Memory and the Brain
Memory is a complex, constantly evolving process of the brain, which forms a significant part of who we are as humans. Our memories tell us where we have been, what we have learned and the people we have met and connected with throughout our lives.
How Does Memory Work?
The brain is constantly processing stimuli from the outside world, which is encoded through different sensory pathways. This information is transferred to our short-term memory, which holds only seconds of information that is usually encoded through sight and sound. Long-term memory has much greater storage capacity and it is often where we store information tied to our emotion. The final process of memory is accessing the stored information through recall, which is essential in the process of learning.
Memory disorders cause disruptions to our cognitive abilities and affect our capacity to remember things, solve problems and communicate with others. With some disorders, symptoms can present suddenly while other disorders may be present without symptoms for years. The most common disorders affecting memory include Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment.
Dementia is an overarching term that describes multiple disorders which cause abnormal brain changes leading to declining cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of Dementia and usually presents in older adults. This disease worsens over time and slowly affects short-term memory processes required to perform everyday activities. Mild Cognitive Impairment can be considered a very mild form of dementia where individuals experience minor difficulties with memory, language, and decision making.
How to Improve your Memory
While it is known our memory may deteriorate with time, some experience this deterioration early on, while others are able to maintain their memory skills for much longer. In many cases, age and genetics play a major role, but our lifestyle choices also make a big difference.
Exercise in particular has the ability to give your brain a cognitive boost, which can subsequently also strengthen your memory. Studies show that certain parts of the brain involved in our memory processes, are physically larger in those who exercise regularly, compared to those who don’t. Even engaging in a few minutes of intense exercise has shown to produce a noticeable difference in memory consolidation.
It is also important to find ways to stay mentally active and challenge the brain by trying different activities on a daily basis. Different studies have shown that one can strengthen they memory with different techniques such as creating associations, breaking down the information that you are trying to learn, and making a habit of writing things down.
Roig, M., Nordbrandt, S., Geertsen, S.S., and Nielsen, J.B. The effects of cardiovascular exercise on human memory: A review with meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2013.
Brinke, L.F. et al. Aerobic Exercise Increases Hippocampal Volume in Older Women with Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment: A 6-Month Randomized Controlled Trial. Br J Sports Med. 2015.
“Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills.” Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110