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 are lots of things 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.

Improving memory tip 1: Don’t skimp on exercise or sleep

Just as an athlete relies on sleep and a nutrition-packed diet to perform his or her best, your ability to remember increases when you nurture your brain with a good diet and other healthy habits.

When you exercise the body, you exercise the brain

Treating your body well can enhance your ability to process and recall information. Physical exercise increases oxygen to your brain and reduces the    risk for disorders that lead to memory loss.

Improve your memory by sleeping on it

When you’re sleep deprived, your brain can’t operate at full capacity. Creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are compromised. Whether you’re studying, working, or trying to juggle life’s many demands, sleep deprivation is a recipe for disaster. The key memory-enhancing activity actually occurs during the deepest stages of sleep.

Improving memory tip 2: Make time for friends and fun

Not all brain exercises need to be intense activities such as mastering chess strategy or doing a cryptic crossword. It also includes light-hearted pastimes such as hanging out with friends or enjoying a funny movie. Countless studies show that a life that’s full of friends and fun comes with cognitive benefits.

Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take ourselves less seriously is to talk about the times when we took ourselves too seriously.

When you hear laughter, move toward it. Most of the time, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”

Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily—both at themselves and at life’s absurdities—and who routinely find the humour in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.

Pay attention to children and emulate them. They are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.

Improving memory tip 3: Teach new concepts to another person

You may have heard the phrase “Those that cannot do, teach”… Well while this isn’t entirely the case, research suggests that actually teaching new concepts to others enhances understanding and recall. You can use this approach in your own studies by teaching new concepts and information to a friend or colleague.

Remembering all the information an issue? Mnemonic devices are any learning technique that aids information retention. Mnemonics aim to translate information into a form that the brain can retain better than its original form. Everyone learns differently, but the following are some ways that can help boost your memory:

Mnemonic device

Example

Visual image – Associate a visual image with a word or name to help you remember them better. Positive, pleasant images that are vivid, colourful, and three-dimensional will be easier to remember. The French word for RABBIT is LAPIN (LAPAHn). Try to imagine a rabbit LAPPING at a bowl of water.
Acrostic (or sentence) – Make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. The sentence “Every good boy deserves fruit” to memorize the lines of the treble clef, representing the notes E, G, B, D, and F.
Acronym – An acronym is a word that is made up by taking the first letters of all the key words or ideas you need to remember and creating a new word out of them. The fictional name ROY. G. BIV to remember the colours of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet).
Rhymes and alliteration – Rhymes, alliteration (a repeating sound or syllable), and even jokes are a memorable way to remember more mundane facts and figures. The rhyme “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November” to remember the months of the year with only 30 days in them.
Chunking – Chunking breaks a long list of numbers or other types of information into smaller, more manageable chunks. Remembering a 10-digit phone number by breaking it down into three sets of numbers: 1800110158 (1800-110-158).
Method of loci – Imagine placing the items you want to remember along a route you know well or in specific locations in a familiar room or building. For a shopping list, imagine bananas in the entryway to your home, a puddle of milk in the middle of the sofa, eggs going up the stairs, and bread on your bed.

Improving memory tip 4: It’s All Fun and Games

Take up chess and checkers, which are board games with both visual and analytical components. In order to play, you must assess spaces on the board, engaging the right side of the brain, and analyse your moves and those your opponent, engaging the left side. Jigsaw puzzles also offer both spatial and logical challenges and can be complet

Improving memory tip 5: Food For Thought

Brain exercise should not be considered a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, which includes making sensible choices for eating and exercising regularly. Another important component is Docosahexaenoic acid  (DHA). DHA is an omega-3 essential fatty acid from fish that is required for optimal health but cannot be produced by the body. DHA therefore, must be obtained through diet or supplements and is an essential nutrient for maintaining cellular fluidity and supports memory, cognition, and emotional well-being. In fact, 20% of our brain is comprised of DHA.

Improving memory tip 6: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Some small changes that you can make each day to help improve your brain function can be as simple as:

  • Learning a new word each day. Either by getting it send to you via email or on a smart phone app, or even looking up the synonym of a word you already use.
  • Learning a musical instrument. This does not need to be an expensive challenge, think back to your school days of playing a recorder or even having fun with a ukulele!
  • Drive a new way to work/mall/to meet friends for coffee. Changing up your route means your brain will go into ‘problem solving’ mode.
  • Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand to switch on the other side of your brain.

Guest Author - Alex Hills

GradCertEvidCompMed, BMedsMgmentProfHonsCM, BHSci (Comp Med), AdvDipNat, AdvDipWHM

Alex is a qualified naturopath and has been in the natural medicine field for over a decade in Australia. During this time, she has had the opportunity to experience almost every aspect of the industry.

She has been in clinical practice, vitamins manager at a pharmacy, marketing coordinator for an organic skin care company as well as actively involved in natural health practitioner training from within an area manager’s role.

This diverse experience helps her ability to deliver high-quality content and cutting-edge research to consumers in a simple and relatable manner.