Wisdom//

5 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

Memory-boosting habits that pay off in the long run

anilakkus/Getty Images
anilakkus/Getty Images

Take a moment, and think back to a time when your memory failed you.

For some of you, it may have been during an exam when all the information you’d spent weeks studying mysteriously slipped your mind. Cue the panic attack. For others, it may have been in the middle of an important meeting when all you could think was “did I turn off the iron?” or “did I remember to pack the kids’ snacks?”

These moments can be downright frustrating, especially as you get older, when the problem only seems to get worse. When your memory isn’t reaching its full potential, it can be a burden on your ability to achieve basic day-to-day goals and tasks.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a magic pill that could improve your memory tenfold? Alas, the science isn’t there… yet. However, researchers have spent decades examining tried-and-true methods that have been found to measurably improve memory. Try out these five methods and watch your memory soar.

Practice being mindful

Your mind wanders about 30% of the time. As you can imagine, it can be incredibly hard to access all the information stored in your brain when half of your attention is directed elsewhere. This is where mindful meditation comes in. This style of meditation draws your attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental fashion,

It encourages you to live in the moment, thus reducing the distracting and overly negative thoughts that parade on your conscious mind. Studies have shown that students who underwent a two-week mindfulness training program experienced an improvement in working memory and reading comprehension while taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). These students also reported feeling less distracted, which led to their improved performance.

Eat a handful of blueberries

A change in diet can save your life. We all know that. The right diet can combat numerous medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart diseases. But unbeknownst to many, the foods you consume can also have a large impact on your cognitive functioning, specifically your memory.

For example, research shows that blueberry supplementation increases neuronal signalling and mitigates neurodegeneration, leading to enhanced memory function. This is accomplished by a compound in the blueberries called anthocyanins.

When you eat unhealthy foods – such as foods that are high in white sugar or trans fats – your body produces cytokines, which stimulate inflammation in the brain. If the inflammation persists for a long period of time, it can result in memory loss along with an inability to focus. The anthocyanins in the blueberries have a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect which can counteract the effects of long term brain inflammation, restoring your memory function.

Burn off some steam through exercise

Why does it become increasingly hard to remember information as you get older?

The answer to this has to do with a region in your brain responsible for storing your long-term memories, called the hippocampus. As you might suspect, the hippocampus slowly deteriorates as you age. Between the ages of 30 and 80, it shrinks in size by about 13%. This condition is known as hippocampal atrophy and has been noted as the main reason why older adults suffer memory loss.

Interestingly, a long line of research has shown that exercise is an effective mechanism for counteracting hippocampal atrophy. Experiments performed on older adults have found that exercising regularly for a year can increase hippocampal volume by 2%, thus reversing age-related deterioration. Other studies have found improvements in learning and memory consolidation after 24 hours of exercise.

So go ahead, climb aboard the treadmill. Your hippocampus (and memory) will thank you for it.

Listen to Music (The Mozart effect)

It has long been debated whether music can improve one’s cognitive and memory capacity. Some researchers say yes: music boosts the release of dopamine in our brains which not only make us feel good, but promotes reward-motivated learning. But a strong caveat from this work tells us that what matters is the type of music that’s playing in the background.

For instance, in one study it was found that music leads to enhanced memory via increased alpha-waves in the brain, but only for those listening to Mozart. The same neural patterns were not observed for participants who listened to Beethoven. So when choosing which music to listen to during intense work periods, be sure it doesn’t disrupt your ability to remember and process information.

Get your sleep

It’s no secret that getting a healthy amount of sleep can greatly improve cognitive functioning. For example, one study showed that participants who got eight hours of sleep were more successful at remembering names and identifying faces.

In contrast, people who are sleep-deprived often experience high blood pressure and constricted blood vessels, which can decrease blood flow to the brain. And it goes beyond just memory: A review of 16 studies found that individuals who slept less than six to eight hours a night were 12% more likely to suffer from an early death.

But careful not to overdo it. Research at Harvard medical school has suggested that getting too much sleep can also be a bad thing. According to the study, individuals who get more than nine to ten hours of sleep often have poor sleep quality, which can contribute to sleep-related memory deficits. When it comes to ideal amount of sleep, aim for that sweet spot of seven to eight hours, and ensure that the timing is consistent and regular.

Overall and takeaway

The human brain can be a very powerful tool but it can often fall short of reaching its full potential. Fortunately, scientist have provided evidence for methods that can compensate for these shortcomings.

Using the techniques listed here, you can improve your ability to retain information and access memories on the fly. Along with increasing your chances for personal and professional success, an improvement in memory can increase your overall quality of life.

Turns out the magic memory pill might not be needed after all.

If you’re interested in learning about more action-packed tactics that foster self-growth and peak mental performance, come visit me here

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