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5 Hacks to Improve Memory and Focus

5-hacks-improve-memory-and-focus

The trouble with brain fog is, it’s easy to dismiss as “nothing serious.”

Misplacing your car keys, for example, can certainly feel frustrating as you desperately try to retrace your steps. Yet after you find your keys, it’s easy to laugh it all off and forget about it.

But here’s why such incidents aren’t as funny as you might think.

Doctors and researchers agree that brain fog is an early risk indicator of developing dementia later in life, and the early warning signs include:

  • short-term memory loss
  • misplacing things
  • the inability to retrace steps
  • difficulty following storylines on TV or at the movies
  • trouble planning or solving problems

In other words, the symptoms of brain fog are like “You Are Here” markers on a map, showing you what may be around the next corner unless you change course right now. And your body REALLY wants you to get the message, and you really should, because dementia is on the rise.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5-million Americans now live with dementia. By 2050, someone in the U.S. will develop dementia every 33 seconds (up from the current 66 seconds), and the risk isn’t just for aging Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers.

Because of pollution, environmental changes and other factors over the last 20 years, research shows a growth in early-onset dementia for Americans in their 40s. Other research out of UCLA shows 14% of Americans between 18 and 39 suffer from poor memory, and as an indication of the seriousness of this “new epidemic,” recent reports by the RAND Corporation predict U.S. healthcare costs to skyrocket to $511 billion by 2040.

Here’s the Good News: Dementia is not inevitable. Memory and focus problems are just your body’s way of telling you that you have an opportunity right now to easily turn it all around before those issues become something more serious.

Here are 5 simple hacks to help improve your memory, sharpen your focus, and boost your brain health

Drink More Water

more-water

If you’re struggling to remember things… if you can’t stay focused… a glass of water is a simple way to clear the haze, improve memory and focus and sharpen your thoughts.

As the most complex organ in your body, your brain is roughly 85% water, and it needs optimal water replenishment each day in order to keep operating at its best. Water gives your brain the electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.

The trouble is, most people don’t drink enough water.

The average person in the U.S. drinks 2½ cups of water per day. Yet according to the Mayo Clinic, the average person loses more than 10 cups of water every day. So most people are dehydrated to some degree most of the time, and dehydration doesn’t just happen from hard physical exercise. The simple act of breathing causes a daily loss of water. Yet dehydration can also happen through:

  • simple perspiration
  • going to the bathroom
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • burns
  • drinking alcohol

And it doesn’t take much to impact your brain. Studies have shown that, if you’re only 1% dehydrated, you’re at risk of a 5% decrease in cognitive function. A 2% drop in water can cause short-term memory and focus problems. And research shows that 90 minutes of steady sweating can actually shrink the brain equal to 2½ months of shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that your brain is a resilient organ that quickly bounces back. In the same study that measured sweating and brain shrinkage, participants quickly returned to normal brain volume and function after a glass or two of water. To make sure you’re getting enough water, health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day (a.k.a. the “8 by 8” rule).

If you can’t stomach that much water, try eating water-rich fruits like watermelon (92% water), strawberries (92% water) or peaches (88% water), to name a few.

Visit the Mediterranean!

mediterranean

No, I’m not talking about visiting the Mediterranean Sea (as great as that would be). I’m talking about something you can do today… something more affordable… and something delicious to improve memory and focus.

I’m talking about the Mediterranean Diet.

Called “the world’s healthiest diet,” the Mediterranean Diet is a daily eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. The diet also includes lean proteins like fish and poultry over red meat, and allows for moderate consumption of red wine.

For years, the Mediterranean Diet has been associated with healthy and sustainable weight loss, as well as heart health and better energy. Yet new research indicates that the Mediterranean Diet may also be good for brain health.

In 2017 studies published by the American Academy of Neurology, researchers examined the eating habits of 967 adults averaging age 70 over 3 years. At the end of the study, researchers found that those who closely followed the Mediterranean Diet retained greater brain volume than those who didn’t follow the diet as closely.

“As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells, which can affect learning and memory,” said study author Michelle Luciano, PhD. “This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”

The key to the Mediterranean Diet’s effect on brain health seems to be its balance of foods. Researchers didn’t find that fish and meat were uniquely related to greater brain volume, and concluded that the diet’s effect may be due to “all of the components in combination.”

In other words, if you’re a meat lover, the diet allows for fish or poultry at few times a week. Yet to get the full brain benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, you’re going to have to make sure you stick to the plan’s main focus of fruits, grains, beans and veggies.

Limit Your Multitasking

multitasking

How many times have you checked your phone today? Once? A dozen times? How about email? If you don’t know, you want to read this section carefully to improve memory and focus because juggling between tasks and electronic devices hasn’t just been shown to cause brain fog. Multitasking can also sap your energy, and might be making you dumber—permanently.

For starters, there’s no such thing as multitasking (which literally means to do two things at once). According to neuroscience, your brain has to quickly switch gears from one task to another. The constant shifting increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes scrambled thinking and mental exhaustion.

Multitasking has also been shown to lower IQ. In studies by the University of London, subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced IQ drops similar to missing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana.

Trouble is, multitasking is addictive. When you complete a small task like answering a text, your brain rewards you with the “feel-good” hormone dopamine. That reward compels you to do more small tasks for more instant gratification, and that starts a cycle that only increases cortisol and makes brain fog worse. And new research suggests cognitive damage caused by multitasking could be permanent.

In studies conducted by the University of Sussex, researchers found that people who spent large amounts of time on multiple devices (e.g. texting while watching TV) had less density in the anterior cingulate cortex (the part of the brain involved in decision-making and impulse control).

To avoid the mental and focus problems caused by multitasking, limit the amount of time you spend each day on devices. Set a schedule, such as only checking email two or three times a day. Disable text notifications, or set a time each evening when you turn your phone completely off.

Get More Sleep

sleep

A good night’s sleep isn’t just refreshing. Research shows that solid sack time protects you against memory problems and mental damage.

In studies conducted by Harvard Medical School, 15,385 healthy female nurses were asked about their nightly sleep duration, first in 1986 and later in 2000. At the end of the study, researchers found that women who slept five hours or less per night tested worse for memory and thinking skills. They also had an increased risk of diabetes and higher blood pressure.

So the solution seems simple enough. Fluff up the pillows, pop in some earplugs and grab 8 hours of shuteye. Easy, right?

At one time, it was. In the 1930s, adults slept an average of 8.7 hours a night. Even in the 1980s, adults slept an average of 7.7 hours per night.

Today, Americans sleep less than ever before (averaging 6.8 hours a night) because of many factors, including:

  • the pressure and demands of jobs
  • stress and worry over money
  • too much TV or online time before bed
  • artificial light and other environmental factors

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1 in 6 Americans is considered to have a sleep disorder. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 63% of Americans don’t get enough sleep during the week, and in the battle to get more rest, nearly 9-million Americans resort to sleeping pills. But you don’t have to resort to drugs to sleep soundly.

As a natural and healthy alternative, Magnesium promotes deep and restful sleep as a mineral that helps relax muscles and even plays a key role in hydration. In fact, if you’re not getting enough sleep, Magnesium deficiency may be the cause.

Magnesium is vital to the production gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter that your brain needs to “switch off” and go to sleep.

Found in foods like spinach, kefir and almonds, Magnesium can also be found in black beans, pumpkin seeds, and chard. If leafy greens and seeds aren’t your thing, you can easily get all the benefits of Magnesium in supplement form.

Eat More Avocados

avocados

Considered one of the best brain foods, avocados are a nutritional gold mine for better memory and focus because they’re rich in the critical brain nutrient Magnesium.

In studies published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE (Public library of Science), increased dietary intake of Magnesium was shown to significantly improve memory and learning capacities… and even reverse damage.

The effects of Magnesium work in three key ways:

  1. Synaptic Health: Magnesium helps maintain healthy synapses—the tiny electrical switches that transmit signals between your brain neurons and directly regulate memory and learning.
  2. Brain Energy: Magnesium is necessary for ATP synthase, an important enzyme that your brain uses for energy, and stores for future use.
  3. Nerve Protection: Magnesium helps maintain a healthy nervous system. Low Magnesium levels have been connected to neurodegenerative disease, cellular aging, and dementia.

One medium avocado meets 15% of RDI with 58mg of Magnesium. Avocados are also a rich source of Potassium (good for stress relief), as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Plus, avocados are non-GMO. Yet there are some cautions.

If you’re watching your weight, the average avocado contains about 227 calories. According to the American Council on Exercise, the average woman burns about 2,000 calories a day, while a man averages 2,700 calories. So, a woman who eats two avocados a day would consume nearly ¼ of her daily calories from just two avocados. Also, avocados rank #50 on the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. As low as this seems, the California Avocado Commission still recommends thoroughly washing avocados before using them.


Wishing you good health through wise nutrition,
matt

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