6 tricks to help improve your memory
There have been thousands of studies done by specialists and experts on whether activities, diet or exercises can improve your memory. Such results have been skewed towards the possibility of ‘yes it’s possible’, so let’s look at 6 tricks that may help your cognitive brain function, thus improving your memory.
1. Play brain games
Puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords may improve memory and delay brain decline, though experts are not yet sure why. “My guess is that playing them activates synapses in the whole brain, including the memory areas,” says Marcel Danesi, Ph.D., author of Extreme Brain Workout. Research so far is decidedly mixed: Some studies have found that, while doing crossword puzzles may make you better at remembering the capital of Burkina Faso, there’s little evidence they’ll boost your performance at more general tasks, like remembering where your car is parked. But a 2011 study showed that participants who played a computer game called Double Decision for six years improved their concentration so much that they had a 50 percent lower rate of car accidents.
2. Eat the right foods
According to Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Memory Clinic, memory superfoods include antioxidant-rich, colorful fruits and vegetables, which protect your brain from harmful free radicals. He’s also enthusiastic about low-glycemic carbs, like oatmeal, and anything with omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, a recent study published in Neurology found that people with low levels of omega-3s had brains that appeared to be a full two years older in MRI scans. For example, the memory-enhancing diet from Small’s book The Memory Prescription, which claims it works in just two weeks, is much like the Mediterranean diet; it’s heavy on produce, legumes, nuts and fish. It’s low on meat, since meat’s omega-6 fatty acids may contribute to brain inflammation, a possible underlying mechanism for Alzheimer’s. Refined sugars produce a similar effect, so they were also out.
3. Stop multitasking
Used for decades to describe the parallel processing abilities of computers, multitasking is now shorthand for the human attempt to do simultaneously as many things as possible, as quickly as possible. Ultimately, multitasking may actually slow you down, make you prone to errors as well as make you forgetful.
“One reason people can’t remember where their keys are is they’re not paying attention when they put them down,” says Mark McDaniel, Ph.D., a psychology professor and memory researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. (His suggestion for always finding them: “When you put them down, stop and say out loud, ‘I’m leaving my keys on my dresser,'” or wherever you’re placing them.) Studies show that it takes eight seconds to fully commit a piece of information to memory, so concentrating on the task at hand is crucial. So try to put away your gadgets when they aren’t absolutely needed. Don’t have 10 websites up all at once.
If you find yourself trying to complete five tasks at once, stop yourself and focus your attention back to the task at hand. If distracting thoughts enter your head, remind yourself that these are only “projections,” not reality, and allow them to pass by without stressing you out. You can then end your day with a 10- or 15-minute meditation session to help stop your mind from wandering and relax into a restful sleep.
4. Master a new skill
A recent Swedish study found that adults who learned a new language showed improved memory for people’s names, among other things. Any activity that is practiced diligently, such as knitting or skiing, will likely have this effect, researchers say.
Engaging in “purposeful and meaningful activities” stimulates your neurological system, counters the effects of stress-related diseases, reduces the risk of dementia and enhances health and well-being. A key factor necessary for improving your brain function or reversing functional decline is the seriousness of purpose with which you engage in a task. In other words, the task must be important to you, or somehow meaningful or interesting — it must hold your attention.
For instance, one study revealed that craft activities such as quilting and knitting were associated with decreased odds of having mild cognitive impairment. Another study, published earlier this year, found that taking part in “cognitively demanding” activities like learning to quilt or take digital photography enhanced memory function in older adults. The key is to find an activity that is mentally stimulating for you. Ideally this should be something that requires your undivided attention and gives you great satisfaction… it should be an activity that you look forward to doing, such as playing a musical instrument, gardening, building model ships, crafting or many others.
5. Get a good night’s sleep
The process of brain growth, or neuroplasticity, is believed to underlie your brain’s capacity to control behaviour, including learning and memory. Plasticity occurs when neurons are stimulated by events, or information, from the environment. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity.
In fact, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that losing half a night’s rest (3 – 4 hours) on just one evening can erode memory. And the journal Nature Neuroscience recently reported that one way to slow decline in aging adults is to improve the length and quality of sleep. During a deep sleep of 8 hours or more, it’s believed that the brain shifts memories from temporary to longer-term storage. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of us get less than 7 hours of sleep a night.
Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory, can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber.
Even skimping on a few hours makes a difference! Memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised. But sleep is critical to learning and memory in an even more fundamental way. Research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, with the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep.
- Get on a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning. Try not to break your routine, even on weekends and holidays.
- Avoid all screens for at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by TVs, tablets, phones, and computers trigger wakefulness and suppress hormones such as melatonin that make you sleepy.
- Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine affects people differently. Some people are highly sensitive, and even morning coffee may interfere with sleep at night. Try reducing your intake or cutting it out entirely if you suspect it’s keeping you up.
6. Go to the gym / exercise
Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by stimulating nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.
During exercise nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning.
Researchers from the University of California at Irvine recently discovered that a little exercise might yield big mental benefits. They had one group of subjects ride stationary bikes for six minutes, while another group cooled their heels. Afterward, the active group performed significantly better on a memory test. Instant results! The researchers believe the boost may be tied to an exercise-induced brain chemical called norepinephrine, which has a strong influence on memory. And Small contends that exercise is the best memory aid of all. “It can increase your brain size,” he says — and the bigger your brain, the greater your capacity to remember.
A 2010 study on primates published in Neuroscience also revealed that regular exercise not only improved blood flow to the brain, but also helped the monkeys learn new tasks twice as quickly as non-exercising monkeys.
This is a benefit the researchers believe would hold true for people as well. In a separate one year-long study, individuals who engaged in exercise were actually growing and expanding the brain’s memory center one to two percent per year, where typically that center would have continued to decline in size.
Read more on techniques to boost your memory in volume 4.
Volume four: Relaxing your mind and boosting your memory
– Helpguide Org. How to Improve Your Memory, Tips and Exercises to Sharpen Your Mind and Boost Brainpower. Sabrina Bachai. July 10, 2013. Read full article here.
– 7 Tricks to Improve Your Memory, April 24, 2014. By Dr Joseph Mercola. Read full article here.
– Huffingtonpost Healthy Living, 7 Tricks To Improve Your Memory, September 16, 2013. By Jancee Dunn. Read full article here
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