The Gustavian Weekly

Solving the memory problem | The Gustavian Weekly

By Tasha Carlson Staff Columnist | April 25, 2008 | Opinion

“So, how was your day, Tara? Oh, uh, I mean, Tasha.” Ok, so both of our names start with the letter T; but you would think that after twenty-one years as his daughter, my father would be able to distinguish me from my brown-haired sister—you know, the girl who popped out roughly two and a half years before I did. In a sarcastic tone I reply, “My day was great, Martha. Oh, uh, I mean, Dad.”

After ignoring my snarky comment, our conversation ensues. Based on my Dad’s habits of not being able to instantly recall my friends’ and coaches’ names, needing extra time during Scattergories and forgetting to do the laundry (wait—maybe he does this on purpose), I have concluded that my mom’s memory is much stronger than my father’s. Gender-biased, you say? Think again … or, actually, you boys may have to think three times.

Now that I have blatantly pointed out my father’s ailing memory, I would also like to point out that he is not the only man experiencing early memory problems.

Before all the boys tear up THE WEEKLY and declare their memory is perfect (don’t you think your girlfriend may disagree?), please hear this out. To begin with, men’s and women’s brains process things differently. Big surprise, right?

A study published in the journal Sex Roles from December 2002 affirms that men remember stats and numbers while women are great with childhood memories and specific emotional experiences. So girls: if your boyfriend can remember how many touchdowns the Dallas Cowboys scored in 1992 but not your anniversary, try not to verbally abuse him too much. At the same time, this is not a free pass for all the men to use this research as an excuse when they forget their mother’s favorite flower.

Incidentally, because men and women experience different memory functions, it is no surprise that our brains also age in dissimilar ways. According to a CNN.com article from April 18, 2008, men are more likely to have memory and thinking problems as they mature. However, although men may experience mild cognitive impairment sooner than women, diseases such as dementia are still found equally among elderly men and women.

How exactly can you (men and women) remedy this memory problem? A study was published in the New York Times of August 2007 surveying mice, the elderly and a group of individuals ages 21-45 regarding their exercise habits. The mice who exercised on wheels (as opposed to the mice without a wheel in their cage) produced two to three times as many neurons in their brains, a process called neurogenesis.

Neurologist Fred H. Gage asserts in the article that the human brain is incredibly capable of renewing itself, but exercise definitely speeds up the process. During the spring of 2007, Columbia University chose a group of individuals ranging in age from 21-45 and gave them an exercise regime for 12 weeks. After the designated time, test subjects were not only more physically fit, but MRIs showed that the area of the brain responsible for producing fresh neurons was receiving twice the amount of blood than before.

The elderly are also capable of preventing memory loss with exercise. If mice and a group of middle-aged adults are capable of reviving their memory, why not build a Lifetime Fitness in a retirement home? A group of sedentary people at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed significant growth in several areas of the brain after six months of increased aerobic activity, which included shuffleboard, water aerobics and sky diving.

We are still going to school and actively using our brains. As students, our brains function while we read textbooks, write research papers and play Halo. In order to read faster, write better and move your two thumbs quicker, exercise may be the key ingredient for brain health. In order to salvage your already shrinking memory (not really, I’m just making that up—it doesn’t start to decrease until age 30), it may be better to exchange the coffee and textbook for a sweatband and sneakers.

Tasha Carlson