My husband and I have started to walk our dog every day at 6 a.m. The two-mile walk is now a part of our morning ritual. Good for us and good for our dog.
Except … yesterday, we forgot the dog. We’ve previously failed to do things like tie our walking shoes tightly or bring poop bags, but to be taking the dog for a walk and then forgetting the dog seemed both funny and slightly worrisome.
Memory issues have become a more frequent occurrence in our household of late. Have I mentioned that before? Did I tell you about our morning walking ritual and the time we forget the dog?
As a recent article in Consumer Reports on Health suggests, even with outrageous examples in play, we probably don’t need to worry. “Many of us assume that, like crow’s feet and love handles, memory loss is inevitable as we get older.”
But, apparently, older adults generate as many brain cells as younger adults. Our brain cells do not function in the same way, according to UCLA researcher Dr. Amy Tan, but if we are “proactive” about health and lifestyle, we should not be overly concerned about forgetting behaviors.
That said there are certain caveats. Medical conditions that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation can be precursors of dementia, the ultimate worry when it comes to memory and aging. So, remembering to take prescribed medications, just as prescribed, is important.
Another consideration is that depression can be a companion to memory loss. That sort of makes sense, because if you are feeling blue you’re not paying attention. Remembering well takes focus. Hearing loss can be a factor too. If you do not hear new information, how will you remember it?
The experts are very clear about what has the most positive impact on aging memory. In a collective, scientific voice they tell us, “Get a move on.” Regular aerobic activity (with or without a four-legged companion) improves blood flow to the brain and helps increase the size of the hippocampus, which is central to memory and learning throughout life. Those same experts say we should focus on eating colorful, nutrient-dense food. Less cake and ice cream; more fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, legumes and whole grains.
And here’s something new. Meditation, yoga and other “mindful” activities are increasingly important to maintaining good brain function. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, “people 55 and older who took a one hour a week meditative yoga class and meditated at home for 12 minutes a day over a three-month period” had notably improved memory function. The combination of yoga and meditation apparently reduces stress, which can be “toxic” to recall. Yoga also “strengthens your core” and improves flexibility, which can be critical to managing a painful, aging back. Remember that.
After this morning’s walk (and we did remember to take the dog today), we ordered yoga mats on Amazon. My husband identified a series of videos, “Yoga for Seniors.” We start watching them as soon as the mats arrive. His mat is gray, mine is red. Or did I decide to order the blue one?
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.