Today’s population is aging -- that's no secret. But the extent of this aging is so profound that it’s almost unbelievable. In 2008, there were 500 million people aged 65 or older, which accounts for about 7 percent of the world’s population.
By 2040, that number will hit 1.3 billion, which will account for 14 percent of the total population. While these numbers are staggering, what will make this population shift actually frightening is the associated increase of dementia. Now, that’s something to really worry about.
Although researchers are hoping to find cures for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, most folks will be left to fend for themselves. So, to keep your mind and memory sharper than the rest, here's list of secret memory enhancers. Be sure to keep these to yourself.
Believe it or not, chewing gum can actually improve alertness and memory -- well, maybe. At least that’s the conclusion that two medical studies reported in the journal Appetite back in 2002 and 2004, respectively. In these studies, individuals who chewed gum during the learning phases of a specific test recalled test items better than those who did not. Although the exact reasoning behind why gum would enhance memory isn’t yet clear, one simple explanation said that chewing gum increases heart rate, which subsequently increases blood flow to the brain.
What this means for you and your memory: Before you go out and spend your life's savings on boxes of supposed life-saving secret memory enhancers in the form of spearmint gum, you should know that the jury is still out on this one. Despite those past promising results, more recent studies have failed to find a similar link between chewing gum and memory enhancement, although these newer studies still maintain that chewing increases alertness (no wonder ball players love the stuff so much).
Men may be more active than their female counterparts, but that still doesn’t mean they get enough exercise. Granted, most men are probably sick and tired of hearing about just how great and beneficial daily exercise can be, but it’s time to chalk up another benefit of regular exercise. A slew of research over the past decade has shown that exercise can be a secret memory enhancer.
In fact, just cutting calories may help you remember where you left your keys. According to a 2008 study in the journal PNAS, eating a calorie-restricted diet had beneficial effects on memory performance in healthy elderly subjects.
What this means for you and your memory: Toss out the cheeseburger and fries, and get outside and get moving. Bike to work, take the stairs or walk to the store. Even simple exercise is a better secret memory enhancer than none at all. Better yet, it’s free.
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As one of the most hotly contested food items, caffeine has strong backers on both sides of the health debate. Some swear by its benefits while others vilify caffeine for its unhealthy effects. But almost no one can argue the effect of caffeine on alertness (and, consequently, memory). According to various studies conducted in the last five years, caffeine boosts short-term memory, protects older women against memory loss and may even reverse Alzheimer’s memory loss (at least in mice).
What this means for you and your memory: Before you slam back a venti latte in hopes of treating your brain to long lost memories, keep in mind that caffeine can have a negative health impact, as well. Stay on the safe side by drinking in moderation.
4. Daytime naps
Our next secret memory enhancer might actually contradict the last. After all, it’ll be hard to catch a little daytime shut-eye if you’re all hopped up on java beans. If you’re into daydreaming, you’ll be happy to know that science strongly supports the idea that daytime napping improves your declarative memory. That’s the memory you use to store facts (for example, the memory used when cramming for a final exam).
What this means for you and your memory: If you’ve been cramming hard all day, don’t be afraid to catch a couple of quick Zs -- but be sure to keep your nap no longer than 45 minutes to avoid hitting deep REM sleep, or all benefits might be undone.
Rounding off our list of secret memory enhancers is alcohol, a substance that men are probably familiar with. Although this list is sounding more and more like justification for a bunch of bad habits, alcohol -- make that moderate levels of alcohol -- may actually enhance memory. Recent research has found that having a daily drink or two may improve memory and may even help prevent dementia. Higher levels of alcohol, however, may actually impair memories or may even reinforce negative ones (so the old act of “drinking to forget” may not hold true).
What this means for you and your memory: Stick to one or two glasses of wine or one drink of liquor a day, at most, and you’ll stay on the safe side. Anything beyond that will likely do more harm than good.
Secret No More
Who would have thought that some of our most familiar habits may in fact be mending our memory? Although the secret’s now out, remember not to overindulge. Everything in moderation.