A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of your brain. Whether you’re a student studying for final exams, a working professional interested in doing all you can to stay mentally sharp, or a senior looking to preserve and enhance your grey matter as you age, there’s lots you can do to improve your memory and mental performance
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when it comes to the brain, scientists have discovered that this old adage simply isn’t true. The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change—even into old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways.
Everyone has moments of forgetfulness from time to time, especially when life gets busy.
While this can be a completely normal occurrence, having a poor memory can be frustrating.
Genetics play a role in memory loss, especially in serious neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, research has shown that diet and lifestyle have a major impact on memory too.
Ways to improve your memory naturally
Limit refined carbs
Like added sugar, refined carbohydrates lead
to a spike in blood sugar levels, which can damage your brain over time. Diets
high in refined carbs have been associated with dementia, cognitive decline, and
reduced brain function.
Consuming large amounts of refined carbohydrates like cakes, cereal, cookies, white rice, and white bread may be damaging to your memory.
These foods have a high glycemic index, meaning the body digests these carbohydrates quickly, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels.
Studies have shown that the Western diet, which is high in refined carbohydrates, is associated with dementia, cognitive decline, and reduced cognitive function.
One study involving 317 healthy Korean children found that those who consumed more processed carbs like white rice, noodles, and fast food had reduced cognitive capacity, including poorer short-term and working memory.
Another study demonstrated that adults who consumed ready-to-eat breakfast cereal daily had poorer cognitive function than those who consumed cereal less frequently.
Train your brain
Games that challenge your brain may help you
strengthen your memory and may even reduce the risk of dementia.
Exercising your cognitive skills by playing brain games is a fun and effective way to boost your memory.
Crosswords, word-recall games, Tetris, and even mobile apps dedicated to memory training are excellent ways to strengthen memory.
A study that included 42 adults with mild cognitive impairment found that playing games on a brain-training app for 8 hours over a 4-week period improved performance in memory tests.
Another study of 4,715 people showed that when they did 15 minutes of an online brain-training program at least 5 days a week, their short-term memory, working memory, concentration, and problem-solving improved significantly compared to a control group.
Plus, brain-training games have been shown to help reduce the risk of dementia in older adults.
Drink alcohol in moderation
Alcohol has neurotoxic effects on the brain, including reducing memory performance. Occasional moderate drinking is typically not an issue, but binge drinking can damage your hippocampus, a key area of your brain associated with memory.
Consuming too many alcoholic beverages can be detrimental to your health in many ways and can negatively impact your memory.
Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that raises your blood alcohol levels to 0.08 grams per ml or above. Studies have shown it alters the brain and results in memory deficits.
A study of 155 college freshmen found that students who consumed six or more drinks within a short period of time, either weekly or monthly, had difficulties in immediate and delayed memory-recall tests compared with students who never binge drank.
Alcohol exhibits neurotoxic effects on the brain. Repeated episodes of binge drinking can damage the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays a vital role in memory.
While having a drink or two now and then is likely OK, avoiding excessive alcohol intake is a smart way to protect your memory.
Mindfulness is a mental state in which you focus on your present situation, maintaining awareness of your surroundings and feelings.
Mindfulness is used in meditation, but the two aren’t one and the same. Meditation is a more formal practice, whereas mindfulness is a mental habit you can use in any situation.
Studies have shown that mindfulness is effective at lowering stress and improving concentration and memory.
One study of 293 psychology students showed that those who underwent mindfulness training had improved recognition-memory performance when recalling objects compared with students who did not receive mindfulness training.
Mindfulness has also been linked with a lower risk of age-related cognitive decline and an overall improvement in psychological well-being.
Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine by paying more attention to your present situation, concentrating on your breathing, and gently resetting your attention when your mind wanders.
Get enough sleep
Lack of proper sleep has been associated with poor memory for quite some time.
Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, a process in which short-term memories are strengthened and transformed into long-lasting memories.
Research shows that if you’re sleep deprived, you could be negatively impacting your memory.
For example, one study looked at the effects of sleep in 40 children between ages 10 and 14 years.
One group of children was trained for memory tests in the evening, then tested the following morning after a night’s sleep. The other group was trained and tested on the same day, with no sleep between training and testing.
The group that slept between training and testing performed 20% better on the memory tests.
Another study found that nurses working the night shift made more mathematical errors and that 68% of them scored lower on memory tests compared with nurses working the day shift.
Health experts recommend adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health.
Maintain a moderate weight
Maintaining a moderate body weight is essential for well-being and is one of the best ways to keep your body and mind in top condition.
Several studies have established obesity as a risk factor for cognitive decline.
Having obesity can actually cause changes to memory-associated genes in the brain, negatively affecting memory.
Obesity can also lead to insulin resistance and inflammation, both of which can negatively impact the brain.
A study of 50 people between ages 18 and 35 years found that a higher body mass index was associated with significantly worse performance on memory tests.
Obesity is also associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive disease that destroys memory and cognitive function.
Make time for meditation
The practice of meditation may positively affect your health in many ways.
It is relaxing and soothing, and has been found to reduce stress and pain, lower blood pressure and even improve memory.
In fact, meditation has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain. Gray matter contains neuron cell bodies.
As you age, gray matter declines, which negatively impacts memory and cognition.
Meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to improve short-term memory in people of all ages, from people in their 20s to older adults.
For example, one study showed that Taiwanese college students who engaged in meditation practices like mindfulness had significantly better spatial working memory than students who did not practice meditation.
Spatial working memory is the ability to hold and process information in your mind about the positions of objects in space.
Try a fish oil supplement
Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
These fats are important for overall health and have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, relieve stress and anxiety, and slow mental decline.
Many studies have shown that consuming fish and fish oil supplements may improve memory, especially in older people.
A 2015 review of 28 studies showed that when adults with mild symptoms of memory loss took supplements rich in DHA and EPA, like fish oil, they experienced improved episodic memory.
Both DHA and EPA are vital to the health and functioning of the brain and also help reduce inflammation in the body, which has been linked to cognitive decline.
Eat less added sugar
Eating too much added sugar has been linked to many health issues and chronic diseases, including cognitive decline.
Research has shown that a sugar-laden diet can lead to poor memory and reduced brain volume, particularly in the area of the brain that stores short-term memory.
For example, one study of more than 4,000 people found that those with a higher intake of sugary beverages like soda had lower total brain volumes and poorer memories on average compared with people who consumed less sugar.
Cutting back on sugar not only helps your memory but also improves your overall health.
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Get your vitamin D levels tested
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that plays many vital roles in the body.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a host of health issues, including a reduction in cognitive function.
A study that followed 318 older adults for 5 years found that those who had blood levels of vitamin D less than 20 nanograms (ng) per milliliter (mL) lost their memory and other cognitive abilities faster than those with normal vitamin D levels.
Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to a greater risk of developing dementia.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common, especially in colder climates and in those with darker skin. Speak with your doctor about getting a blood test to find out if you need a vitamin D supplement.
Exercise is important for overall physical and mental health.
Research has established that it’s beneficial for the brain and may help improve memory in people of all ages, from children to older adults.
For example, a study of 144 people aged 19 to 93 showed that a single bout of 15 minutes of moderate exercise on a stationary bike led to improved cognitive performance, including memory, across all ages.
Many studies have shown exercise may increase the secretion of neuroprotective proteins and improve the growth and development of neurons, leading to improved brain health.
Regular exercise in midlife is also associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia later in life.
Choose anti-inflammatory foods
Anti-inflammatory foods are great for your brain, especially berries and other foods that are high in antioxidants. To incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, you can’t go wrong by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods may help improve your memory.
Antioxidants help lower inflammation in the body by reducing oxidative stress caused by free radicals. You can consume antioxidants in foods like fruits, vegetables, and teas.
A recent review of nine studies with more than 31,000 people found that those who ate more fruits and vegetables had lower risks of cognitive decline and dementia compared to those who consumed less of these nutritious foods.
Berries are particularly high in antioxidants like flavonoids and anthocyanins. Eating them may be an excellent way to prevent memory loss.
Curcumin is a potent antioxidant. Animal studies have shown it reduces inflammation and amyloid plaques in the brain. However, more research in humans is needed.
Curcumin is a compound found in high concentrations in turmeric root. It’s one of a category of compounds called polyphenols.
It is a potent antioxidant and exerts powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Studies have found that curcumin reduces oxidative damage and inflammation in the brain and also lowers the quantity of amyloid plaques. These accumulate on neurons and cause cell and tissue death, leading to memory loss.
In fact, amyloid plaque buildup may play a role in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Though more human studies are needed on the effects of curcumin on memory, some studies suggest it may be effective at boosting memory and preventing cognitive decline
Add some cocoa to your diet
Cocoa is high in antioxidants that may help improve memory performance. Make sure to choose dark chocolate with 70% cacao or higher so you get a concentrated dose of antioxidants.
Cocoa is not only delicious but also nutritious, providing a powerful dose of antioxidants called flavonoids. Research suggests flavonoids are particularly beneficial to the brain.
They may help stimulate the growth of blood vessels and neurons and increase blood flow in parts of the brain involved with memory.
A study of 30 healthy people found that those who consumed dark chocolate containing 720 mg of cocoa flavonoids demonstrated better memory compared to those who consumed white chocolate without cocoa flavonoids.
To get the most benefit out of chocolate, choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% cacao or higher. That will help ensure it contains larger amounts of antioxidants like flavonoids.
There are many fun, simple and even delicious ways to improve your memory.
Exercising your mind and body, enjoying a quality piece of chocolate and reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet are all excellent techniques.
Try adding a few of these science-backed tips to your daily routine to boost your brain health and keep your memory in top condition.