Opinion - Doctor’s case book

Dr Keith Souter
Dr Keith Souter

One of the commonest concerns that people have is about their memory.

Research suggests that there are four positive things that seem to actually improve memory. These are, regular memory exercises, stress reduction, a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Using this four-part lifestyle program, researchers found that not only was memory demonstratively improved in just two weeks, but brain efficiency also improved.

Thirty-four adults between the ages of 35 and 70 years were randomly allocated to two groups. One received no change to their lifestyle, while the second group were put onto the four-part memory improvement regime.

Firstly, the diet. They had to eat five small meals a day, instead of three larger meals. The diet was enriched with omega-3 fats from fish and olive oil, wholegrain carbohydrates and antioxidants. The rationale was that five meals a day by and large prevent the dips in blood sugar, the primary energy source for the brain.

Secondly, they had to take brisk walks every day in order to optimise their physical conditioning. Once again, this is something which has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, presumably because it will help the circulation to the brain.

Thirdly, they had to perform stretching and relaxation exercises. The aim here was reduce the body’s tendency to produce the stress hormone cortisol. It is believed too much cortisol can impair memory function as the result of shrinkage of the memory centres in the brain.

Lastly, they had to do memory exercises. Brainteasers, crossword puzzles and some basic memory exercises were encouraged. There certainly seems to be evidence this is beneficial for memory functioning.

All the participants had ‘positron emission tomography’ or PET scans before and after the study. These scans are used to measure activity throughout the brain. They effectively found that the active group had ‘fitter’ brains.

Interestingly, there was a very good correlation between this and the improvements obtained on memory testing.

This all fits with the ‘use it or lose it’ theory. That is, keep your body fit with exercise and your mind active with intellectual exercises.

And diet-wise, eat plenty of fish. And wherever you can, reduce your stress.