Looking at a picture of Oprah Winfrey (or hearing her name) may spark activity in
a specific “Oprah neuron“ in the brain’s hippocampus, a recent study reported.
The international team of researchers also found a
brain cell that only fired up in response to images of Jennifer Aniston (while
shunning those of Brad Pitt), and other individual neurons selectively
stimulated by pictures of Bill Clinton, the Beatles, or basketball great
Such quirky research may hold clues into the mysteries
of memories hidden in the 100 billion neurons packed into the typical human
brain. Why do we occasionally blank on the names of acquaintances and even
friends? How do our minds encode new data and experiences—and what can we do to
rev up recall?
Here’s a look at some science-based strategies from
Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., president of Memory Arts and co-author of Brainpower Game Plan: Food,
Moves, and Games to Clear Brain Fog, Boost Memory, and Age-Proof Your Mind in 4
Move More.Research shows physical activity cuts the risk for Alzheimer’s
disease by up to 50%. Maintaining a healthy weight with a low
amount of belly fat also trims risk. More motivation to lace up your running
shoes and get your muscles pumping: Exercise is a great way to keep cholesterol in the healthy range. A study found
that high cholesterol is linked to increased risk for memory loss.
Play PacMan.Play video, online,
card or board games against the clock. Or set a timer and see how fast you can
do crossword or Sudoko puzzle. Any timed mental activity, from chess to PacMan,
forces you to pay attention and think quickly—otherwise you can’t beat the
Take a Class.Staying
intellectually engaged keeps neurons nimble. Think totally outside your comfort
zone: If you like to read, consider photography lessons. Or learn a foreign
language or take up an unfamiliar sport. Also, experiment with little ways to
vary your usual routines, such as taking a different route to work or using
your computer mouse with your non-dominant hand.
Master the Name Game.Simple strategies can
improve your recall of names. When you meet someone new, repeat the name a few
times during your initial conversation and try to link it to something
familiar. For example, you might connect the name “Bruce” with the actor Bruce
Phone a Friend.Remaining socially
engaged preserves mental vitality. That’s because having conversations and
making social plans provides enjoyable mental challenges. There’s also research showing
that the daily give-and-take of married life or cohabiting with a partner wards
off mental decline as you age.