Can you really sleep your way to a better memory? Sound too good to be true? Believe, believe!
Wait a second though. Isn’t our blog focused on active aging? How active can sleep be? (Not referring to sleep walking if you wondered.) Since we define “active aging” as making good choices about wellness, exercise, movement, and health habits, then sleep habits definitely come into play.
If you’ve been reading our posts for a bit, you know my sister and I have a particular interest in the connection between the brain and body.Newly researched pink noise is a real memory booster #Babyboomers #Activeaging Click To Tweet
Guess what? Do you use background sounds to help you sleep? While “white noise” such as a static, steady background hum nicely lulls us to sleep, newly researched “pink” noise is a real memory booster. Pink noise offers rhythmic variation with a mix of high and low frequencies. Examples might include falling rain, waves lapping at a shore, or an oscillating fan. White noise is steady and eventually gets ignored by the brain; pink noise has an intermittent quality that keeps your neurons firing, positively affecting memory storage during deep sleep stages.
Getting enough quality sleep becomes more problematic with age. As we get older, we sleep more lightly and get less deep sleep. Aging is also linked to shorter time spans of sleep, although studies show we still need as much sleep as when we were younger. The exciting aspect about pink noise is that the study (from Northwestern University) focused on older adults, who performed better on memory tests after just one night listening while snoozing.
Already well established is that:
A 2010 Harvard study discovered that those whose naps were long enough to enter REM sleep did 40% better on a test of creativity than nappers who didn’t get any REM sleep and non-nappers. That REM sleep gave the brain time and the ability to work creatively on various test problems.
If you really want a better memory, easier learning and enriched creativity, add pink noise to your nightly 7-9 sleep hours.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Uh, hold on while I jog my memory.
Did you see the hint I embedded in that prior sentence? Based on the last 10 years of what is now overwhelming evidence, the BEST activity you can do to improve your memory is anything aerobic. You even get a double bonus in that your memory is enhanced both immediately and long term through aerobic, aka cardio exercise.
More than strength training, more than brain games, better than travel, or learning a new skill — the powerhouse, champion way to improve memory is to exercise aerobically. The above listed activities are certainly helpful, though runners up. Ha ha aha Worked in another word play.
What does “aerobic” really mean? How do you know if you are performing cardio activity?The best exercise you can do to improve memory is .... #activeaging Click To Tweet
Aerobic exercise is defined as all of the following occurring simultaneously:
If you like etymology then you’ll enjoy knowing that the word “aerobic” is derived from the Greek word “aero” for air or oxygen and “bio” indicating “life.” In short, aerobic exercise is life giving. Back in the day, our ancestors had to run to eat or avoid being eaten. Our bodies and brains were made to move aerobically. We ran to survive. We aerobicise to thrive!
So what are some types of aerobic exercise? And does any cardio activity improve memory or just certain kinds?
Great news — any cardio exercise will improve your memory, recall, attention span, and focus. You can take a step class, walk your dog, hike trails, swim, dance, cavort (we baby boomers are good cavorters, right?). Other aerobic activities include kickboxing, indoor cycling, outdoor bike riding, getting on treadmills, elliptical machines, the stairclimber. Lots of options.
I often get asked whether playing sports is aerobic. Generally if you are very good or very bad at the sport, you will be in your aerobic zone. Picture being pretty unskilled at tennis, for instance. You are chasing the ball all over the place; your opponent is trying to send the ball where you haven’t anticipated; you have to run a lot. Pant pant. Heart rate up, etc.
Or you are very good at tennis, so you constantly shift your position to send your opponent off guard; you run to return hits; you keep in athletic stance, and the game moves quickly. Bingo – cardio!
Certainly a looooooong list of benefits comes with aerobic training. The relative newcomer to the plethora of reasons to get up and boogie is aerobic exercise is numero uno, way out in front as the best way to improve memory. Forget dementia (ok, not a very good word play, but it works). Start NOW to stave off memory loss or to halt its progress. The aerobic movement you do today will give you memory enhancements benefits starting today
ACTION: Learn more motivating ways to improve your memory when you read the two posts below. Comment, share, tweet. THANKS!
By Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Have you ever considered where your powers excel? When guest instructing recently at Rancho la Puerta fitness resort, another guest posed the super power question to our tablemates and me at dinner. Pretty interesting conversation starter, n’est-ce pas? Nicht wahr? Si, como no? (You’ll find out in a minute why foreign phrases play out in this context).What is your Super Power? Think you don't have one? Read this. Click To Tweet
The first respondent said she had no super power. Was that also your first mental reply? If so, reconsider once you hear the examples that came up. I’ll bet you are able to select at least one super power by the time you finish reading this post.
The next tablemate said her super power was being of service to others. She went on to clarify that she particularly excelled at caregiving. Turns out she was caring for both her aging mother and father and relishing the time with her father more than she’d expected.
The guest across from her decided her super power was a willingness to try new things. Being at Rancho la Puerta for the first time was an example she gave to back up her claim.
When it became my turn, I’d had time to think about the answer. Still, it was hard to refine my choice so I went with paired powers: Teaching and Learning. (Claiming two answers as one could be a secret power). After 35 years teaching fitness, English, writing, and more, I feel gifted with teaching skills. It’s always nice to have a match between what we love and what we do well, don’t you think? I thoroughly enjoy leading learners of all ages and types.
Which brings me to the Learning Super Power: I love acquiring new knowledge, skills, and experiences. Turns out I am pretty good at it too, which is quite fortunate since I am keen to keep my body and brain active and agile as I entrench myself in midlife. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, three of the top ten ways to keep your brain in shape include:
Most dramatically, learning a foreign language not only boosts brain plasticity, but also makes us better at learning across the board. As a Medical News Today article summarizing this new research from Finland and Russia puts it: “The more foreign languages we learn, the faster the brain responds and processes the data it absorbs during learning. In other words, the study suggests loading the mind with more knowledge boosts its ability to acquire more.” Language learners have an easier time learning altogether. Need more reason to travel if you want to age actively?
Why am I particularly excited about this confluence of Learning, Boosting my Brain, and Being Physically Active? Because my sister and I are about to embark on our first river cruise, thanks to Amawaterways. After we ply the Rhein River from Basel to Amsterdam, we both decided to extend our stay and visit European friends and former stomping grounds. (DISCLOSURE ALERT: Yes, we are VERY fortunate that Amawaterways is sponsoring our adventure on the AmaPrima, though they did not ask us to write this post or any. We just want to take you with us on our journey in the ways we can!)
Talk about the ultimate in active aging! We will be taking advantage of the many hike, bike, and explore options the Amawaterways cruise offers. I will be able to relearn German (after living in Berlin for two years back in the 80’s teaching at the very first aerobics studio in Europe), practice my French which I studied for 11 years, AND gain new experiences. Nothing like building memories while boosting my memory!
Three decades from now I want to remember these adventures and languages and still have my Learning and Teaching super powers. What about you? What is your super power? Heck, make it plural and go for the gusto — what super powers do you claim? Tell us in the comments.
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Photo Credit for all three images goes to AmaWaterways.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Cardio exercise has officially moved into the number one spot for “the best thing you can do for your brain” (AARP Bulletin, Get Moving for a Healthy Brain, Sept 2013, pgs 12-13). Take that crossword puzzles, foreign languages, and musical instruments! (Also touted as great vehicles to boost brain power, but downshifted out of first place given the latest research).
If you want to keep smart, cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half, repair brain cell damage, and basically grow a bigger brain, you’ve got to dance, baby, dance! Face facts midlifers and baby boomers — if you do not eke out at least 150 minutes of cardio per week, your brain actually shrinks every year post 40, year after sedentary year.
But if you want to increase your brain size and capability — cue harps and trumpets — then find a way to work in about 22 aerobic minutes each day. Or 50 minutes three times a week. Or 75 minutes twice a week. I can do this math for you because I boosted my brain teaching step class and walking my dogs. We’re easy around here how you get to the total and new studies support that ease. Sure walking for weight loss is wonderful (read our post on what walking can do for you). Walking for brain gain is even more powerful and impactful! Or try dancing, swimming, getting on a treadmill, biking, hiking, gardening even (could this be any easier? No I am not going to include watching Dancing With the Stars on this list even though I admit total fanaticism for the show.) It really does not take much time or effort to succeed with a brain fitness program.
Let me stress again how powerful movement is for your brain — each and every time you exercise, you get a bigger hippocampus (that’s sexy talk for the post 50 crowd); you stimulate the growth of new neurons; you cut your risk of dementia by 60 percent. Can I get a rah rah here with a pom pom thrown in please?
As Dr. Michael Luan, a friend and expert on Conscious Movement puts it, “We exercise to become better humans. Conscious Movement evolves your brain. The body is your ultimate tool for success, and we all have the potential for greatness. Success with your body creates success with your career, relationships, and ultimately, your life.” The better your brain, the better your life, wouldn’t you say?
Movement will improve your focus, increase your mood, enhance your decision-making processes, help your ability to plan, regenerate brain cells, help your memory, and basically outsmart all those young people who can’t believe how sharp you are for a person your age.
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Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Kymberly: Those who know what a high energy,
chatty, loquacious, interactive mover and groover I am will be surprised to hear the answer coming from me. (Or not, as you already saw this post’s title. Menopause might make us forgetful, but not stoopid.)
Anyone else find menopause a little stressful? In the award winning category of “Stating the Obvious,” menopause stress can contribute to memory loss and weight gain. As in, “I sure don’t remember gaining those 30 pounds.”
Anyway… turns out Meditation can turn back the hands of time and pounds. Additionally meditation has even been proven to make us nicer, kinder, more compassionate people. (Hear that hubster? I’m not menopot moody. I’m meditation deprived). If you want to breathe more life into yourself, read our post on meditation lite). Also check out my Tip #3 in our post “10 Ways to Get Healthier in Under 10 Minutes.”
Just a few daily minutes of meditation can calm us, reduce stress, and slow our heart rate. Sounds a lot like the benefits of exercise, right? But without moving! Meditation may also reverse the effects of aging on the brain. It thickens the prefrontal cortex, the area of brain that helps with planning and attention. For people with memory loss, meditation helps increase memory via more blood flow to brain. But wait, there’s more! Meditation also decreases our body’s stress hormones, heals our wounds faster, and lowers our blood pressure.Meditation may reverse the effects of aging on the brain Click To Tweet
Factor in recent studies that show meditation increases telomere length, and you have your longevity, happier life bonus plan! In the DNA world, telomeres are the little plastic pieces on the end of our chromosome shoelaces. The longer your telomeres, the longer your life span. Short telomeres accelerate aging and correlate to a shorter life. People who meditate daily for at least four years have longer telomeres than those who do not meditate. For ten added quality years of life, be the first to enter the word in the comments for that plastic shoelace piece without having to google it. Hint: It starts with an “a.”
I’ll take an order to go please of a young, long-living brain garnished with my years of experience. Since I have big plans to be around four years from now, I might as well get on that telomere lengthening program.
On when of my guest teaching trips to Rancho la Puerta Fitness Resort, I decided to attend three meditation classes. Loved them! Not only did I stay still and quiet for record time (ok, half an hour for each), but also I have stuck with meditation since coming home. More on that later in this post. Remember to keep reading!
The sessions were totally different from each other: one was a guided visualization that the instructor talked us through from start to finish. Another was a silent meditation with the instructor giving directions and suggestions at the start, then setting a timer that lulled us back at the end. The third had verbal guidance that segued into soft music and nature sounds. All three meditations left me revved, calmed, and focused enough to learn more. One thing the Ranch teachers stressed — perhaps better to say “emphasized” — is that meditation comes in many forms and styles. Pick one or a few approaches that resonate with you, as there is no right or wrong way. We reap the active aging benefits regardless, in as short as seven hours in some cases.
Since I am a meditation novice I asked one teacher whether having phone apps would help. Cha Ching – Ohmmm! That got a resounding thumbs up, heart rates down as a good idea! As soon as I crossed the border back into the U.S. (also known as “covered rate plan for my cell phone”), I downloaded “Relax and Rest,” “Take a Break,” “Calm,” and “Meditate Now.” All are free. So far my favorite is “Calm” as it offers verbal guidance and a 7 day progressive program. My mind wanders less when I have a voice calling me back from my mental to-do lists, thoughts of the past and future, and sleep’s siren call. Try them if you have a smart phone and are wanting to reap meditation benefits. Heck, you may end up with a youthful, sleek, brainy phone once you download these apps!
I am on Day 6 of meditation, with some sessions lasting 5 minutes, others hitting an ambitious 13! So far I have noticed a bit more ability to focus and my creativity has been on the upswing. I thought of this post title after meditating, for one thing! Now to be nice to my sister. Might need those four years of meditative practice first. snarfle snark
Alexandra: I was going to meditate, but I forgot. Maybe next time.
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Are you over 50, one day hope to be, or have loved ones who are? Then the following quotes and key points from the recent IDEA World Health and Fitness Convention are for you! And you! And, yes, you too! All of yahs! And your parents, as well. But only if you want to live healthier, smarter, or better.
My prior post promised to share the good stuff from the trend setting sessions beyond Day 1 at IDEA. This year’s convention theme was “Inspire, Connect, Transform.” We hope the following quotes and highlights do that for you.
Day 2 started with one of my favorite subjects: the effects on the brain from movement. Who among you knows someone with Alzheimer’s or memory loss or slowing mental capacity? Of course such ravages will never happen to us, right?
Guess what? “A case of dementia is diagnosed every 4 seconds in the U.S. If our nation were to increase its activity by 25%, we would decrease dementia cases by 1 million per year! Over 10% of adults 65 and older, and more than 50% of those past 80 have some sort of cognitive impairment.” And with these stats that take one’s breath away faster than an elliptical machine on an incline, expert presenter, Fabio Comana opened his talk, Brain Fitness.
“If you want to live longer, work in 20 minutes daily of cardio activity.” And if you want to know what’s going on in those added years, “a mere 8-12 minutes a day of aerobic exercise improves cognition.” You want to be smart and minimize dementia in your later years? Take Fabios’s advice. Don’t just think about moving. Move to think!
So I did. Over to the next session with one of my favorite presenters, Shari Kalkstein who specializes in physical function for people 70 and older. Also known as “parents of baby boomers.” Am I right? If you want your parents (insert “yourself when older”) to be independent and active as long as possible, then Shari’s protocols and warnings are important. (Click on her links to see exercises, assessments, and practical tips).
Her session, I’ve Fallen, made a strong case for preventing falls and setting up the home to account for them when they happen. And they will. “More than 18,000 older adults died from injuries related to falls in 2007. In 2008, more than 2 million older adults were treated in emergency rooms due to fall injuries.” Wonder where most falls occur? In the home, where, as Shari says, “we have complete control over our environment.” Like her, my sis and I have lots of practical moves and solutions to address this reality.
After I’ve Fallen, I moseyed my way to The Future of Fitness Technology with Marco Della Torre. Spoiler alert – I earned an IDEA Fitness Inspiration Medal by correctly answering his stumper question. And talk about a coincidence, turns out Marco is one of the co-founders of Basis, now owned by Intel, the company from which I won a Basis fitness and sleep tracker. So I won two technology related prizes in a row! Yup, it’s always worthwhile to get to the IDEA Trade Show between and after educational sessions. Anyway, wearable technology is big and about to go humongous! Ready to take advantage of fun high tech fitness gear? Check out a few of our posts on the subject:
Accepting and agreeing that fitness technology will wield an ever growing impact on our workout lives, I loved how Marco ended his talk: “The biggest trend coming in wearable tech is that new ideas and products will bring people closer, rather than driving them apart.” Think about that for a sec. Instead of seeing the top of people’s heads as they bend over their phones and pedometers, you’ll be in a new world of gadgets that connect you with others more and more.
Imagine a community of like-minded, actively aging, high-functioning people who interact personally via stuff not yet invented. Might you already have something close to this? It’s coming, so be ready to Inspire, Connect, and Transform! Or maybe you will Invent the next best thing that gets people to exercise and enjoy the benefits of lifelong movement. I’ll plug that!
By Kymberly Williams-Evans
Readers: What wearable tech do you already own? Use? What do you think of it? When is the last time you crawled? Not pub crawled, but crawled like an infant?
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
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Get Out of Here, Ya Hear?
A related Fun Fit Fact: People who live near or on coasts tend to be more physically active compared to inland dwellers. Those fortunate to have ocean views (actually any blue water works), also report being happier than people without access to blue spaces. One theory is that gazing at the ocean triggers the brain to release dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. We post-menopausal women know all about hormones, especially the mood elevating ones, right?
Remember to Laugh; Laugh to Remember
2. Add humor to your workout. Another great natural life source is laughter. Not only does laughter act as self-produced medicine, but also it is proving to help memory. The stress hormone, cortisol can cause brain damage. Cortisol negatively affects both memory and learning ability, especially in older adults. This raises the question, “can laughter, which reduces stress, therefore improve memory?”
Turns out that, yup — lower stress leads to better memory. You saw that coming.
Breathe Right with the Left
3. Take half breaths for a whole life. Really looking to keep your memory in high drive, and not idle as you age? Then try a special breathing technique just after your humor boost. When you forgot which aisle you parked your car in, or why you entered a room, kick into left nostril breathing. That’s right, just the left! Block or press shut your right nostril and inhale through the left. Exhale. Repeat. 27 times. Let’s hope this works as you have to remember to count as you breathe!
For you smarties and thinkers who are always a step ahead (and that would be all of you who subscribe to our blog), you probably already thought of something. What if you combine all three activities? Run, walk, jog, mosey outdoors with a person who makes you laugh as you count up 27 left nostril breaths. Then get back to us in the comments to report what happened. Join the nature movement; free membership!
And take a look at this very short animation.
You got this far, so why not add a comment?
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Take a look at the following images I used in the presentation I gave last week at Rancho la Puerta Fitness Spa located in Tecate, MX. The Ranch is so wonderful and special that I wanted to make sure my session was as valuable. If memory serves me right, the following 7 factors will improve your recall, memory, attention span, and focus. ha ha ha Oh, and my presentation was well received too!
Before you get to those 7 things you can do to gain for the brain to the max, note that the key is to engage in CARDIO activity. While ALL exercise is thought to improve cognitive skills, cardio is top doggie. If you combine cardio with any of the 7 factors coming right up, you are getting exponential return on your exercise investment.
Yup, cardio has more benefit for your gray matter than crossword puzzles, learning a new language, sudoku, and international travel (though these are all helpful). Say, click that link <—- to read about how smart Nepal made me.
And we mean it. Steps as small as going left instead of right, or working out a different day or time than usual all register as new in the brain.
Hmm, are you starting to get any ideas about what kind of cardio activity might be best if your priority is to boost your brain?
The midline is the the line that visually divides your body into a left and right side side. If your right arm reaches to your left side, you have crossed the midline, for example.
Want a summary image you can pin? So do we! Pin away my hearties!
And on that final note, zzzzzzz. Or semi-final note. If you want to experience this presentation in its entirety, come to Tenaya Lodge’s Wellness and Spa Retreat Jan 16-18, 2015. That’s another smart move!
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
One of the most interesting talks I attended at the recent Natural Products Expo West (NPEW), was a talk on improving memory given by Marilu Henner, sponsored by Ascenta. Best known as an actress, Marilu is also one of 12 people in the world identified as having Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), which is the ability to recall the slightest details of nearly every day of life. In short, Marilu can remember almost EVERYTHING in her life, even baby experiences. Believe me, people in the audience were trying to stump her by throwing out dates and asking what day of the week it occurred on and what was going on at that time. Or they had met her once backstage at a play she was in and wondered if she remembered that meeting. She did — listing even what they both wore, ate, said, and saw. Whoa! Would you want that ability, or even some of it? I wouldn’t mind having SDAM (Sorta Decent Autobio Memory).
Marilu claims we all have the capability to “Receive, Retain, and Retrieve” more memories. Which prompts again the question: Why would we want to recall more memories, especially bad ones? Aside from avoiding dementia, (ok, that’s a pretty big “aside”), what is the value of having a brain full of memories? And how do we go about retrieving more of those hidden stories and events?
According to Marilu, developing a strong autobiographical memory is the best path to a more fulfilling life. She asserts that our memories offer meaning. Her memories inform why she is living each day. As well, she believes that bringing more memories into our awareness allows us to
If you see a connection between having a stronger memory and your life purpose, then you will want to do two things: read her tips below and buy her book, Total Memory Makeover.
Using Marilu’s suggestions, not only can you stop memory decline, but also you can retrieve more memories to enrich your life. That’s the kind of active, health aging I can get behind. Now if only I could remember where I put the rest of my notes from the NPEW trade show and educational sessions!