If you’re relatively young and healthy, improving your memory may not be the health goal you’re currently most focused on. However, memory impairment is an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly, considering one’s memory is tied to many other brain functions and serves as a window into overall cognitive health, and it’s never too early to find ways for how to improve memory.
Can you actually improve your memory? Research suggests that yes, you most likely can.
For people struggling with remembering things, concentrating and making decisions, experts’ advice for how to improve memory is to:
- Learn new information regularly.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Exercise often.
- Get enough sleep.
- Potentially try certain supplements, including nootropics.
Top 6 Ways for How to Improve Memory
What helps improve memory? Here’s what to focus on in order to stay mentally sharp and how to improve memory:
1. Keep Learning New Things
Challenging yourself with new tasks and “breaking out of your comfort zone” are great ways to encourage neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to adapt to new things.
Neuroplasticity basically describes how your brain literally changes in response to challenges and things you do over and over again by forming new connections, and it’s a great way for how to improve memory. It happens when the brain reorganizes synaptic connections in response to learning and experiences.
It can be easy to get into a monotonous routine in older age, but continuing to develop new skills is essential for keeping the brain sharp and attentive.
The best brain-boosting exercises to try are those that require concentration, full engagement and a bit of mental effort. Any activity or hobby that requires hand-eye coordination and complex motor skills is also great for the mind.
Ideally you want to practice exercises that you can become increasingly good at over time, since progress is rewarding and fun. Some examples include:
- Learning a new instrument or language.
- Building things with your hands. (You can watch YouTube videos online for help.)
- Playing chess and other games, either online or in person.
- Dancing, yoga and tai chi.
- Golfing, tennis, bocci and similar sports.
- Doing crossword puzzles or playing board games.
2. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
One important aspect of improving your memory is providing your brain with the fuel it needs to protect against damage (like free radicals and oxidative stress). That’s why eating an anti-inflammatory diet is among the natural ways for how to improve memory.
A diet aimed at protecting cognitive function — and potentially even fighting neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — should be one filled with antioxidants (from colorful fruits and vegetables), plus quality proteins and healthy fats.
This style of eating has been termed the MIND diet, which is a cross between the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet, created to support heart health. A 20201 study found that the MIND diet may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly.
You’ll want to include plenty of “brain foods” that support focus and memory in your diet, such as:
- Healthy fats, including olive oil, avocado, coconut, nuts like walnuts, egg yolks, ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- High-antioxidant foods, such as leafy greens, peppers, onions, citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, dark cocoa, acai, turmeric, herbs, etc.
- Cold-water “fatty fish,” such as salmon, tuna, halibut, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring, which provide omega-3s
- Superfoods like wheatgrass, seaweed and algae
- Green tea and coffee in moderation
- Wine in moderation (about one glass a day for women, two for men)
- Halting age-related changes in the hippocampus.
- Increasing circulation and oxygen to your brain.
- Boosting neuroplasticity by stimulating growth factors and neuronal connections, including those facilitated by neurotrophins and myokines.
- Managing inflammation and supporting a healthy immune system.
- Reducing the risk for disorders that can contribute to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Building resiliency against stress.
- Reducing fatigue.
- Releasing endorphins that fight depression.
Aerobic exercises like brisk walking, swimming and cycling are among the best options for older adults, including those who may deal with injuries or pain.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep makes a big impact not only on your energy level, but also your focus, memory, problem-solving abilities, emotion regulation and creativity.
Researchers have even found that getting enough sleep (avoiding sleep deprivation) plays in a role in long-term and short-term memory consolidation, which takes place during the deepest stages of sleep.
On average, adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel their best. Some tips for getting better sleep include:
- Stick to a regular schedule to support your circadian rhythm (aka your internal clock). Go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time each morning.
- Limit screen time at night and scrolling distressing news online. Instead, do something relaxing, such as reading, mediating or writing. Blue light emitted by electronics, such as TVs, tablets, phones and computers, can mess with your ability to sleep well.
- Try soothing activities, such as listening to music, meditation or yoga, which can improve cognitive abilities, including focus, creativity, memory and learning. One study found that meditation and music significantly enhanced both subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults with cognitive decline.
- Cut back on alcohol, caffeine, sugar and spicy foods, especially close to bedtime.
- Take a nap, especially after learning new information. This may help with remembering things more easily, according to some studies.
5. Prioritize Relationships to Fight Loneliness
Studies show that meaningful relationships in one’s life and a supportive social circle can actually help defend the brain against damage, since these decrease loneliness, a form of psychological stress.
To boost your mood and brain function, make an effort to maintain relationships, and reach out to others often. Try finding a community that you can actively engage in, such as a church or faith group, fitness center, sports team, volunteer organization, etc.
Intentionally seek out and spend time with positive people. Playing with children and pets is another great stress-reducer that can make life more playful and help you take things less seriously.
Here’s a tip: If you find it difficult to keep up with an active social life and remember events, try staying organized with help from calendars, planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders and address books. Doing these types of things is associated with enhanced memory among older people.
6. Consider Taking Supplements Like Nootropics
How can I improve my memory fast?
Let’s say you’re cramming for an exam and looking for ways to help you retain information. Nootropics may come in handy.
These supplements, some of which contain caffeine or other stimulating ingredients, tend to help with focus and possibly memory, but it’s important to use them with caution and to do your research, since some may not be safe.
Nootropics cover a broad range of focus-boosting drugs, herbs and supplements, such as:
- Adaptogen herbs, like ginseng and rhodiola
- Medicinal mushrooms, such as cordyceps
- Amino acids, like L-carnitine
- DHA/fish oil
- B vitamins, especially B12
- Coffee or green tea extract
- Gingko biloba
- A number of others
Each nootropic supplement works in a unique way and has its own specific mechanisms of actions. Many are capable of altering levels of certain neurotransmitters, enzymes or hormones in the brain, such as:
This allows these supplements to increase energy and motivation, promote blood flow, and help protect the brain from oxidative stress — another option for how to improve memory.
If you’re more focused on short-term memory recall than preserving long-term memories, other tips for improving memory include:
- Studying in a place free of distractions (no television, music, phones, etc.).
- Utilizing mnemonics, which are associations you make between terms and something else you’re familiar with. You can also add in humor to make ideas more memorable.
- Learning the information over a longer period of time rather than cramming.
- Focusing on the big-picture concepts.
- Grouping similar concepts and terms together, so you mix new material with things you already know.
- Using visualization, photographs, charts and other graphics.
- Rehearsing the information out loud to yourself.
Risk Factors for Memory Impairment
Researchers have found that a number of lifestyle habits and health conditions are often associated with memory loss. Some of the biggest risk factors for experiencing cognitive decline and related diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, include:
- Having a history of heart disease or diabetes.
- Eating a diet that’s low in antioxidants and healthy fats but high in ultra-processed foods, added sugar and saturated fat (such as from foods like factory-farm red meat, whole milk, cheese products and desserts like ice cream).
- Hormonal issues, including thyroid imbalances, low testosterone and low estrogen.
- High consumption of alcohol.
- Smoking cigarettes and drug abuse.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Chronic stress. Too much stress can actually damage brain cells due to its effects on hormone levels, inflammation and even gut health.
- Taking certain medications, such as cold and allergy medications, sleep aids, and antidepressants.
- A sedentary lifestyle.
- Having an unhealthy balance between work and leisure time/not enough time for relaxation.
- Loneliness and having few close relationships.
How can I sharpen my memory? This is a great question considering that memory plays a role in learning, decision making and even maintaining relationships.
Based on available research, here’s how to improve memory by helping your brain form and retain memories:
- Keep learning, since this is related to neuroplasticity that increase cognitive abilities. Try things like playing music, doing challenging games online, reading, building things and so on.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of antioxidants.
- Exercise often.
- Get enough sleep.
- Prioritize relationships to fight stress and loneliness.
- Take supplements, such as nootropics.