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You can fix your memory today — and use it to help change your life for the better. So says Marilu Henner, the actress best known from her days as Elaine O’Connor Nardo on “Taxi.” (She’s also widely known for her roles in “Hammett,” “The Man Who Loved Women,” and “LA Story.”)  Lately, she’s been in the news because of her ability to recall every moment of her life in her vivid detail, as well as world events. Her condition is called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (or HSAM), which only a handful of people in the world have.

In her newest book (her 9th!), Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future, a New York Times bestseller, she talks about how to improve your autobiographic memory and learn from past mistakes in order to uncover a better future. “Negative experiences provide the most memorable and useful lessons,” she says. Her book details easy – and fun – exercises that get your brain moving. Lucky for us BA50s—especially forgetful me – the 60-year-old actress/author/life coach had time to sit down with us and answer some important questions.

BA50: What should a woman at 50 + know about her memory? 

Marilu: First of all, keep in mind that 50 is not old. Some of the best times of my life have happened since I’m 50. I reconnected with someone from college — two days before he turned 51 and one month before after I turned 51– and he’s the love of my life. We’re now married.

What’s important to know is that you are never too young or too old to feel better than you do right now. Time is on your side. And if you start right now, within a year you’ll be so far ahead of the game.  I’m talking about your health habits. When you improve your health, your entire life improves – your digestion, your skin, your breathing and definitely your memory.

I believe what is good for your body is good for your brain. Staying hydrated is key. Many times you think you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty. Your body is 50% water and your brain is 70% water. My advice: Go water your brain.

It’s also very important to get moving – to get your oxygen flowing. Take a brisk walk. Or jump on a rebounder {a mini trampoline}. You don’t have to do anything high impact. But you do have to shake up your body and brain just like you might shake up a carton of orange juice. Low impact jumping on a rebounder for only two minutes helps shake, stir and stimulate your lymphatic system, which triples your white blood cell count for the following hour. It’s extremely important to your memory and your health.

BA50: What are some easy tips to help stimulate our brains?

Marilu: Stay active. Don’t be so reliant on GPS and speed dial and everything else we do. Spend one day NOT looking up some other resource but try to really remember something.

I also suggest testing yourself throughout the day. When making a grocery list, for example, I imagine I’m in the store and do a sort of ‘brain walk’ through Whole Foods and mentally picture where the bakery is, where the peanut butter is, where the juices are, and so on. I make my list in my head. Then, at the end of my shopping excursion – without a written list – I see what I remembered. It’s all about testing — and exercising — your brain.

Another tip: At night, jot down three things you did that day; three little bullet points, to help you remember and reflect.

I talk in my book about how people are sense dominant. Everyone has a sense they use most to tune into the world. When you figure out what that sense is, play to that strength. If you’re a visual person, take a mental snapshot of your day every once in a while to take in where you are. For example right now I’m in my dining room talking on the phone to you and I am taking in the trees outside my window.  Being present and in the moment is very important.

BA50: I know in your book you start off talking about APR. Can you explain that?

Marilu: My father used to always say there are three parts to every event: Anticipation, Participation and Recollection. We all look ahead to things before we actually do them. After we anticipate the experience, we then, of course, participate in the actual event, which is then followed by its recollection. Unfortunately, many of us don’t actively participate enough and are often distracted or texting during real-life conversations, or we don’t take in our surroundings or really listen. Most glaring is how quickly we walk away from something we’ve just done without any attempt to remember it. For each of us, the more cognizant effort we put into the immediate recollection, the more deeply embedded in our mental hard drive that experience will be, thus improving our long-term memories of the experience.

For example, today I’m going to my son Joey’s high school acting class. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Then I’ll be there. And then after I’ve left, I’ll think about it some more so it’s been forever ingrained in my memory that that’s what I did on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.

(As we’re talking Marilu flashes back to May 22, 1982 and gets an image of what she wore to the Cannes Film Festival when she was in the movie “Hammett.” “It was a Saturday night; I wore a white leather ball gown, and I was with my first husband,” she says. “That’s how my brain works. We’re talking about a date and then these images come to me.”  She then asks if me I remember my 21st birthday – which I don’t. When I tell her when I was born, she is able to tell me the exact day of my birth {a Tuesday} and what day of the week my 21st birthday fell on {a Sunday}. But me being me – I can’t remember much more. I tell her if I saw a photo of an event, I could remember better. This brings us to her next topic…)

Marilu: You are a visual person. Photos help bring back memories for you. That is your dominant sense. Use it and play to your strengths.

For many people, music is a huge trigger. When you hear a certain piece of music, you can be transported. We are so inspired by our senses – when you really play to your strongest sense – memories come flooding back. For some it’s smell, for others it’s sound or taste.

BA50: So, APR is one of the most important things we should know in terms of memory building as is playing to our strengths. Is there a third “must know” takeaway?

Marilu: Yes, I’d say play to your personal memory track. Everyone has something that they remember especially well; it could be anything from travel to food to jobs to clothes to hairdos. Guys, for example, can forget an anniversary but they won’t forget some sports game from years ago because many men live to a sports track.

People remember their life by some primary track and when you start filling in the blanks– I liken it to a giant jigsaw puzzle and those are the hard edged pieces – you can start connecting and interlocking those puzzle pieces back together.  You know your personal memory track so start with that memory and work around it; that will help bring up other memories.

It’s not too late. Time is on your side.   Start flexing your muscle memory and you’ll be surprised at not only how much better you can remember your past, but also how you can use what you remember to create a better future.

BA50: Thanks for your time. I’d love to end with a quote from your book.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

“That’s not insanity; it’s bad memory.” – Marilu Henner

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