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9 Simple Habits That Can Improve Your Memory

Kelly BryantPatricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Published on August 5, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Memory refers to the brain's ability to process, store, and recall information.

  • Age-related changes, head injuries, and certain medications may cause memory loss.

  • Various strategies — like practicing mindfulness and playing brain training games — can improve your memory. 

Close-up of a few older people doing a puzzle together. The focus is on the puzzle pieces and their hands.
Wavebreakmedia/iStock via Getty Images

Maybe you pride yourself on never forgetting a face. Or you struggle to remember what you ate for breakfast at the end of a busy day. Both scenarios have something in common: they show that memory is dynamic and changeable. Memory is the cognitive process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information. 

Everyone experiences memory lapses from time to time. After all, minor forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. But serious memory problems may be a sign of Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. And memory problems, no matter how severe, can be troubling. 

The good news is that various techniques can improve your memory.

What causes memory loss?

Forming new memories is a complex process. First, your brain converts information or sensory input (encoding). Then, nerve cells called neurons form new connections to store and eventually retrieve memories. 

Many factors can impair these cognitive processes, which may lead to forgetfulness. Common causes of memory loss include:

Your healthcare provider can help you find the cause of your memory loss and possible treatment options. 

9 ways to improve your memory

Not all forms of memory loss are preventable. But you may be able to stave off cognitive decline with these proven strategies. 

1. Get up and get moving

A consistent exercise routine can keep your body and your brain in shape. Working out boosts circulation to the brain and increases the size of the hippocampus. This is critical because the hippocampus is a complex brain structure that plays a starring role in learning and memory. As you age, it may shrink, leading to a decline in memory. Luckily, regular workouts may improve or preserve your memory

2. Eat more brain-boosting foods

Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet may sharpen your memory. For example, the Mediterranean and MIND diets have been linked to better brain health. That's because certain ingredients — including healthy fats and antioxidants — may protect your brain from cognitive decline. 

For better brain health, try to limit processed foods and those high in fat and added sugar. Instead, pack your plate with these brain-boosting foods

3. Drink water 

Water is essential for your health. In fact, all the cells in your body need water to function. And research shows that dehydration may impair cognitive function, including memory, attention, and motor coordination. So, it's important to stay hydrated. Try to keep sugary drinks to a minimum and opt for water instead. 

Typically, your body will tell you how much water you need for proper hydration. General guidelines can help, too: 

  • 3.7 L (125 oz) of water daily for males 

  • 2.7 L (91 oz) of water daily for females 

4. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a form of meditation. It allows you to be fully present by focusing on your internal thoughts and feelings and your external surroundings. There are many ways to add mindfulness to your wellness routine. You can try journaling or mind-body practices like yoga, tai chi, or qigong

And mindfulness isn't just a stress relief technique. It may also sharpen your focus and working memory. One study found that people who meditate often tend to have a larger hippocampus. It's that part of the brain that helps keep your memory intact. 

5. Spend time in nature

Consider taking your wellness routine outside to boost your brainpower. Natural environments have been shown to relieve stress, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function. A 2019 study found that spending time in nature, or forest bathing, improves concentration, working memory, and impulse control. You can enjoy nature by spending time in a green space, taking a mindful walk in a park, or observing the sights and sounds outside your home. 

6. Get a good night’s sleep 

Sleep helps your brain function properly. It's critical for learning and memory. While at rest, your brain keeps working to store new information you've learned as long-term memories.

Generally, adults need 7 to 9 hours of nightly sleep for optimal function during the day. Research suggests that too much sleep may be just as harmful to your brain as too little sleep. And sleep quality matters just as much as quantity. Poor sleep quality may raise the risk of cognitive decline. So, practice good sleep hygiene and aim for a night of restful sleep. 

7. Stay social

Catching up with friends and loved ones isn't just good for your mental and emotional well-being. It may also support better cognition. A study found that adults between the ages of 70 and 90 showed better cognitive performance in the days following positive social interactions. Another study found that the rate of cognitive decline was 70% lower among socially active older adults. So, phone a friend and get an in-person meetup on the calendar to improve your memory and mood. 

8. Train your brain

Physical activity isn't the only way to boost your brain's fitness. Cognitive training involves activities that are designed to strengthen your brainpower. These "brain games" can improve working memory and cognitive flexibility in many populations. 

You can train your brain with various activities to keep your mind and memory sharp. For example, solving jigsaw or crossword puzzles may slow the cognitive aging process. Or, you can go digital with popular brain training apps and video games

9. Try mnemonic devices 

Mnemonic devices are memory techniques that help you keep and recall information. There are several types of mnemonic devices, such as rhymes, expressions, or acronyms. Students often use them to learn new material. 

You might remember this acrostic mnemonic device from algebra class: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. The first letter of each word in this phrase represents the order of operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

But mnemonics isn't just for the classroom. Various mnemonic strategies may improve memory in older adults and in people with Alzheimer's.

The bottom line

Maintaining your memory is key to your health and well-being. But mild forgetfulness is part of the aging process. Luckily, several activities and lifestyle changes may protect and improve your memory. Strategies range from adopting a healthy diet to practicing cognitive training. If you notice a major decline in your memory, speak with a healthcare provider who can work with you on a treatment plan.

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