6 Extremely Effective Ways to Improve Your Memory

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    21-Jul-2016

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6 Extremely Effective Ways to Improve Your MemoryOWNER'S MANUAL6 Extremely Effective Ways to Improve Your MemoryBYJEFF HADEN@JEFF_HADENWho would like to remember more of what they see, hear, and read? Everyone!655 SHARESI could overwhelm you with statistics showing how improving your memory will positively impact your professional and personal life... but what's the point? Whodoesn'twant to remember more?So let's jump right in.Here are six ways you canimprove yourmemory from Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter atBuffer, the social media management tool that lets you schedule, automate, and analyze social-media updates. (Belle Beth was also the source for two extremely popular articles,5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harderand5 Incredibly Effective Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder. And yes, my headline creativity levels were clearly on a downswing.)Here's Belle Beth:Science continually findsnew connectionsbetween simple things we can do every day that will improve our general memory capacity.Memory is a complicated process that's made up of afew different brain activities. Before we look at ways to improve retention, here is a simplified version to show how memory takes place:Step 1. Create a memory.Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we're experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.Step 2. Consolidate that memory.Donothing else andthat memory could soon fade away. Consolidation is the process of committing something to long-term memory so we can recall it later. Much of this processhappens while we're sleepingas our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity andstrengthen the synapses created earlier.3. Recall that memory.Recall is what most of us think of when we talk about memory or memory loss. Recalling a memory is easier if it has been strengthened over time, and each time we do we cyclethrough that same pattern of brain activity and make the connection a little stronger.While memory loss is a normal part of aging that doesn't mean we can't take action to slow it down. Now let's look at some of the ways research has shown we can keep memories around as long as possible:1. Meditate to improve working memory.Working memory, which is a littlelike yourbrain's notepad, is where new information is temporarily held. When you learn someone's name or hear anaddress of a place you're going to, you hang on to those details in working memory until you're done with them. If they're no longer usefulyou let them goentirely. If they are useful, you commit them to long-term memory where they can be strengthened and recalled later.Working memory is something we use every day, soit makes our lives a lot easier when it's stronger. While formost adults the maximum we can hold in our working memory is about seven items, if you're not quite using your working memory to its maximum capacitymeditationcan strengthen it.Research has shown that participants with no experience inmindfulness meditationcan improve their memory recallin just eight weeks. Meditation, with its power to help usconcentrate, has also been shown to improveimprove standardized test scoresand working memory after just two weeks.Why does meditation benefit memory? It's somewhat counterintuitive: during meditation yourbrain stops processing information as actively as it normally would.So occasionally take a break toempty your mind. Not only will you feel a little less stressed, you may also remember a little more.2. Drink coffee to improve memory consolidation.Whether caffeine can improve memory if taken before learning something new is debatable. Most research has found little to no effect from ingesting caffeine prior to creating new memories.One recent study, though, found that taking a caffeine pillaftera learning task actually improved memory recall up to 24 hours later. Participants memorized a set of images and were later tested by viewing the same images (targets), similar images (lures), and completely different images (foils).The task was to pick out which were the exact pictures they had memorized without being tricked by the lures (which were very similar.) This is a process calledpattern separation, whichaccording to the researchersreflects a "deeper level of memory retention."The researchers in this studyfocused on the effects of caffeine onmemory consolidation: the process of strengthening the memories we've created. That is why they believe the effects occurred when caffeine was ingestedafterthe learning task rather than before.So don't just drink a little coffee to get started in the morning--drink a little coffee to hold on to more of what you learn throughout the day.3. Eat berries for better long-term memory.Research shows that eating berries can help stave off memory decline. Astudyfrom the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School found that supplementing a normal diet with blueberries for twelve weeks improved performance on spatial working memory tasks. The effects began after just three weeks and continued for the length of the study.Along-term berry studythat tested the memory of female nurses who were over 70 years old found those who regularly ateat least two servings of strawberries or blueberries each week had a moderate reduction in memory decline. (The effects of strawberries might be debatable, though, since that study was partly funded by the California Strawberry Commission... andanother study focusing on strawberriessuggested that you'd need to eat roughly 10 pounds of strawberries per day to see any effect).More research is needed in this area, but scientists are getting closer to understanding how berries might affect our brains. In particular, blueberries are known for being high inflavanoids, which appear to strengthen existing connections in the brain. That could explain their benefit onlong-term memory.And even if it turns out theydon't help your memory much, berries are still really good for you.4. Exercise to improve memory recall.Studies in both rat and human brains have shown thatregular exercisecanimprove memory recall. Fitness in older adults has even been proven toslow the decline of memorywithout the aid of continued regular exercise. In particular, studies shown that regular exercise can improvespatial memory, so exercise may notnecessarily be a way to improvealltypes of memory recall.Of course the benefits of exercise are numerous, but for the brain in particular regular exercise isshown to improvecognitive abilitiesbesidesmemory. So if you're looking for a way to stay mentally sharp, taking a walk could be the answer.5. Chew gum to make stronger memories.Another easy method that could improve your memory is to chew gum while you learn something new. Contradictory research exists so it's not a solid bet, but onestudy published last yearshowed that participants who completed a memory recall task were more accurate and had higher reaction times if they chewed gum during the study.Areason that chewing gum might affect our memory recall is thatit increases activity in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain for memory. (It's still unclear why this happens, though.)Another theory focuses onthe increase of oxygen from chewing gumand how that canimprovefocus and attention, helping us createstronger connections in the brain as we learn new things.One studyfound that participants who chewed gum during learning and memory tests had higher heart rate levels, a factor thatcan cause moreoxygen to flowto the brain.6. Sleep more to consolidate memories.Sleep isprovento be one of the most important elements in having a good memory. Since sleep is when most of ourmemory consolidation processoccurs it makes sense that without enough sleep we will struggle to remember things we've learned.Even ashort napcan improve your memory recall. Inone studyparticipants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards they took a 40-minute break and one group napped while the other group stayed awake. After the break both groups were tested on their memory of the cards.To the surprise of the researchers the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85% of the patterns compared to 60% for those who had remained awake.Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain (specifically in the hippocampus) it's still "fragile" and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping seems to push memories to the neocortex, the brain's "more permanent storage," which prevents them from being "overwritten."Not only is sleep after learning a critical part of the memory creation process, but sleep before learning something new is important as well. Research has found thatsleep deprivationcan affect our ability to commit new things to memory and consolidate any new memories we create.Now you don't need an excuse to nap--or to get a little more sleep.