Memories! We all have them. Some are very pleasant and some are not, but our brains were made to remember. Often times you might reminisce about things from your childhood, 40 or 50 years ago. Sometimes, we are simply going over something we just heard in a shiur 30 minutes ago. And frequently, we could be commenting on an item that we just read in a magazine three minutes prior. These are all examples of both long-term and short-term memory.
Short-term memory, also called working memory, retains information over brief periods from a few seconds to 1–2 minutes. As information comes in, the brain begins processing it immediately. When we remember pairs of words, a list of words presented orally, and/or recalling names associated with people or pictures, that is short-term memory at work.
In contrast, long-term memory is comprised of memories retained more than two minutes after an information stimulus. For instance, recalling details of a short history story 30 minutes after it has been read; or recollecting images presented visually 15 minutes before is long-term memory at work.
Unfortunately, most of us have had the experience of speaking with someone and we notice that their memory isn’t working the way it should—that is, they can’t remember beyond normal forgetfulness. This was the case of a client I was working with a few years ago who was 70 years old. He was repeating things often as though he had never said them before. He also was not remembering how to do exercises from session to session. His neurologist confirmed my fears—there was deterioration in his short term memory.
We all know that as we get older, our memory isn’t going to be as good as when we were younger. But sometimes, memory problems are more severe. Dementia is the loss of mental abilities over time. It is often severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily activities. People with dementia may have trouble learning new things and remembering names, and may experience changes in behavior. They may become irritated if they fail to complete a task (Kwak et al. 2008). The most common and familiar form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
There are also other causes to loss of memory. Certain medications can be the culprit. Antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and pain medications given after surgery can all cause memory loss. Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use is problematic for memory and excessive alcohol use has long been recognized as a cause of memory loss.
Smoking harms memory by reducing the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. Sleep deprivation, stress, and depression can also cause bad recall. Good nutrition — including high-quality proteins and fats — is important to proper brain function. Deficiencies in vitamin B1 and B12 specifically can affect memory.
If you find that you are increasingly forgetful or if memory problems interfere with your daily life, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause and best treatment. To evaluate memory loss, your doctor will take a medical history, perform a physical exam — including a neurological exam – and will ask questions to test your mental ability. Depending on the results, further evaluation may include blood and urine tests, nerve tests, and imaging tests of the brain such as computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Preventing Memory Loss
Can we do anything to prevent memory loss and enhance our chances of maintaining good memory as we age? The answer is yes. Recent research has shown that aerobic exercise (cardiovascular) helps us with preventing coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, some cancers, stress, depression and anxiety in addition to other chronic diseases. We now we see that this type of exercise also can help prevent dementia.
Cardiovascular Exercise and Long and Short-Term Memory
Research suggests that walking is the most effective acute cardiovascular exercise for improving short-term memory (Roig et al. 2013). The short-term memory of young adults (aged 18–24) tends to see the most improvements from cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise has different effects on short and long-term memory. Combining walking, running and cycling maximizes the effect of long-term cardiovascular exercise on short-term memory. Long-term cardiovascular exercise shows the greatest effect on short-term memory.
Keeping your memory intact will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org Check out the his web site –www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.