Whether you’re a student studying for exams, a professional who wants to be mentally sharp, or a mother who needs to juggle a busy schedule, all of us want to have a good memory. Here are three tips that can help you improve your memory and mental performance.
Memory Improving Tip 1: Don’t skimp on self-care
- Self-care includes getting good sleep, exercising the body, eating healthy foods, and managing your stress. Let’s face it, nothing works right when you aren’t taking good care of yourself, including your mind’s ability to function at full capacity.
- Sleep is what helps knit together your memories that you gathered throughout the day. It also helps make long-term memories last. Important memory-enhancing activity occurs in the brain during the deepest stages of sleep.
- Heart-healthy foods are also good for the brain. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts, and berries are especially good choices. Jim Joseph, Ph.D., the director of the neuroscience lab at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, reports that blueberries may have the power to create new pathways for connections in the brain. These connectors tend to die off with age, but in animal studies, blueberry consumption has been shown to help restore them.
- Stress increases your cortisol hormone. This interferes with your brain’s ability to encode information or retrieve it. Managing daily stress, along with good sleep and brain food, gives you a great starting point to increase your memory muscle.
Memory Improving Tip 2: Give your memory a workout
Remember playing the Memory Game with your kids where you put out a deck of cards face down and then compete to match them by remembering their location? This is a perfect game to give your memory a fun workout. Here are a few other ways you can practice during the day:
- Play mind games. These can range from playing Scrabble or doing crossword puzzles to reading a book that requires concentration and thought or learning a new language. When you challenge your brain, you actually generate new cells in the hippocampus according to Peter Snyder, Ph.D., a professor of clinical neurosciences at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University. These new cells build cognitive reserves that are important for creating new memories and may protect against memory loss later in life.
- Memorize a favorite poem or words to a song.
- Pretend you have to describe a person you’ve just met in detail. By forcing yourself to observe and recall the small details, you sharpen your memory.
Memory Improving Tip 3: Use memory prompts
- As you start a routine task, say it out loud as you do it (“I’m going to lock the door”). This fends off other distractions as you’re heading out the door with a million things on your mind.
- Connect names with something familiar or fun. For example, when you meet Suzy, make up a rhyme like “Suzy, she’s a doozy” or connect her name to your best friend from high school who was also named Suzy.
- Move your watch or ring from one hand to the other to remind you to do something. The strangeness of the switch can prompt the recall.
- Use your smart phone to give you reminders or prompts. You can set alarms or use the note section to write things down immediately. Photos on your phone can remind you of the parking stall number at the airport.
- Relax and let the memory come. When you can’t remember something, relax and switch to something else. You’ll often find that the memory will emerge when you stop stressing over it and let it come naturally.
- Use numbers. If you have three items to pick up at the grocery store, remember the number three. When you only have two items in your grocery cart you’ll know you’re missing an item. If you forget the third item, you can always call your spouse or roommate to remind you what it was before you leave the grocery store.
- Use reminder lists. They can be electronic or paper, but they really do work!
Think of memory as a muscle: If you don’t use it, you may lose it. Self-care, memory workouts, and using prompts will help you have a healthy, active mind throughout your life.
If you feel that your forgetfulness is more severe than usual or is beginning to interfere with your daily activities, be sure to consult with your physician or mental health provider.