5 Simple Ways to Boost Memory and Mood

Rosemary Black,
MDLinx, December 12, 2018

If you’re feeling forgetful and the winter doldrums have you down, here are five simple measures that will not only help you sharpen your memory but may also improve your mood.

Get more (and better) sleep

Sleep is invaluable for helping your memory and mood, according to neurologist Gayatri Devi, MD, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, NY, who specializes in memory disorders and is the author of The Spectrum of Hope: An Optimistic and New Approach to Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias.

“Sleep consolidates the day’s memories and is also important for removal of toxic deposits in the brain, including amyloid plaque,” Dr. Devi explained.

“Sleep is also important for the conversion of short-term memory into long-term and for making new memories,” said Adrienne Raimo, RDN, LD, integrative and functional nutritionist, Columbus Integrative Family Medicine Center, and founder and CEO, One Bite Wellness, Columbus, OH.

A sleep deficit impacts hormones and hunger levels. “It’s crucial as a foundation for good health,” she added.

It’s not just about how many hours of sleep you get, but also the quality of that sleep. For example, men over age 40 are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which may affect cognitive functioning, explained Jessica Zwerling, MD, MS, neurologist and director, Memory Disorders Center, Montefiore Health System, Bronx, NY.

“We see patients who have cognitive complaints and who don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure,” Dr. Zwerling said. “It turns out they have sleep apnea, which is a modifiable risk factor for dementia. If you have daytime exhaustion or cognitive concerns, see your primary care provider to assess your risk for sleep apnea.”

Get moving

Time and again, researchers show that exercise improves both mood and memory. In a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, researchers found that exercise appears to play “a pronounced effect on memory function among young to middle-aged adults.”

Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be lengthy. “Even if it’s just 10 minutes outside to get a bit of sunshine during the winter, it helps us re-frame our problems, change our perspective, and our mood,” Raimo said.

Try to find a form of exercise that you actually enjoy—whether it’s dancing, martial arts, swimming, or hiking—and you may be more inclined to keep at it, she advised.

Within 5 minutes of a moderate intensity activity, one’s mood improves, according to Amy Hess-Fischl, MS, RDN, LDN, BC-ADM, CDE, advanced practice dietitian, University of Chicago Medicine Kovler Diabetes Center, Chicago, IL.

People who increase exercise to 30 or more minutes per day—in conjunction with eating healthier and getting at least 7 hours sleep—may also lose weight, which can bolster mood and self-esteem, she added.

Reimagine your leisure time

Engage in an activity that’s a little bit different from what you already do in your spare time. “It’s helpful for your memory and your mood to do something completely different,” Dr. Devi said. “Take up poetry, acting classes, or paintball.”

Learning a new skill stimulates your brain, according to Hess-Fischl. Like your muscles, your brain stagnates if it’s not challenged. “If you want to keep your memory sharp, engage in some new and challenging activities,” she said. “Find puzzles and games that make you think.”

Sip some java

Coffee (and caffeine in general) may also boost your memory, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. In a double-blind trial, participants who didn’t regularly consume caffeine were given either placebo or a 200-mg caffeine tablet 5 minutes after they looked at a series of images. When both groups were tested the next day on how well they were able to recognize similar images from the previous day’s session, more participants from the caffeine group correctly identified the new images as akin to those they had viewed a day earlier.

Coffee also kicks up your serotonin levels, which makes you feel good, Hess-Fischl explained.

Eat mood-boosting foods

When you’re busy, grab-and-go is the way to go. But, unfortunately, these quick picks often rely on processed foods—a definitive no-no for boosting mood and memory. In the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) study—a randomized controlled trial that assessed a multidomain approach for cognitive decline prevention in at-risk elderly people—researchers found that the right diet is crucial for maintenance or improvement of cognitive function in this study population.

Adhering to a meal plan that includes olive oil, fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables may reduce the risk of memory issues, Dr. Zwerling noted. In addition, refraining from excess processed carbohydrate consumption is important since this can promote an inflammatory state in the brain—Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is a disease of inflammation.

Berries, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, dark chocolate, and eggs have all been linked to improving memory as well, Hess-Fischl stated.

Recommend these five steps to your patients to improve memory and mood—and don’t neglect to practice what you preach.