Our memories are a vital part of our identity, but as we age, our memory deteriorates. For many older adults, the decline becomes so severe that they can no longer live independently, which is one of the biggest fears adults have about growing old.
Scientists have been learning more about our brain’s amazing capacity for change and growth. This concept is known as neuroplasticity. Through research on neuroplasticity, scientists have discovered that our memory capacity is not fixed, but rather malleable.
10 Effective Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Memory
To improve your memory, you should exercise your brain and take care of your body. These 10 tips and tricks are some of the most effective methods for improving memory.
1. Learn something new
Memory strength can be increased by regularly challenging the brain. Learning new skills is an effective way to do this.
While there are many things you could do, it is important to find an activity that makes you uncomfortable and requires all of your focus.
Here are some examples:
- learn a new instrument
- make pottery
- play mind games, like Sudoku or chess
- learn a new type of dance, like the tango
- learn a new language
A 2007 study showed that people who speak more than one language may experience a delay in memory problems associated with dementia.
2. Give your brain a workout
As you become an adult, your brain has formed millions of neural pathways to assist you in processing and recalling information rapidly, solving known problems, and executing habitual tasks with little mental strain. Although sticking to these pathways is easy, it doesn’t provide the stimulation your brain needs to stay active and developing. Therefore, it’s important to switch things up every now and then!
This is similar to working out your muscles, the more you use them the stronger they will become. The same goes for your brain, the more you use it the better you will be at processing and remembering information. But not all activities are created equally, the best brain exercises are the ones that break your routine and challenge you to use and develop new brain pathways.
Four key elements of a good brain-boosting activity
- It teaches you something new. No matter how intellectually demanding the activity, if it’s something you’re already good at, it’s not a good brain exercise. The activity needs to be something that’s unfamiliar and out of your comfort zone. To strengthen the brain, you need to keep learning and developing new skills.
- It’s challenging. The best brain-boosting activities demand your full and close attention. It’s not enough that you found the activity challenging at one point. It must still be something that requires mental effort. For example, learning to play a challenging new piece of music counts; playing a difficult piece you’ve already memorized does not.
- It’s a skill you can build on. Look for activities that allow you to start at an easy level and work your way up as your skills improve —always pushing the envelope so you continue to stretch your capabilities. When a previously difficult level starts to feel comfortable, that means it’s time to tackle the next level of performance.
- It’s rewarding. Rewards support the brain’s learning process. The more interested and engaged you are in the activity, the more likely you’ll continue doing it and the greater the benefits you’ll experience. So, choose activities that, while challenging, are still enjoyable and satisfying.
Think about something you’ve always wanted to try and learn how to do it. This can be anything from playing a musical instrument, to making pottery, to juggling, playing chess, speaking French, or dancing the tango. All of these activities can help improve your memory, as long as they keep you challenged and interested.
What about brain-training programs?
There are many brain-training apps and online programs that claim to improve memory, problem-solving skills, attention, and IQ with regular use. But is there any evidence that they are effective?
The evidence suggests that brain-training programs do not lead to improvements in overall intelligence, memory, or other cognitive abilities.
3. Make time for friends
If you want to improve your memory, you should think about hanging out with friends and doing fun activities, rather than activities that are seen as serious.
Healthy relationships: the ultimate brain booster
We as humans are not meant to be alone and need social interaction to stimulate our brains. Relationships with others may provide the best kind of brain exercise.
The Harvard School of Public Health found that people who have the most active social lives have the slowest rate of memory decline.
There are many ways you can take advantage of the brain benefits of socializing. You can volunteer, join a club, or make it a point to see friends more often. You can also reach out to them over the phone. If you don’t have access to a human, don’t forget about the value of a pet—especially a highly social dog.
4. Avoid bright screens before bed
The blue light that is emitted by cell phones, TVs, and computers inhibits the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle. A poorly regulated sleep-wake cycle can have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep.
If we don’t get enough sleep and rest, the neurons in our brain become too tired to function properly. This makes it harder to access memories. About an hour before bedtime, we should turn off our electronic devices and let our brains relax.
5. Eat more of these foods:
There are several diets which have been shown to improve memory and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, including the Mediterranean diet, DASH, and the MIND diet.
These diets focus on eating:
- plant-based foods, especially green, leafy vegetables and berries
- whole grains
- chicken or turkey
- olive oil or coconut oil
- herbs and spices
- fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines
- red wine, in moderation
Fish that contain high levels of fat are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help to create brain and nerve cells. They are necessary for improving learning and memory, and have been shown to slow down cognitive decline.
6. Eat less of these foods:
Proponents of the Mediterranean and MIND diets say to avoid the following foods:
- processed foods
- red meat
- fried foods
A recent study found that a diet high in fats and sugars can impair memory, although it is not clear how accurate this finding is.
7. Avoid certain medications
In addition to taking your prescribed medications, be sure to follow your doctor’s dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
The following text is about how some prescriptions, like statins for high cholesterol, have been associated with memory loss and “brain fog.” It also discusses how losing weight and eating healthier may help to treat high cholesterol.
Other medications that might affect memory include:
- antianxiety medications
- hypertension drugs
- sleeping aids
There are ways to manage your medical conditions without relying on medication forever. If you’re worried about how a medication may affect your memory, talk to your doctor about your options.
8. Practice yoga
A 2012 study found that just 20 minutes of yoga significantly improved participants’ speed and accuracy on memory tests. The study’s participants performed better on tests after yoga than after aerobic exercise. However, the study was limited by its small sample size of just 30 young female students.
Emphasizing breathing from the diaphragm is a key part of yoga, which helps improve mental function by maximizing oxygen intake.
9. Have a laugh
The saying goes that laughter is the best medicine, and this is true for the brain and memory, as well as the body. While emotional responses are limited to certain areas of the brain, laughter engages multiple regions throughout the brain.
Listening to jokes and working out punch lines activates areas of the brain vital to learning and creativity, as psychologist Daniel Goleman notes in his book Emotional Intelligence. He states that “laughter seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely.”
Looking for ways to bring more laughter in your life? Start with these basics:
A good way to stop taking ourselves so seriously is to laugh at the times when we did. Sharing embarrassing moments can help with this.
If you hear people laughing, go towards them. Most of the time, people are happy to share something funny because it allows them to laugh again and enjoy the humor. If you hear laughter, try to join in.
Being around people who are fun and easygoing, and who can laugh at themselves and the world, is uplifting. Their good mood is contagious.
Make your environment light and cheerful so that you are constantly reminded to relax and not take things too seriously.
Children are experts on playing and laughing, so emulate them and pay attention to them. Life is too short to stress over things that don’t matter.
10. Take practical steps to support learning and memory
Make sure you are giving the task your full attention if you want to remember it. Encoding the information into your brain takes about 8 seconds of focused attention. Choose a place where you won’t be interrupted if you tend to be easily distracted.
To help remember information, try to involve as many senses as possible. For example, relate colors to the information, or try to imagine the texture or smell of what you are trying to remember. Also, physically writing the information down can help imprint it onto your brain. Even if you learn best by seeing things, reading the information out loud can help you remember it better. If you can recite it rhythmically or with a beat, that can help even more.
Adding new data to information you already know makes it easier to remember. If you can relate the new information to something you already know, you’re more likely to remember it. For example, if you’re trying to remember the address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone, it will be easier to remember than if you’re trying to remember the address of someone who lives on a completely new street.
To better understand complicated material, focus on grasping the fundamental concepts instead of memorizing tiny details. Try relating the ideas to someone else in your own language.
You should review the information you have learned the same day that you learn it and at different intervals after that. This “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than trying to learn everything at once, and it will help you remember what you have learned better.
Mnemonics can be really helpful when you’re trying to memorize something. They’re basically just clues that help you remember something by associating it with a visual image, a sentence, or a word.
The bottom line
You can improve your memory by practicing it and maintaining healthy habits. For example, you can learn a new challenging activity, exercise for a few minutes every day, eat a balanced diet including more green vegetables, fish, and nuts, and get a good night’s sleep.
Chunking, mind palaces, and retrieval are all suggested techniques by memory champions that can help you study for an exam.
If you start to notice that you’re making more errors than before or having difficulty completing basic everyday tasks, such as cooking or cleaning, you should speak to your doctor.