Scientists once believed that our brain function peaked in early adulthood and then began to slowly decline, leading to many jokes about memory lapses or “senior moments” of old age. Now research has shown that lifestyle plays a significant role in brain health, and that we can, in fact, continue to develop the hippocampus – the brain’s memory center – throughout our lives.
Remembering everything from that potential client’s first name to the password on a project file can be key parts of a successful business day. If you find yourself sometime struggling to remember some of the hundreds of details that make up your life, the good news is that there are specific ways you can improve your memory. By following these simple steps, you can keep growing new cells in your hippocampus no matter what your age.
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory #1. Use techniques to build memory.
A big reason we forget information is that we never really learned it in the first place. You can use some simple tools to help you process that information. Here are a few ideas:
- Mnemonics and mental images. If you have ever taken piano lessons, you probably know the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor “ or “Every Good Boy Does Fine” used to help students learn the notes E,G, B, D, F on the treble clef. You can create mnemonics of your own to help your retain facts. Another idea is to create a mental image that matches with the name of a colleague you meet .
- Say it out loud. Another way to boost your recall is by stating out loud what you need to remember. When you meet someone, don’t just say, “Hello,” say, “Hello, David, it is nice to meet you.” Repeat the name again when you depart. If you are parking in an unusual place, tell yourself, “I am parking on Level L today” as you lock your car to re-enforce the information.
- Write it down. Take notes when you are on a phone call or in a meeting. Key words and phrases can be enough to help you remember the information later.
Avoid multi-tasking. Contrary to what most people think, doing more than one task at the same time can work against you. A study by the late Clifford Nass of Stanford University found that when people deal with multiple streams of information at once they don’t handle them as well as if they had dealt with them one a t a time. Ultimately, multitasking is task-switching, and it is a process that slows you down and can actually make you more forgetful.
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory 2. Keep learning
If there is a link between forgetfulness and age it is because some people stop challenging themselves mentally as they grow older. Even if you are in a challenging industry, it can become routine after a while if you do not continue to learn new things. Your brain can solve familiar problems and perform routine tasks with little difficulty.
Challenge your memory by learning new skills, such how to speak another language or how to play an instrument. Exercise your brain with activities that demand hand-eye coordination such as juggling, creating pottery or playing ping pong.
Make new brain connections by going a new way to work or by using the opposite hand to brush your teeth. Compute basic math in your head or on paper instead of reaching for the calculator. Commit certain phone numbers to memory instead of going straight to your contact list.
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory 3. Watch what you eat.
Your diet can play a large role in your cognitive function. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in certain fish such as salmon and mackerel and in walnuts and flaxseed, have been found to help concentration in certain studies. Antioxidants such as those found in berries, dark chocolate, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli may not only contribute to brain health but may help reverse damage to brain cells.
What you drink may help your memory as well. Green tea contains polyphenols, strong antioxidants that protect against damaging free radicals that can damage brain cells. Red wine, grape juice and cranberry juice are rich in resveratrol, a flavonoid that helps increase blood flow in the brain and may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Simple carbohydrates such as sugar, white bread and refined grains give a quick energy boost followed by a crash that may impair memory whereas complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread, whole beans, brown rice, oatmeal and lentils can boost cognitive function.
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory #4. Reduce stress.
You know how your brain feels “fuzzy” when you are stressed? It’s not your imagination. When your body is stressed, it releases the hormone cortisol, which can interfere with brain function of neurotransmitters. In fact, chronic stress and anxiety can actually work to destroy brain cells.
If you are in a stressful line of work or are experiencing stressful circumstances at home, you can help reverse the negative effects by taking a mindful approach to relaxation. Studies show that people who meditate and/or practice yoga on a regular basis have more activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with feelings of contentment. Meditation also helps to make connections between brain cells, which increases mental acuity.
Lack of sleep can also harm our ability to recall information. Research by Harvard University suggests that when we sleep, the neural connections that form our memories are strengthened. Researchers theorize that the specific types of brainwaves that occur during the different stages of sleep are associated with the formation of particular types of memory.
5 Ways to Improve Your Memory #5. Exercise.
Another reason loss of memory has been associated with old age has been that, in generations past at least, the elderly have been less likely to exercise on a regular basis. Today as geriatric medical care has improved and more and more seniors stay active, we can see that exercise has an effect on our brain power.
Basically, physical exercise stimulates nerve cells to multiply, thereby strengthening brain interconnections and protecting them from damage. Regular exercise improves blood flow to the brain, A landmark study that was published in the journal Neuroscience in 2010, for example, found that monkeys that regularly exercised had improved blood flow in their brains and were twice as quick at learning new tasks than non-exercising monkeys.
If most of these memory-boosters sound a bit dull. Here one more: have more fun. A study published by the Harvard School of Public Health found that adults with active social lives had lower rates of memory loss than less active study participants.
Laughter has been found to engage several regions across the brain that can help boost brain function. Here’s how, according to studies by Stanford University: Less than a second after you hear or see something funny, an electrical wave moves through the cerebral cortex. First, the left hemisphere analyzes the joke; then the right hemisphere interprets or “gets” the joke. Next the visual sensory area of the occipital lobe creates an image of the joke in your mind, followed by the limbic (emotional) system, which makes you feel happier, and then the motor sections, which enable you to laugh or smile.