7 Top Tips for Better Memory
You know how irritating it is when you go in to a room for something, stand in the middle of it and try to remember what on earth you went there for. We all do it and joke that it seems to become more frequent after a certain age! Personally I think part of the reason is that as we get older our brains have more to juggle – kids, ageing parents, jobs, partners, life’s stresses, friends, etc – so we forget little things because there’s a lot clamouring for our attention both consciously and unconsciously.
Scientists have found that old dogs really can learn new tricks even into old age because of the brain’s neuroplasticity – its ability to form new neural pathways and alter existing ones with the right stimulation.
The human brain is a wonderful thing so here are some tips for harnessing this neuroplasticity to improve memory and learning and reduce forgetfulness.
Tip 1: get enough sleep.
Like everything else in the body, the brain needs enough rest and sleep. When you’re over tired the brain can’t operate at its best so creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills start to feel elusive.
Researchers have found that sleep is vital for consolidating memories and that most of this activity takes place during deep sleep. It’s something that diaper manufacturers have seized on with their advertising campaigns recently.
If you're a student or parent to school- or college-age children, learning before bed and getting good quality sleep makes recall from learning much easier.
Tip 2: get enough exercise.
When you exercise your body you exercise your brain too. By taking in more oxygen to the brain and stimulating the production of useful chemicals and hormones for the brain to use you increase your ability to store and recall information.
It’s well know that exercise reduces the risk of diabetes and heart disease as well as memory loss as we age.
Tip 3: get enough love.
We’re social animals who don’t do well in isolation. We thrive in others’ company and relationships – the conversation, questions, challenges, emotions and positive strokes that friends and loved ones give us – stimulate our brains.
There’s plenty of research to suggest that meaningful relationships and support systems support our brain health as well as our emotional wellbeing. A Harvard School of Public Health study found that those with the slowest rate of memory loss also had an active social life.
Tip 4: get enough laughter.
A good belly-laugh is a whole-body activity and this is true for the brain. Some emotions provoke activity in 1 or 2 areas of the brain but laughter involves multiple areas and the release of more feel-good and helpful hormones.
So enjoy the company of friends, watch comedy movies and TV shows, read joke books, see comedians live on stage and when you hear someone laughing go and find out what the joke is. Watching and listening to children can be very entertaining too.
Tip 5: learn to deal with stress.
Stress and depression are 2 enemies of good memory, creativity and over all quality of life. Long-term stress causes the excessive release of unhelpful hormones (cortisol – vital for life in the right quantities but not good in excess) which can destroy brain cells.
Strategies for dealing with stress include counselling, meditation, journal writing, relaxation techniques and talking with friends about your situation. See your doctor too if you or your loved ones think you could becoming depressed as she will be able to advise and prescribe medication if necessary.
Tip 6: get enough of the right nutrition.
Brain food is vital and the right diet can improve memory.
Omega-3, found in fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel and herring, have been found to boost brainpower and scientists are looking at its effects on reducing the risk of some forms of dementia. For vegetarians, sources of omega-3 include walnuts, flaxseed oil, soy beans and pumpkin seeds.
Go easy on the saturated fats from red meat and whole milk dairy products. Diets high in these fats have been seen to increase your risk of dementia and reduce memory.
Eat more vegetables and fruit. These are full of antioxidants which are substances that mop up harmful chemicals (oxidants). Brightly coloured fruits and dark green vegetables have the highest levels of antioxidants.
Choose complex carbs that are slow to break down and be digested. These will give a sustained and even delivery of fuel to the body and brain. Oats, whole wheat bread and pasta, lentils and beans are examples these carbs.
Drink alcohol in moderation. In excess it will kill brain cells but in moderation it’s been found to improve memory and cognitive powers. Red wine seems to be best as its ingredients improve blood flow in the brain. Moderation is thought to be 1 glass per day for women and 2 for men.
Tip 7: get enough brain exercise.
The Times crossword, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, chess and complex board games are all good brain aerobics. The brain is like a muscle insofar as ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’.
Virtually any thinking exercise is good as long as it’s new, challenging and fun as these qualities all make the brain create new neural pathways.
So next time you find yourself scratching your head trying to remember why you walked into the kitchen, remember – NESSELL – nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep, exercise, love, laughter.
Oh, I forgot to add that acronyms are also good for remembering things! If you have any other tips that you'd like to share, please add them to the comments box.