Article at a Glance
- Brain-training and learning new skills can help improve several cognitive functions.
- You can improve your memory by adding some daily habits like listening to music and meditating.
- Certain supplements and exercise patterns can help boost cognitive retention.
Would you like to be able to recall book passages, or more details from meetings, or have a better memory for faces and names? If so, here are eight ways you can give your memory a boost and keep your brain healthy.
1. Listen to Music
Listening to music has been shown to have positive effects on memory, including on those with memory decline [R]. It’s simple and effectively free to incorporate memory-enhancing music into your life.
The Tie Between Music and Memory
Music and emotion are often closely linked, and emotion and memory are closely linked as well. Long-term memory is clearly influenced by the emotion experienced both during the episode being remembered and during an attempt to remember it [R]. Emotion is known to enhance not only verbal and visual memory, but musical memory as well.
Emotional music—music associated with strong feelings, such as nostalgia—is closely tied to autobiographical memory. Music triggers an increase in blood flow as well as a general uptick in many neurological processes, including memory [R].
This led researchers to question if music could help improve memory in general. In one study, stroke victims who listened to music on a daily basis saw significantly improved verbal memory and focus [R].
Music has also been helpful in improving memory in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The specifics of how it works are still being debated, but research shows that listening to music is a valuable treatment for memory loss [R].
Inside the Minds of Musicians
Musicians often demonstrate stronger cognitive abilities in general than non-musicians, including memory [R]. Researchers debate what causes this link, but a potential reason is that musicians have greater gray matter density and more plasticity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with long-term memory [R]. In numerous studies, musicians often outperformed non-musicians in long-term, short-term, and working memory tasks.
2. Mindfully Meditate
Meditation also plays a significant role in improving memory. A study showed that participants practicing mindfulness meditation for an average of 27 minutes a day developed denser grey-matter density in the hippocampus than the control group. At the same time, the meditation group developed a decrease in grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is associated with stress, anxiety, and fear [R].
Meditation’s benefits, in general, are well-supported by scientific literature. In addition to improving memory and reducing stress, meditation has a host of positive physiological effects, including increased blood flow to the brain, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and even decreased pain [R].
3. Exercise After Learning
Regular exercise has been linked to better overall brain health, but it has also been more specifically shown to help in memory consolidation after learning.
A study indicated that people who exercised after learning new words did not immediately show any improvement in memory compared to those who relaxed. However, 24 hours later, those who had exercised showed a significant improvement in their memory compared to the non-exercisers. The researchers concluded that high-intensity exercise helped consolidate memories the most [R].
A study in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch also indicates that exercising four hours after learning a task appears to be the most effective time to do so. It included a control group, a group who exercised immediately after learning a task, and a group who exercised four hours later. The group who exercised four hours later demonstrated the greatest memory improvement and showed more activity in the hippocampus when recalling information [R].
4. Eat Seafood
A study indicated that older adults who ate seafood once or more per week performed better on cognitive tasks than those who ate seafood less than once a week [R]. Another study showed that having more than one seafood meal per week was equivalent to a 1.6-year improvement in cognitive age [R].
5. Eat Your Veggies
In a study with over 3,000 participants aged 65 and older, increased vegetable intake was associated with slowed cognitive decline [R]. Another study showed that eating around one serving of leafy greens per day compared to near-zero consumption of greens led to a major cognitive age difference. Those who ate leafy greens regularly had brains the equivalent of 11 years younger than those who didn’t eat any [R]. Researchers suggested that antioxidants and other compounds in fruits and vegetables prevent oxidation, thus keeping cells healthier and younger.
6. Get Deep Sleep
The link between sleeping and memory has been studied for a long time. Improving the quality of one’s sleep, not just the number of hours of sleep, seems to be one of the best ways to improve memory overall.
Deep sleep, in particular, appears to be one of the most crucial phases of sleep for memory. In this stage, the brain discards unimportant new memories and organizes new information. It’s important to note that the amount of deep sleep a person gets tends to decline as a person approaches 40. People over 60 get 70% less deep sleep than people in their teens and twenties, and memory problems have been associated with a lack of deep sleep in older adults [R].
Getting regular exercise, maintaining a sleep schedule, and avoiding blue light at night all help to improve a person’s quality of sleep.
7. Brain-Training: Is It Effective?
Brain-training programs are becoming more widespread and popular, and some evidence indicates they may be useful in improving brain function. A Japanese study showed that healthy adults who practiced a popular brain-training game showed improvements in short-term memory, working memory, attention, and other functions [R]. The study compared people who played the brain-training game against those who played Tetris and found significant improvements in memory in the brain-training group.
Another study showed long-lasting improvements in participants’ auditory memory as far out as three months after a brain-training program had finished [R]. Longer, more rigorous studies are still needed to accurately assess the long-term effects of these programs [R].
8. Challenge Yourself With a New Skill
Learning a complex skill challenges all areas of your brain. It also helps to strengthen connections in the brain and improves cognition and memory [R].
In a recent study, participants learned photography, quilting, or both for 15 hours a week. At the conclusion of the study, the group showed significant improvements in their memory function compared to those who did other tasks. The implication appears to be that learning a complex, productive skill is a great way to improve memory [R].
Mind Your Memory
If you’d like to be proactive in keeping your memory sharp as you age, try incorporating some or all of the above techniques into your daily life to give you a head start. You can also check out our guide to brain training to find answers on other health and wellness issues.
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