How to Improve Memory: 21 Tips to Boost Your Brain Power
Tired of walking into a room and forgetting what you went in there for? Want to stop dropping the ball on social events or work deadlines, or simply keep someone’s name in your head for more than 10 seconds? It’s time to work on your memory.
While memory loss is an unfortunate fact of aging, there are things you can do in daily life to boost your brain power and retain more information, both in the short and long term.
Here are our top 21 tips on how to improve memory.
1. Exercise Regularly
We all know exercise is good for our physical health, but it can help to boost your brain health, too.
Research shows that increased physical fitness in older adults is associated with improved performance in working memory. Plus, improvements in complex object recognition memory could be seen after three months of exercise.
Exercising to boost memory isn’t just for older adults, though. Research shows both acute and chronic — that is a one-off bout of exercise as well as exercising regularly — improve memory function in young and middle-aged adults.
2. Work Out Before or After Learning Something New
Even a one-off workout can be beneficial to your memory. Research shows a single bout of cardiovascular exercise close to when you’re exposed to new information can help with the long-term retention of that information.
So, if you’re revising for an exam, for example, consider heading out for some cardio before or after your study session.
Cardio exercise includes anything that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time such as:
- Team sports
3. Start Meditating
Meditation can help with a lot of things: calming anxiety, reducing stress, and helping you stay more present. But it turns out, taking a few minutes out of your day to meditate can also help to boost your memory.
One study looked at participants with memory loss and prescribed them an eight-week meditation program. At the end of the eight weeks, the researchers found that meditation had significantly increased blood flow to several different areas of the brain. This resulted in increased scores on verbal fluency tests and logical memory tests.
You can download apps or watch YouTube videos to get guided meditations, or simply set aside a few minutes each day to focus on your breath.
Here’s what to do:
- Find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed.
- Start small and set an alarm for five minutes time — you can slowly increase this as you get more used to meditating
- Check in with your body and notice how your feet feel on the floor, your hands feel in your lap, and any sounds you can hear.
- Focus on your breath — it can help to count your breaths up to 10.
- Try box breathing to deepen and slow your breathing. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and hold for four, before repeating.
- Gently pull your attention back to your breath and body whenever you notice you’ve gotten distracted.
4. Cut Down on Alcohol
Ever wake up the morning after a night out and not be able to remember what happened? Drinking heavily can cause blackouts and short-term memory loss.
But alcohol can also affect your long-term memory, too. It slows down and damages the hippocampus region of your brain and can even cause dementia.
If you’re a heavy drinker, seek help to start cutting down. Swap alcoholic drinks for soft drinks and enlist the help of friends and family to support you.
If you simply enjoy an alcoholic drink every now and again, your long-term memory probably isn’t at risk. But avoid binge drinking to keep short-term memory working.
5. Prioritize Sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll feel low on energy, grouchy, and probably not at your most productive. But skipping out on sleep can also impact how your brain stores new information.
When we sleep, our brain works to consolidate important memories and discard any information we don’t need anymore. So, if you don’t get enough rest, your brain won’t have had the chance to solidify new things you’ve learned.
Give yourself enough time to get the right amount of sleep — seven to nine hours — each night.
Cut down on caffeine and avoid bright light close to bedtime, both of which can make it harder to fall asleep.
You should prioritize sleep in general, but also when you need to remember a lot of new information.
While all-nighters are tempting when cramming for an exam, remember that you’re depriving yourself of that precious memory consolidation time.
6. Take Naps
If you struggle to get enough sleep at night, or just experienced a disturbed night of sleep, all is not lost when it comes to memory. Research shows naps can improve your memory, too.
One study asked participants to do a word-pair association and recall task to test their memory. They then took a one-hour nap in the middle of the day and did the task again.
The results showed that performance was significantly better after the nap than before it.
A meta-analysis of several studies on napping and memory found that a middle-of-the-day snooze helped to improve declarative (when you remember a fact or event long term) and procedural memory (long-term memory of a skill or action).
This was true regardless of age, nap duration, whether the participants were regular nappers, or how much sleep they got the night before.
7. Do Brain Training
Your brain is a muscle, so you need to work it out to keep it strong. Instead of heading to the gym to strengthen this particular muscle, do some brain training.
One study looked at participants who played a brain training game for at least 15 minutes per day at least five days a week for four weeks. At the end of the experiment, their working memory, processing speed, and executive functions — which are involved in planning, focusing, and multitasking — had all improved.
8. Do Sudokus or Puzzles
Don’t want to download a brain training app? Simple sudokus can help boost memory, too.
One study found that four months of regularly doing sudokus improved the working memory of both young and old participants.
You can also do puzzles, jigsaws, and crosswords for the same effect. Even learning a language can help strengthen your brain and keep dementia at bay.
9. Cut Down on Sugar
The foods you eat can have a massive impact on your brain health and memory, and sugar is one thing to look out for.
High-sugar diets have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and eating a lot of sugar long term can impair memory. Plus, even short-term sugar consumption has an impact.
One study fed rats a high-sugar diet and found they showed memory deficits even when they didn’t gain weight or consume a lot of excess calories.
10. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity has been linked to inflammation in regions of the brain needed for memory.
Research shows those who are obese perform worse on memory tasks than those with a healthy weight, and this is true for young, middle-aged, and older people.
However, it’s not clear if it’s the high body fat or the unhealthy lifestyle (such as lack of exercise and diet) which causes the memory impairments. Either way, the link between obesity and lowered memory is there.
To boost memory, maintain a healthy weight and consider losing weight if you need to.
11. Spend Time with Family and Friends
Social connections are important for happiness, health, and — as it turns out — memory.
Research shows loneliness is associated with worse cognitive function, processing speed, immediate recall, and delayed recall.
Loneliness has also been linked to lower memory functioning — and the relationship goes both ways. The lower your memory function, the lonelier you may be later in life, creating a vicious circle.
So, make sure to invest time in your friendships. You can do this by setting up weekly catch-ups with current friends, calling long-distance family members, and joining local groups to meet new people.
12. Eat Dark Chocolate
If you needed another excuse to reach for chocolate, research shows dark chocolate may boost your brain health, including your memory.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, an antioxidant that can boost blood flow to your brain, and they’ve been linked to improved memory and slowed down cognitive decline.
Studies show exposure to flavonoids during or immediately after a period of learning new information may help you with memory consolidation.
So, snack on dark chocolate while studying or take a break after reading a work report to grab a square or two.
These effects can last, too. One study found verbal episodic memory — or memory of everyday events — was improved two hours after eating dark chocolate.
13. Stay Hydrated
When you’re dehydrated, your short-term memory takes a hit, along with your mood, energy levels, and mental performance.
According to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, you should aim for about 15.5 cups of water a day (3.7 liters) if you’re male, and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) if you’re female.
If you find it hard to drink enough water, carry a water bottle with you throughout the day, set alarms on your phone to remind you to take a sip, and buy flavored water if you don’t like the taste of plain water.
14. Go for a Walk Before Learning Something New
Even a short walk has the power to boost your memory. A 2017 study looked at four groups, including a control group, a group that exercised before learning something new, a group that exercised while learning something new, and a group that exercised after learning something new.
The most interesting part? This exercise was a simple 15-minute walk on a treadmill.
The results showed the group who exercised before learning something new had the best long-term episodic memory.
Next time you sit down to study for school, revise new words in a language, or digest new information for work, take time for a short walk.
15. Drink Coffee
The drink most of us reach for each morning can help to boost your brain power.
Even decaffeinated coffee can help prevent memory impairment.
16. Eat Breakfast
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and when it comes to memory, this may be true.
One study looked at the effects of eating breakfast cereal on test performance. Those who ate breakfast performed better on a spatial memory task, had a more positive mood, and felt calmer compared to those who didn’t eat breakfast.
If you’re not a breakfast person, try eating a small snack — like a hard-boiled egg or some fruit. Eating dinner earlier and giving yourself plenty of time in the morning can also help to give you an appetite when you first wake up.
17. Manage Your Stress Levels
In today’s hustle culture, it’s easy for stress to feel like the norm. But stress can damage and even destroy brain cells, impairing your memory. Stress has also been shown to block memory retrieval.
You can reduce stress by:
- Making sure you get enough sleep
- Spending time on hobbies or enjoyable activities
- Connecting with family and friends
- Delegating work or reducing your workload
- Exercising and staying physically active
- Asking for help with childcare or caretaking responsibilities
- Speaking to a therapist if needed
18. Create a Relaxing Environment to Learn in
As well as keeping stress levels low in general, you should aim to not be stressed while you learn new things.
This is easier said than done, of course. But if you have control over it, try to study new material for work or school while in a relaxing environment and not under any time pressure.
One study gave participants a memory recall task where they had to learn words while being exposed to a cold stressor. Their recall of those words was then tested 24 hours later.
Learning under stress was found to reduce free recall and recognition performance.
Not to stress you out, but stress before or after learning has also been shown to influence memory.
19. Pair New Information With What you Already Know
When learning a new piece of information — whether that’s a new word in a language or a new sales technique for work — pair it with a fact you already have committed to memory. This will help the new knowledge stick.
For example, if you already know a new team member is Scottish, and they say their name is Sarah, pair these two pieces of information together in your mind. Making an effort to do so should help you commit Sarah’s name to your long-term memory.
20. Teach Someone Else
If you’re trying to remember a complex idea, don’t just go over the material by yourself — try to teach it to someone else.
By teaching it, you’ll have to explain the idea simply and fully understand it in order to convey your message. This helps to cement the idea in your memory.
Plus, even just the act of speaking about the new idea out loud can help you remember it better at a later date.
This technique of teaching someone else can come in handy when studying a topic for exams, learning a new skill for work, or trying to memorize a presentation.
21. Try Spaced Repetition
Instead of going over new information over and over again, or worse, reviewing something once and never again, try the spaced repetition technique.
Spaced repetition involves taking breaks and reviewing new material at spaced-out intervals. By going over your notes or testing yourself with flashcards at certain intervals, you’ll be periodically refreshing your knowledge of something, helping you retain that information by moving it into your long-term memory.
This method is popular among those learning a language, but you can apply it to anything from learning about a topic for school to practicing a new skill for work or your personal life.
You can find spaced repetition apps and software or create a schedule for yourself.
- Learning a new piece of information
- Recalling the information a day later
- Recalling the information every day or two for the next week
You should then be able to slowly space out the times you need to review the information to keep it in your memory.
Need help remembering the memory tips we shared in this article? In the short term, try eating dark chocolate, doing some cardio, and pairing new information with something you already know. To boost memory long term, get enough sleep, manage your stress levels, and maintain a healthy weight.