Home Life Treat your brain as you would a bicep

Treat your brain as you would a bicep

by The Concordian September 27, 2011

Graphic by Katie Brioux

We need our noggins to eat, sleep, operate our kidneys, tie our shoes and, yes, even breathe so let’s be kind to them and stop bullying our brains with pollutants and poor lifestyle choices.
Memory loss conjures images of looming emptiness, of old, incapacitated individuals in rocking chairs unable to think for themselves. In reality, it is a painful cognitive disorder that is too often overlooked and under-prevented. Memory loss does not begin during old age; it begins at birth, when our mental capacities gradually decrease as time moves.
Forgetting how to remember, and only remembering how to forget, can be frustrating. It results in being unable to find our keys, failing to save an 8,000 word term paper and going through the embarrassment of having the name of someone we just met at the tip of our tongue. These issues are all symptomatic of a larger problem that goes way beyond the bong.
“It’s tough to maintain conversations because I’ll forget the focus of what I’m talking about,” says Nicholas Czuzoj Shulman, a McGill economics student. “I’ll spend the next while trying to remember, with no luck.”
Nicholas blames his memory lapses on a short attention span, elucidated by the fact that during this very interview, he was watching How I Met Your Mother on television, eating an A&W Teen Burger with onion rings and chatting online, all at once.
Upon first impression, multitasking is the most efficient way to cover a huge ground in a heroic fashion. Unfortunately, performing several tasks at once decreases the quality of your work and even makes you forget what you have just completed.
“Speed is the modern, natural high,” says psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, MD, director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Your cerebral cortex is designed to focus on one task, so switching gears every few seconds leaves gaps in your brain where memory should have been, he explains.
“I constantly have so many things going on at once that I forget everyday things,” says Nicholas, “like where I put my car keys or what had just transpired on a TV show that ended five minutes earlier, or even the hockey scores.”
Sure, blanking out from time to time is totally normal and a sign of the inevitable human degeneration process. But why let something as valuable as your memory slip away when you could be taking preventative measures now? Here are a few ways to keep each gear working in the bicycle of your mind.

Kick it up a notch:
I can’t even count how many times I’ve drilled the fact that exercise is a crucial component of human survival and maintenance, but here is major evidence to support this claim. According to a study published in the September 2011 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings Medical Journal by Dr. Eric Ahlskog, “Aerobic physical activity that raises the heart rate and increases the body’s need for oxygen reduces the risk for dementia and slow cognitive decline.” In layman’s terms, take a scenic hike up Mount Royal to boost blood flow to your brain. Activating otherwise dormant areas of the brain during early adulthood will reduce brain shrinkage associated with aging.

Butt out:
Cigarettes are not only the least appealing of the eau de parfum, but they are also your worst memory aid. Smoking constricts the blood vessels in your brain, making it more difficult to store information. “Smoking is especially common among people who are depressed, and depression weakens the memory,” noted the editors of Harvard Health Publications who consulted with Kirk R. Daffner, M.D. Forget your morning Marlboros, and enjoy your latte on its own. Dr. Miia Kivipelto, an associate professor of neurology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, lead a study which demonstrated that subjects who drank three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 per cent less likely to have developed dementia, an acute form of memory loss, compared with those who drank two cups or less.

Write in your diary:
There are a couple reasons why you should start a daily writing ritual. Firstly, it is important to track the foods you eat, because it is likely that your current diet is impairing your brain. A 25- year long Harvard Medical School study surveyed the diets of 13,000 women and found that those who ate the highest amount of vegetables demonstrated the least amount of cognitive decline. If you can’t bear the thought of eating broccoli to save your brain, write everything down. From homework, to meetings, to when you had your last period, the simple act of writing something down helps you visualize the information, thus engraving it deeper into your memory. Be sure to keep a lock and key on your diary in case the stuff you write is, in colloquial terms, “weird.”

Play games:
Your brain is a muscle, and just like your butt, it needs a little ass-kicking from time to time. After you’re done reading the Life section, skip to the back of the paper where you’ll find a sudoku. Word and number games that force you to problem solve keep your mind sharp and alert. Don’t give up your love of guitar playing, beating your friends at chess and writing poetry as you hit old age. A study published by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York discovered that mentally-engaged seniors were 75 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, a severe form of memory loss, compared to those who skipped the smart stuff.

Quick notes for a quick mind:
-Eat fish once a week for a brain that functions as someone three years younger.
-When someone tells you their name, repeat it out loud in conversation.
-When you put something down, think of something insane or crazy that you will instantly associate it with next time you have to find it.
-Pot is as old-fashioned as Woodstock. Cut the weekend wake n’ bake habit to improve memory, perception and co-ordination.
-Get a good night’s sleep for the necessary brain power to retain everything your professors say during (really interesting) lectures.

Your brain should be considered your most prized muscle, and a strong one is even more impressive than a buff bicep. “I guess I spend more time at the gym than studying most weeks,” Nicholas admitted.
Now hide this paper under your desk, it’s time for a pop quiz: Name four ways you can prevent memory loss.

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