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Popular belief used to hold that our memory peaked in early adulthood and then gradually declined. However, we now know that a healthy lifestyle can support brain health and even encourage brain development (specifically growing new neurons, or neurogenesis). The “memory centre” of the brain, known as the hippocampus, regenerates throughout our whole lives (even into our 90’s), if we provide the right environment. We’ve known this for ages in Chinese medicine, understanding that the three key components to replenishing our post-natal qi (namely eating, breathing and sleeping) have an impact on our health and brain function.
If you think you’ve got a terrible memory or are lacking in the memory department, think again! You can improve your memory with simple techniques tor replenishing your post-natal qi. The human brain is constantly developing, even in adults. In fact, as we age, our brains go through several different stages of development to achieve different memory functions.1 Here are three key lifestyle tips to improve your memory:
1. EATING: Feed your brain!
In recent years, the myth of the food pyramid has been debunked, especially relating to the global war against fats.2 Extensive research conducted by several high profile institutions, including Harvard, concluded that healthy fats may in fact be the secret to remembering better, especially fats sourced from plants, wild fish, and nuts. Make sure your oils are unrefined – olive oil is an excellent source (but best used as a “finishing oil” added after cooking. Heating olive oil too much can damage it). Also the Omega 3 fats found in wild oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel are essential fatty acids, meaning that the body cannot produce them and they must be sourced from diet.
The reason behind this connection is due to the process of oleic acid contained in fats digesting in the small intestines which then produce a molecule “oleoylethanolamide”, referred to as OEA for short. The OEA binds to receptors in the gut and then sends signals to the brain. These signals affect the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) which achieves a sense of satisfaction and fullness. Another signal ends up in the amygdala, the part of our brain that relates to emotional memories which then turn into long-term memories.3
Coconut oil is another healthful fat for brain function. Dr. Mary Newport has done extensive research examining the effects of coconut oil on brain health, specifically looking at the effect os medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) as a preventative measure against degeneration in neurological diseases. She indicates that eating just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which may have a protective effect for the brain.4
Research indicates that the OEA is at its peak approximate ten to twenty minutes after a meal containing such fats, so be sure to include some wild salmon or vegetables with healthy oils such as olive or coconut oil before studying. Or if it is between meals perhaps a snack with raw or toasted nuts. Also it is important to avoid sugars and refined carbs, and focus on including a variety of antioxidant-rich colourful vegetables, which may protect brain health
2. SLEEPING: the 8-Hour Myth
Although people may not realize how much they improve, research from Harvard shows that people are 33% more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas after sleeping. Science is catching up to what parents have always known, and we see clearly that sleep enhances memory, helps improve performance and our ability to think clearly.5
Exactly how many hours of sleep we need may vary from one person to another, depending on a variety of factors including our lifestyles, age.6 In this modern era the average person only sleeps for an approximate 4-6 hours a day. Although our needs may vary, likely 6 hours is not enough for most and 4 hours a night is certain to lead to cumulative sleep deprivation. Many students chronically cut their sleep short by staying up studying and waking with an alarm. Individuals suffering from sleep deprivation may find it challenging to retain new information.7
Do you need a stimulant in the morning to start your day? Can you function without your coffee or tea? Do you wake up refreshed and ready to start the day? Regardless of the exact number of hours you are getting when you hit the sack at night, if you feel like you lack sleep, it is likely affecting your memory.
During sleep, our brains enter a deep state of processing images, thoughts, words, sounds and all other senses, emotions, feelings that you felt throughout your day. Studies show being that even if you are not asleep, the rest you get when you lie in bed awake can still be beneficial.8
Prioritize giving yourself enough time to sleep. And start your study routine months before of the exam, maintaining a focused schedule. This way you allow yourself time to digest the information and incorporate it solidly into your long-term memory. Sweet dreams!
3. EXERCISE your Mind
Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and encourages our brains to work at optimum capacity. It enhances connections between brain cells, stimulates them to multiply, and protects them from damage. A study published in Neuroscience shows that monkeys learned new tasks twice as quickly as non-exercising monkeys.9 Another study, this one from the National Instate on Aging shows that exercising helps protect the brain from stress, allowing us to retain more information.
As we grow up and find ourselves out of school with busy schedules, it is up to us to create space in our schedules to start and maintain a regular exercise routine. Though it may at first feel burdensome, exercise has been proven consistently to have a positive impact not only on our physical health but also on our mental health, improving our ability to retain information.10
Commit to exercising at least 3 times per week, 20 minutes per session. You can increase your time and frequency from there. Find ways you enjoy exercising, or at least that you are willing to do. Find a dance class, a yoga class, hit the gym. If you can, go with a friend. The social support and accountability factor are great for keeping up with a new routine.
- New York Times: September 27, 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/technology/28proto.html_r=3&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1222898487-p7Sr7OBuREHvpps3O1oQjA&oref=slogin)
- Neuroscience. 2010 Jun 2;167(4):1239-48. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20211699)
- The mechanism studied is the effects of SIRT3 enzyme which is produced during physical exercise.
Manny likes to eat. Lately, he has been working hard and is under a lot of pressure. His company is preparing to do it’s first round of lay-offs. Yesterday afternoon, Manny found out he was one of the ones losing his job. That night a new restaurant, T-Rex, was opening. He went to T-Rex anyway and got properly drunk. He also had way too much barbecue. Two days later he came to you complaining of severe abdominal pain specifically around his umbilicus. His tongue has a sticky yellow coat. His pulse is wiry, slippery, and slightly rapid. Which point prescription would be most appropriate for his case?
- S36, P6, Ren12, Sp4, Sp16, Inner-Neiting
- S36, P6, Ren12, Liv3, Sp4, S25, Inner-Neiting
- S36, Ren12, B18, Liv3, S25, SJ6
- S36, Ren12, Liv3, Sp4, S25, Inner-Neiting