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How do antioxidants improve memory? 

By  Lysette Offley

How do antioxidants improve memory = photo of orangesExercise may be good for you, but all that hard work and strain on your body creates free radicals – that is to say, unstable molecules, missing an electron, and seeking to steal one from the nearest available source – often the cells of your body, thus rendering those cells unstable in turn.

That’s why you often hear advice to supplement with antioxidants, so that those free radicals can steal their missing electron from the antioxidants rather than from your body.

Antioxidants work to protect the lipids in your cell walls from peroxidation by the free radicals. They work by giving up their own electrons to the free radicals, thus making them stable again. So that now the free radical is stable and no longer a free radical, it doesn’t need to attack the cell wall and the chain reaction of oxidisation is broken.

But hold on! It’s not over yet! Meanwhile the antioxidant is now missing an electron and becomes a free radical itself. However, these free radicals aren’t harmful and the body copes with them by creating yet more antioxidants from the food we eat.

So the hope is, that the cycle of stealing to become stable goes on among the molecules of food we digest rather than our own cells.

Good antioxidant food includes fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and vegetable oil. Vitamin E is probably the most potent antioxidant and as there’s loads of it within the cell wall, it’s the body’s first line of defence against the process of peroxidation. If the cell wall is broken however, within the contents of the water-soluble cell are more antioxidants including vitamin C.

It is reckoned that vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium make for the best antioxidants, and the best way to get these into your body to create the right balance – is through your food, rather than supplementation the effects of which we still don’t fully understand. Exercising heavily increases the uptake of oxygen by 10 to 20 times more than when you are at rest, and it turns out that regular exercise strengthens your own antioxidants’ defence system.

So to conclude, exercise is an all-round improver. It improves your chances of avoiding heart disease and stroke, the toxic effects of stress, diabetes, many cancers, cholesterol problems etc. It improves your immune system, it regulates your appetite, makes your muscles and bones stronger and improves your strength and balance. Without exercise, as we get older, our strength and balance deteriorate, and are the main reasons why older people suffer falls and accidents.

There’s no doubt about it, exercise is good for you. It’s good for the whole of your body. And it’s good for your memory.

Bear in mind, watching sports, isn’t quite what I mean by exercise! Better to actually do it. Although, I must admit that due to the mirror neurons in our brains, watching someone else getting fit can rub off positively on us, and if we watch in a particular and deliberate way, it’ll make us fitter too! Never mind that for now. I know that the very notion of exercise can send you shuddering to the comfort of your favourite chair, with glass of wine in one hand, TV remote in the other! And, quite frankly, with good reason.

Many people start off with good intentions, going berserk at the gym, completely overdoing it, feel sick, and are hardly able to move for the pain for next 2 or 3 days. If the memory of that is what’s putting you off, I don’t blame you.

So forget that. Make a list of activities that you actually already enjoy. And then work out which of them you could do on a regular basis in order that you raise your heart and breathing rate for 20 to 30 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week. Start gently. Make sure that what you do, you enjoy. That way you’ll go out a 2nd time, then a 3rd time and so on. It’s meant to be pleasant, not miserable.

If that’s how you feel, then you’re simply not doing it right! And over time you will find that you’re able to do a little more. Walk a little further in the same time for example. You might have heard the expression ‘what gets measured, gets done’. So get one of those pedometers, a step counter, and just notice your progress. If you’re a cyclist, get a cheap bicycle computer to measure how fast you’re going, how long you’ve been cycling etc. Make it interesting.

I’m going to let you into a little secret. It’s something you might have had a sneaky suspicion about already. Further research has made it quite clear that the thing about exercise that makes it so good for your cognitive function is the increased oxygen made available to the body and brain. Similar cognitive improvement is to be had without exercise, when given supplementary oxygen. It’s all about the oxygen.

However, without a better understanding of the volume of oxygen, the concentration of oxygen, or where the heck you would get it, I think I’ll stick to exercise. That way I know I’m doing the right thing.

So a good question to ask ourselves is, if I were to incorporate more moving about into my daily routine, what would be the easiest, the most fun thing to start doing? And then, taking the advice of the Goddess of Trainers – just do it!

Lysette Offley


With 40 years of experience, Lysette Offley is a Memory and Mindset Coach to women and men at the top of their game in the Financial Services Industry who recognise the value of continual personal and professional development and support to achieve a healthy work-life balance, along with satisfaction and fulfilment.

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