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 their overall cognitive health, and it’s never too early to find ways for how to improve memory.
Is it really possible to improve your memory? Research suggests that yes, it is.
Experts’ advice regarding how to improve memory and other cognitive functions, such as concentration and decision making, include:
- learning new information regularly
- eating an anti-inflammatory diet
- getting enough sleep
- potentially trying certain supplements, including nootropics
Top 6 Ways for How to Improve Memory
How exactly can you improve your memory and concentration? Here’s what to focus on and how to improve memory naturally:
1. Keep Learning New Things
Challenging yourself with new tasks and “breaking out of your comfort zone” is a great way to encourage neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning and experiences. Neuroplasticity basically describes how your brain literally adapts 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 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 brain.
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
- playing chess
- 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) and operate at its best. 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 should be one filled with produce that is packed with antioxidants (colorful fruits and vegetables) plus protein, healthy fats and other anti-inflammatory ingredients. You’ll want to include plenty of “brain foods” that support focus and memory, such as:
- Healthy fats, such as 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
- 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)
- Increasing circulation and oxygen to your brain
- Boosting neuroplasticity by stimulating growth factors and neuronal connections
- 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 for how to improve memory through exercise.
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 plays in a role in 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 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. Soothing activities, such as listening to music, meditation or yoga, 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.
- Taking a nap, especially after learning new information, may also help you remember things more easily, according to some studies.
5. Prioritize Relationships to Fight Loneliness
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 to 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 has been shown to be 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 into handy.
These supplements, some of which contain caffeine or other stimulating ingredients, tend to help with focus and possibly memory.
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 information recall than preserving your long-term memory, 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 memory impairment include:
- Having a history of heart disease or diabetes.
- Eating a diet that’s low in antioxidants and healthy fats but high in processed foods, added sugar and saturated fat (such as from foods like factory-farm red meat, whole milk, cheese products, and desserts like and ice cream).
- Hormonal issues, including thyroid imbalances, low testosterone and low estrogen.
- 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? Based on available research, here’s how to improve your memory:
- Keep learning, and try neuroplasticity to increase your cognitive abilities, enhance your ability to learn new information and improve your memory at any age.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Get enough sleep.
- Prioritize relationships to fight loneliness.
- Take supplements, such as nootropics.
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