Everyone has memory blips from time to time — the word that’s on the very tip of your tongue, or the house keys that aren’t where you swear you left them. As you get older, these kinds of slip-ups may become even more common and frequent.
Yet you don’t have to resign yourself to memory loss. Try 9 simple steps that can help keep your brain sharp as you age.
1. Step It Up
A 30-minute daily walk is one of the best things you can do for your body, including your brain.
“Physical exercise has the best evidence for preserving memory and mental function with aging,” says R. Scott Turner, MD, PhD, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center.
Exercise can help prevent conditions that can lead to memory loss, such as:
High blood pressure
Some studies suggest that physical activity also triggers the release of a protein called BDNF, which promotes healthy nerve cells in the brain. That could give your memory a boost.
2. Go Mediterranean
A healthy diet is always good for your brain, but one eating style in particular may be best for preserving memory. “There’s good evidence for the Mediterranean-style diet,” says Argye Hillis, MD, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Keeping to a Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean pasta and pizza, she says, “but lots of fruits and vegetables, fish rather than red meat, and olive oil.”
One study found people who closely followed this diet were nearly 20% less likely to develop thinking and memory problems than people who didn’t stick to a Mediterranean eating plan.
3. Engage Your Brain
“Just like physical exercise, mental exercise is good for you,” says Mustafa Husain, MD, director of the geriatric psychiatry division at Duke University School of Medicine.
Play cards, join a book club, watch a football game with friends and discuss the score, or play a brain-training app. Any mentally challenging activity will keep your mind sharp.
4. Stay Social
Card games and book clubs also keep you socially active — another plus for your brain.
“The more social connections someone has, the better they are at preserving mental function and memory,” Turner says.
Social interaction also enhances memory through its effects on mood. “We see a lot more depression in people who are socially isolated,” Husain says. “Depression itself can cause dementia.”
5. Sleep Right
Try to get a good night’s sleep. “Attention and concentration go down when sleep is restless, and mental function is not as sharp as it is in those who have normal, restful sleep,” Husain says.
Try these tips to get better sleep:
Avoid big meals before bed.
Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol close to your bedtime.
Avoid smoking or other forms of nicotine.
6. Stop Stress
“Being under stress is very bad for your brain,” Turner says. High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, make it harder to pull out information from your brain’s memory.
To relieve stress, try different ways to relax, like meditation, yoga, or massage.
7. Stub Out Cigarettes
If you smoke, quit. Smoking speeds up memory loss as you age.
Smoking’s effect on memory is probably due to small strokes it can cause in the brain, Turner says. Try nicotine replacement, medicine, or counseling to help you kick the habit for good.
8. Get Checked
Sometimes, medical conditions like thyroid disease, diabetes, depression, or a vitamin deficiency can trigger memory loss.
Certain medicines, such as sleep and anxiety drugs, can also affect your ability to remember. See your doctor to get checked and treated for these problems, and to go over all your medicines.
9. Use Memory Tricks
When you have trouble with everyday memory, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Every time you learn a new name or word, say it out loud to seal it into your brain. Mentally connect each new name with an image. If you meet a girl named April, picture a tree in bloom to represent the month of April.
To help with recall, post sticky notes around the home and office, or set reminders on your phone so you’ll know when it’s time to take your medicine or head to an important meeting.