Anyone can improve their memory, unless they are experiencing memory loss as part of a medical condition. Whether you want to ace your science test, enter the World Memory Championships, or preserve and enhance your memory as you age, we have some memory-boosting tips that may help.
Memories are the building blocks of our internal biographies. They tell us what we have done during our lifetime and who we have connected with along the way. Memories play a vital role in making us who we are as human beings, which is why age-related memory loss can signify losing our sense of self.
Many people worry about declining memory and thinking skills. But what makes some individuals experience memory loss over time while others remain sharp? Genes contribute to how intact our memories stay, but so too do lifestyle choices.
Eating a healthful diet, getting regular exercise, keeping an eye on our cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, and not smoking have all been shown to protect memory. In the same way that muscles become stronger with use, memory and cognitive skills do too.
The age-old proverb "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" does not apply to the brain; it can adapt and constantly change, even into old age. Your brain has the potential to create new cells and neural connections if it is provided with the right stimuli. The brain's ability to change, grow, and improve throughout life is known as neuroplasticity.
Your daily habits influence how well your brain works. There are many steps that you can take to harness the power of your brain's ability to change and improve your memory. Here are Medical News Today's tricks to help you fire up your brain's recall and retention.
1. Eat a brain-boosting diet
The body needs fuel to function properly, and this holds true for the brain, as well. Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones can be an effective strategy for powering your brain and keeping it fit and healthy for life.
The Mediterranean diet is ranked as one of the most healthful diets on the planet. It is based on an intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, healthy fats — such as olive oil, nuts, and fish — and lean protein.
Research indicates that the Mediterranean diet prevents major chronic diseases and helps you to live longer. It has also been shown to have a long-term positive impact on cognitive function and is linked to less cognitive decline and improved memory and attention.
The consumption of extra-virgin olive oil, which is a major part of the Mediterranean diet, has been found to protect memory and learning ability as well as safeguard against cognitive decline.
Ketogenic diets have gained public attention for an assortment of health benefit and weight loss claims. Ketogenic diets are low in carbohydrates and high in fat. Drastically reducing your intake of carbohydrates and replacing them with fat puts your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.
Ketosis increases your body's efficiency in burning fat for energy and creates ketones from fat in the liver, which supplies energy to the brain.
Recent research has revealed that in older animals, the ketogenic diet improves memory, preserves brain function, and increases the chances that the animal will live into old age.
Although a diet that emphasizes eating "real" rather than processed foods, avoiding trans fats and sugar, and eating healthful fats will help to fuel your brain and memory, certain foods outweigh others for their benefits.
Here are some foods that recent research has hailed as memory boosters.
Walnut consumption is associated with improved performance on cognitive function tests for memory, concentration, and speed of information processing.
Blueberry concentrate improves brain function, working memory, blood flow to the brain, and activation of the brain while conducting cognitive tests.
Avocado improves cognitive function in tests evaluating memory, processing speed, and attention levels.
Cocoa and chocolate enhance working memory performance and visual information processing, and they counteract sleep deprivation-related cognitive impairment. Dietary cocoa flavanols have also been found to reverse age-related memory decline.
Cinnamon promotes memory improvement and may target cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.
Peppermint tea significantly improves long-term and working memory, as well as alertness, compared with chamomile and hot water.
2. Get physically active
If you want your memory to stay sharp, it is important to keep active. Exercise increases oxygen levels in your brain, reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes — which leads to memory loss — decreases levels of stress hormones, and increases the effect of helpful brain chemicals.
Working out also facilitates neuroplasticity of certain structures in the brain, which enhances cognitive function.
In an analysis investigating brain health of the over 50s, researchers found that aerobic activity and resistance training combined boosts brain power. Aerobic activity improved cognitive abilities, while resistance training enhanced memory, working memory, and executive function.
Aerobic exercise in young adults has also been shown to be a predictor of recognition memory.
Particular hormones that increase during exercise, called growth factors, help to improve memory. Growth factors mediate the connection between exercise and brain health via the hippocampus — which is a region of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Incorporating elements of moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance training for at least 45 minutes per session, and on as many days of the week as you can manage, will likely benefit your cognitive abilities and memory.
Research also hints that if you want to remember something you have just learned, you should aim to exercise 4 hours later. Individuals who exercised 4 hours after a learning session were better at retaining information 2 days later than individuals who exercised immediately after learning or not at all.
3. Take a nap
Do you think that enhancing your memory will be challenging? Think again; you can nap your way to a superior memory.
Adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night to maintain physical and mental health. Sleep helps us to solidify and consolidate short-term memory to long-term memory. After sleep, people tend to improve information retention and perform better in memory tests. Skipping the recommended amount of sleep, however, interferes with the brain's ability to form new memories.
Sleep may be a trouble-free way to improve long-term retention of information. Participants of a study who slept between learning sessions could recall 10 to 16 words on a memory test, while those who had not slept only recalled 7.5 words, on average.
Other research found that in adults aged 65 and older, taking an hour-long nap in the afternoon improved performance on cognitive tests compared with individuals who did not nap.
Those who took shorter or longer naps, or who did not nap at all, exhibited declines in their mental abilities equal to what would be expected of a 5-year age increase.
4. Give your brain a workout
The popularity of brain-training apps has turned the industry into a billion-dollar business. However, do brain-training programs really work? Evidence increasingly suggests that they do not.
Brain-training programs lead to improvement in the task that you have been practicing, but they do not appear to strengthen memory, intelligence, or cognitive abilities.
However, there are techniques you can use to help you learn to encode and recall important information, and these are called mnemonic devices. These methods can be your superpower when needing to remember people's names — at a big event, for example.
Mnemonic devices are a shortcut that helps us to link the information we want to remember with a word, image, or sentence. It is a method of memorizing information that makes it stick in our brains longer and be recalled more easily.
Types of mnemonic devices include:
- The method of loci, which requires you to imagine items that you would like to remember along a familiar route. Associate words or concepts with one of your locations along the way to make them easier to recall later.
- Acronyms can be used as a tool to remember anything from the colors of the rainbow to the items on your shopping list. For example, you could use the acronym "CAKE" to help you remember that you need to collect cheese, apples, kale, and eggs from the store.
- Rhymes can help you to recall information such as how many days there are in the month of June: "Thirty days has September, April, June, and November."
- Chunking is a way to break down large pieces of information into smaller, more manageable chunks of information, such as breaking down telephone numbers in the United States into three chunks, rather than trying to remember all 10 digits separately.
- Imagery can help you to remember pairs of words, such as blue water, yellow sun, and green grass. By recalling a specific image, it can help us to recall information that we associated with that image.
The more you exercise your brain, the easier you will find it to process and remember information. The best workouts to develop new brain pathways are ones that are new and challenging.
5. Kick back and relax
Chronic stress has an adverse effect on the brain. Over time, stress destroys brain cells, damages the hippocampus, and is linked with memory loss. Managing stress can therefore be one of the best ways to protect your memory.
Meditation and listening to music may be effective strategies for relieving stress and reversing early memory loss in older adults with cognitive decline.
In a study, meditation and listening to music over a 3-month period significantly improved subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance. The memory and cognition gains were still present or further increased for 3 months after the intervention.
Do you enjoy doodling or taking photographs? These hobbies could be used as tools to help with memory recall. Doodling while conducting a dull task improved recall by 29 percent over non-doodlers in one study, while taking photos improved performance in visual memory tasks in another study.
Lastly, if you find that you relax with certain aromas, you might want to try rosemary essential oil. Children who took part in a memory game after being in a rosemary-diffused room scored significantly higher than children who had been in a room with no scent.