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The Best Way To Keep Your Memory Sharp At Any Age, Science Says

Turns out, there are real brain benefits to keeping things fresh in your life!

BYJOHN ANDERERDECEMBER 30, 2021FACT CHECKED BYFAYE BRENNAN

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We can all relate to that one cringe-worthy memory keeping us up at 3 AM. Memories can be annoying; they pop into our minds at the most random of times, and often remind us of occasions and people we would rather forget. Still, it’s safe to bet that no one would want to do away with their memory entirely. After all, what are we if not the sum total of our memories?

Past events, mistakes, and lessons learned. All of your experiences up until this very moment have shaped who you are and how you see the world—and none of that would be possible without the memory system hard at work within your mind.Music Therapy Helps Memory Loss

Put this way, it’s easy to understand why prioritizing the protection of memory is important. No one wants to see their memory and recollections fade as the decades pass by. Even worse, rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s continue to grow at a rapid rate. Characterized by loss of memory, confusion, and impaired thinking capacity, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.

So, what can you do to preserve your memory skills at any age? New research conducted at Simon Fraser University and published in Aging-US finds it isn’t so much what you do, but how often you spice things up. Read on to learn the best way to keep your memory sharp, and next, don’t miss Exercise Mistakes That Can Shorten Your Lifespan.

Variety protects memory

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In short, the research makes a strong case that we should all be trying more new activities much more often. Stay busy via a variety of hobbies and habits, and your memory and mind will thank you. Study authors examined over 3,000 older adults and found that those who engaged in numerous, distinct hobbies had stronger memories and lower dementia risk.

Importantly, maintaining a diverse schedule was found to be more helpful for memory than any one activity in a vacuum. Go for a walk, bake a cake, cook dinner, go out and connect with friends, read a book, play some cards. The message here is to change up your schedule regularly. Keep your mind on its toes, and your memory won’t have an opportunity to decline.

Don’t be afraid to try new hobbies. Dust off that Spanish to English dictionary, or maybe find the old tennis racket in your garage. The best part is, if you decide after a day or two that Spanish or tennis isn’t for you, just move on to something else! Conversely, if you find a hobby you love, by all means stick with it—but make sure your life isn’t dominated by that one single activity.

Researchers also note that the protective effect of a varied schedule on cognition appears to increase with age. So, it’s especially important for older adults to switch things up from time to time.

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More impactful than genetics

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Many people feel trapped by their genetics. For instance, an individual may assume he or she will develop dementia because one or both of their parents had been diagnosed. Incredibly, this research actually tells us that a varied schedule can trump both educational level and baseline memory skills when it comes to determining memory outcomes later in life.

“Our study results show that cognitive decline can be reduced through a combination of active, daily activities—things like using a computer and playing word games,” says study co-author Sylvain Moreno, an associate professor at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) and CEO/scientific director of the Digital Health Circle, based at SFU.

“Scientists believed that genetics were the main factor influencing cognitive health but our findings show the reverse. With age, your choice of daily activities is more important than your genetics or your current cognitive skills,” he continues.

Related: 7 Hacks That Improve Your Memory

The research

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Data originally collected for the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study encompassing 3,210 people between ages 65-89 was used for this project. Each person was asked how often they engaged in 33 distinct activities. Activities included baking, cooking, playing cards, writing, learning, and walking. Subjects could answer that they engaged in each activity “daily,” “at least once per month,” multiple times per month,” or “never.”

From there, a machine learning model was put together to analyze the impact of activity choice and frequency on subsequent memory tests.

Related: 5 Best Health Benefits of Walking, Science Says

A new kind of prescription 

older couple doing yoga in front of a laptop
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All in all, study authors conclude much more emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring older adults stay active and mentally engaged. These “social prescriptions,” or recommendations for older adults to get involved in their local community, could put a significant dent in future dementia rates.

“Today, around 55 million people have dementia and this number will almost triple by 2050 with an aging population,” Prof. Moreno concludes. “Care for patients with dementia is challenging, labor-intensive, and chronic, which generates high costs for health systems.”

As an added bonus, if you or someone you know is looking for a new activity to try, consider a social sport or hobby. While staying busy in general is great for the brain, plenty of research also tells us that a busy social life keeps the mind healthy and thriving. Who’s up for a round of chess?

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