TODAY   |  April 28, 2014

How to improve your memory and stay sharp

Dr. Majid Fotuhi, a neurologist and author of “Boost Your Brain,” joins TODAY to reveal some techniques you can use to keep your memory sharp well into old age.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> memory, it turns out you either use it or you lose it.

>> one way to use it is simple challenges. before the break, our plaza guests held up eight words and we needed to memorize our order.

>> we're going to test what we remember with the help of a neurologist and author of "boost your brain." he recently wrote about improving your memory in the latest issue of "ladies home journal." good to see you.

>> good morning.

>> so we're supposed to launch in and put this in order?

>> i think so.

>> that's not in order.

>> so bike goes first. bike. carpet. sandwich.

>> no, bike sandwich.

>> no, bike, carpet, sandwich.

>> bike, carpet, sandwich.

>> toothpaste. lipstick oil.

>> farm was last.

>> no. it wasn't.

>> no.

>> oil was next to farm.

>> phone was last.

>> toothbrush and lipstick. yep, final answer.

>> that's it.

>> is that it?

>> no.

>> no?

>> carpet, sandwich.

>> that's what we said.

>> that's what we said.

>> yes.

>> is that right? doctor?

>> actually, i wasn't looking.

>> we got it right.

>> so why is it that we forget so easily?

>> the reason we forget things, especially as we grow older, is because the memory parts of our brain shrink and a smaller brain doesn't work that well.

>> oh. that is concerning.

>> it wasn't that you were forgetting more, it was that you had more to remember. so proportionately --

>> no, sorry. there's a part of the brain called hipocampus. it's the size of your thumb, one on the right, one on the left. this is what helps you remember during your wedding or graduation. when comes to the hippocampus, bigger is stronger. diabetes, sedentary lifestyle , those things shrink the hippocampus by a lot.

>> so what are some tricks? what can we do to remember things better than we do? we all reach a certain age, we feel certain details slipping away. how do we prevent that?

>> as i mentioned earlier, when you see the hippocampus smaller, the good news is you can make it bigger. it's amazing. you can make your hippocampus, the memory part of your brain, literally bigger. so much bigger than you can see it on an mri. we had a program called brain fitness program, and with that, you provide a boot camp for your memory and your hippocampus grows by about 9%.

>> how do they do it?

>> the first thing you want to do is to exercise. willie, can i ask you a favor? can you stand here for me and jump two or three times? just jump up and down. as you do this, you literally -- thank you.

>> so good.

>> as you do this, you really help your hippocampus grow bigger.

>> just by jumping?

>> when you exercise, especially when you exercise vigorously, about 45 minutes, four days a week, you make your hippocampus bigger by creating new brain cells , new blood vessels and a protein called bdnf. exercise is the single best thing you can do.

>> something else question do?

>> the second thing is don't stress. frustration is really bad for your brain. when you're stuck in traffic and frustrated, you do this. these things are really bad for your brain because cortisol levels, which are stress hormones , go up when you feel frustrated. the thing to do is to reduce your expectations. so when you're stuck in traffic and you feel frustrated, just say look, traffic is expected. and just relax.

>> and don't drive with pencils.

>> keep calm and carry on.

>> you say challenge the brain as well. how do we challenge the brain?

>> one of the things -- actually, you can do easily every day is to memorize names a day. for example, what was my name? you have a lot of guests on your show and you can actually boost the size of your hippocampus by memorizing names. this is something you can do on a daily basis very easily. the more you challenge you're your brain by taking new hobbies, the better your hippocampus will be.

>> do you have any tricks for name mem morization? for example, the gentleman with the sandwich, he's wearing a hat.

>> i want you to memorize my name. when you see someone, you shake their hand and look them right in the eye. and you repeat the name. my name is dr. fatuhi?

>> and what's your name?

>> dr. fatuhi?

>> al. you look in someone's eyes and you repeat their name. and that eye-to-eye connection, you make an emotional connection. when you make an emotional connection, you remember the names better.

>> is that part of why you say be social? challenged by learning names and stimulating your brain that way?

>> exactly. so it's a good thing to be on facebook, but it's a better thing to be social. go places. have a glass of wine. get together. and really enjoy life. endorphin levels, which are really good for your brain, go up when you socialize.

>> doctor, thank you so much. and thank you so much to our lineup. they look