Your brain continues to develop neurons and build new connections to strengthen memory as you age, So it’s never too late to improve your powers of recall.”
That’s where these nine strategies come in. They’ll help you hone your memory today and for years to come.
1. Eat Right
The foods you eat – and don’t eat – play a crucial role in your memory. Fresh vegetables are essential, as are healthy fats and avoiding sugar and grain carbohydrates. You can find detailed information about nine foods for brainpower here.
For instance, curry, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and walnuts contain antioxidants and other compounds that protect your brain health and may even stimulate the production of new brain cells.
Increasing your animal-based omega-3 fat intake and reducing consumption of damaged omega-6 fats (think processed vegetable oils) in order to balance your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, is also important. I prefer krill oil to fish oil, as krill oil also contains astaxanthin, which not only protects the omega-3 fats from oxidation but also appears to be particularly beneficial for brain health.
Coconut oil is another healthful fat for brain function. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases, or as a treatment for an already established case.
2. Check Your Medicine Cabinet
A number of medications can affect memory, including antihistamines; antidepressants, like Prozac; anti-anxiety drugs, like Xanax; and sleep aids, like Ambien.
Each has its own way of working in the brain. For instance antihistamines block acetylcholine, a brain transmitter necessary for short-term memory, while Xanax and Ambien knock out episodic memory, so anything that happens when you’re on the medication may not stick around in your brain.
Don’t stop taking any prescription drug without talking to your doctor, but bring up the subject at your next visit. An alternative medicine or treatment may be available.
3. Use rhymes.
Using a variety of common and silly rhymes can help you recall basic information. For example, if you’re trying to figure out if April has 30 or 31 days, just say the old rhyme aloud:
“Thirty days has September, April, June, and November.” Then you’ll remember that April does indeed have 30 days. Here are some other rhymes to use as memory tools:
- “In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
- A child can learn the alphabet by singing it to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” which makes the letters rhyme.
4. Exercise your brain.
Regularly “exercising” the brain keeps it growing and spurs the development of new nerve connections that can help improve memory.
By developing new mental skills — especially complex ones such as learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument — and challenging your brain with puzzles and games, you can keep your brain active and improve its physiological functioning.
- Try some fun puzzle exercises everyday such as crosswords, Sudoku, and other games which are easy enough for anyone.
- Get out of your comfort zone and pick something that is new and challenging, which makes you flex your brain muscles. Try to play chess or a fast-paced board game.
- A large portion of your brain is activated when it learns a new skill. Learning new information is also helpful, but since skills require both the intake and output of information, they exercise a larger portion of your brain.
When someone gives you a phone number to remember, use ‘chunking’ as a way of remembering it.
Short-term memory is limited so chunking helps us process long bits of information in more easily digestible chunks.
Most people can remember seven things, plus or minus two, which means that you’ll usually be able to remember between five and nine things at most.
So when given a string of numbers to remember such as 123957001066, break it down! 12 39 57 00 10 66 or even 1239 5700 1066 (chunks of numbers).
You may find it easier to chunk numbers according to something you find meaningful, like the age of someone you know, an address or a famous date (1066 Battle of Hastings).
These attached meanings can then form a story to help remember a really long sequence.
6. Practice Makes Perfect
It’s good to replay facts, images, words and intentions over and over to yourself. But psychologists have shown it’s better to ‘distribute’ practice rather than to have it ‘massed’ into one session.
So, for example, when practicing a name you’ve just learned, don’t repeat it over and over in sequence. Repeat it to yourself once or twice, then try something else. Then come back to it.
Ideally, use expanding intervals and repeat it to yourself over longer and longer time periods. And don’t cram for exams!
If you’re trying to remember words in a new language try using flash cards around the house with the words written on them – that will keep reinforcing the memory.
7. Exercise More
Several studies have shown that aerobic exercise improves cognitive function and is particularly good at enhancing memory.
Exercise is also thought to encourage the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus – an area of the brain important in memory and learning.
8. Say it out loud
This is the easiest of all methods for remembering everything from where you put your car keys to what you need from the shop to revising for a test, say memory experts.
Studies found saying what you want to remember out loud to yourself – or even mouthing it – will help with recall.
9. Get enough sleep
A good sleep triggers changes in the brain that help to improve memory. The findings, by experts at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in the US, came from MRI scans on volunteers’ brains to see which parts are activated after a good night’s rest.
Sleep helps new memories to ‘stick’ in the brain – a process scientists call memory consolidation.
This happens when connections between brain cells are strengthened by proper rest.
Researchers said: “When you are asleep, it seems as if you are shifting memory to more efficient storage regions.
“When you wake, memory tasks can be performed more quickly.”
10. Address your stress.
Ever wonder why, when you’re already having a maddening day, your memory goes on the blink, too? Blame the stress hormone cortisol.
When you’re on edge, it increases in the hippocampus — the brain’s control center for learning and memory — and may interfere with encoding information or retrieving it.
Cumulatively, this can be serious: “As you get older, chronic elevated cortisol levels are linked to memory impairment and a smaller hippocampus,” says Shireen Sindi, a researcher in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University. Another compelling reason to deal with issues that make you stressed.
11.Write it down.
If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.
Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it.
You can start a journal, write yourself e-mails, or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.
What’s normal forgetfulness..
? Forgetting what you went upstairs for.
? Taking several minutes to recall where you left the car.
? Putting things down and being unable to find them soon after.
? Forgetting something trivial a friend mentioned to you the day before.
? Forgetting the name of someone you’ve just met.
? Briefly forgetting the name for something –the ‘thingumabob’ moment.
Our short-term memory is very distractible.
The brain literally erases trivial information to make room for more important information that needs storing.
And what’s cause for concern…
? Multi-tasking becomes difficult – an able cook suddenly finds preparing a Sunday roast overwhelming.
? Problems negotiating familiar places, such as regularly not being able to find your car.
? Forgetting the names of close friends and relatives.
? Problems recognising faces, colours, shapes and words.
? Repeating a question asked half an hour previously.
Many of these symptoms could be attributed to depression, grief, stress or lack of sleep. But they could be early signs of dementia.
However, say experts, if you’re aware of your memory problems, this is unlikely. If concerned, see your GP.
Read our 7 Clinically Researched Brain Boosting Tips post..