minutes a day!
I had a clever line to end this post, but I’ll remember it later and get back to you!