Why do we tend to forget things so easily as we get old? The answer lies with the hippocampus on either side of our brains. Everything we see, hear, and feel is stored in these two cucumber-shaped areas that measure just one cm in diameter and 10 cm in length.
The moment we are born the neuro-cells in the hippocampus start to die off, and around the age of 20 the rate of destruction starts to pick up speed. Some say about 3,600 memory cells disappear in about an hour. But there's no need to worry. While one memory cell generates a few axons, people can create enough axons, through deliberate efforts, to replace dying memory cells. Let's examine a few proven methods to keep our brains young.
By making 210 people with average-sized brains walk briskly three times a week for one hour each session, a research team at Illinois University found that after just three months of walking, the walkers' memory cell activities were on par with those who were three years younger. The team also found that walking stimulates the cervical vertebra which in turn doubles the amount of blood circulated to the brain. Active blood circulation facilitates the release of neurotransmitters, enabling much faster and simultaneous information exchange, said Prof. Lee Dong-yeong of Seoul National Hospital's neuro department. "This helps to improve long term memory."2. Wine
A research team in Auckland, New Zealand, reported that one to two glasses of wine a day can significantly improve people's memory. They say a neuroreceptor called NMDA reacts to the alcohol. "A small amount of alcohol not only stimulates NMDA but also expands blood vessels, thereby facilitating blood circulation," said Prof. Han Seol-heui of Konkuk University Hospital's neurology department. The antioxidants in red wine also prevent the destruction of brain cells, improving our memories. Still, too much alcohol -- more than five to six glasses a day -- may well destroy the brain cells, deteriorating our ability to remember things. 3. Coffee
Dr. Karen Ritchie of the National Health and Medical Research Center of France conducted research on 7,000 adults over the age of 65 for four years. She found that those who drank more than three cups of coffee a day had a memory deterioration rate 45 percent slower than those who drank one cup or less per day. A research team from Ottawa University in Canada studied 6,000 people living in four different cities from 1991 to 1995, and found out that those who had a consistent intake of caffeine performed better in tests -- by about 31 percent on average -- compared to those without the intake. "Caffeine in coffee and tea stimulates the central nervous system and enhances memory capacity by facilitating the brain's reticular system," said Prof. Koh Jae-young of Seoul Asan Medical Center's neurology department. 4. Sleeping
Robert Stickgold, an American psychologist, argued in a paper published in a cognitive neuroscience magazine in 2000 that a minimum of six hours of sleep is needed to fully retain knowledge learned the previous day. "Knowledge acquired during the day gets stored in the temporal lobe while one sleeps," said Dr. Park Dong-seon of Yesong Sleep Center. "It is strongly recommended to sleep after midnight in particular, as the stress hormone that destroys neuro-cells is secreted significantly more after midnight." 5. Writing Notes
The long term memory capacity of our brains has no limit. But there is limited space for short term memories -- such as recently memorized phone numbers, lists of daily tasks, and names of stores passing by the car window. Thus, elderly people with fewer memory cells are better off writing down miscellaneous information like phone numbers and daily tasks the moment they pop up. When useless short-term memories clog our brains, our forgetfulness only worsens. 6. Reading
Reading is a much better way of improving memory than conventionally known methods such as playing cards or chess. After studying the relationship between dementia and recreational activities such as playing chess, cards, watching TV, and reading, a research team at Kyung Hee University Medical Center found that people who read often have a lesser chance of developing dementia. "Reading helps to stimulate the transition between short term memory to long term memory by exercising the ability to understand events that happened earlier and later in a book," said Dr. Won Jang-won of Kyung Hee University Hospital.
firstname.lastname@example.org / Oct. 31, 2007 08:25 KST