e’ve all had days where we had trouble remembering things-- we call them “brainfarts” and blow them off, but we should pay more attention to them. Your brain is a powerful muscle, but it’s a delicate balance. It needs to be correctly taken care of in order to retain memory and operate at peak performance. So how do you do that?
- Eat well
- Werk your brain
- Sleep and Work Out
- Write it down, say it out loud
Eat Well-- like, REALLY well!
Your brain is the center of your memory, and like all muscles and parts of your body your brain requires fuel. The quality of the fuel-- meaning food-- that you feed your body and brain determines a great deal how well your brain functions. The higher quality fuel you feed it, the better it performs.
The first step you can take to boost your brain performances-- and hence, your memory-- is eating less added sugar. Read that again-- less ADDED sugar. You don’t have to cut out all sugar, because some types of sugars and sweeteners are just fine in limited quantities. What you want to watch out for is how much sugar you DON’T need and consume anyway.
Get into the habit of reading labels. There are some conflicting statistics out there as to how much sugar is safe to consume-- the American Heart Association says 100 calories/day for women and 150 calories/day for men, but the United States Dietary Guidelines say 10% or less of a 2,000 calorie-based diet or around 50 grams (12.5 teaspoons).
To gain some perspective, how many of us love that Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte? When ordered “as is” and nothing is personalized, the popular drink has around 7 teaspoons of added sugar (grande size-- about 16 ounces when made with whole milk).
So what does sugar actually do to your brain? Well, for starters it plays “shrinkey-dinkey” with it-- yikes! It also causes cognitive decline-- meaning it makes your memory suck worse than a clogged vacuum filter. So ultimately, part of being an adult means reading the label and cutting back on added sugar-- or risk brain shrink and bad memory.
Alcohol is another memory-killer, and we don’t just mean drunken blackouts. Alcohol has neurotoxic effects on the brain, damaging the hippocampus. The hippocampus is where memory lives in the brain-- therefore, a hippocampus that is hit with several drinks over the course of a few days (binge drinking) eventually just lays down and gives up the fight.
Like added sugar, refined carbohydrates also spike blood sugar levels. Repeatedly eating foods like white bread, white rice, semolina flour pasta, and fast food poison the brain. Folks who consume these foods frequently have poorer cognitive functions, short-term, and working memory.
One way to boost your memory by adding food is by upping your Omega-3’s. You can do this by eating more fish, taking a fish oil supplement, or eating more nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease anxiety and stress, reduce inflammation and heart disease, and may also improve cognitive function.
You can also eat more anti-inflammatory foods-- and there are some really scrumptious ones out there! Berries are high in flavonoids and anthocyanins, two antioxidants that reduce inflammation. Spices like cinnamon, turmeric and ginger are very traditional, highly flavorful anti-inflammatories-- add them to smoothies or your next Asian- or Indian-inspired dish!
Dark chocolate is another food you should add to your repertoire. You need to choose one that’s at least 70% cacao for it to be effective. And it’s not just the caffeine that zings you awake-- it’s the antioxidants, which nourish blood vessels and stimulate neurons. One way we recommend enjoying this delicious brain-booster is in homemade hot chocolate, to which you can add ashwagandha for anti-anxiety or maca for stamina.
Remember… you really are what you eat, so eat food that’s REALLY good for you!
Werk That Noggin!
One of the key parts to boosting your memory and keeping it sharpened is using your brain. That may sound obvious or even facetious, but it’s true-- you need to keep your brain in good shape if you want it to perform at peak ability!
First of all, learn to meditate. It’s a trending topic right now, and for good reason-- so yes, everyone and their mother’s dog’s trainer is meditating these days, but it works! And don’t say that you tried it and “weren’t good at it”-- you probably didn’t have a very realistic expectation of how to do it. So many people look at how meditation is portrayed in media and photography and think that it’s all about that Zen moment of blissful nothingness. Actually, meditation is less the art of emptying the mind of thought, and more about the art of recognizing thoughts as they come and letting them go without focusing on them. With repeated practice, eventually your thoughts don’t intrude upon your presence and you have more focus, memory recall, less stress. If silent meditation is too frustrating, try guided meditations-- start small, with five minute increments. Keep your expectations realistic, and be gentle with yourself.
Brain training exercises also help, because they are aimed at training your brain to think in different ways. These include crossword puzzles, sudoku, games like Scrabble and Taboo, and the game 24. Reading is a huge way to improve all aspects of your brain, including memory. It’s basically like taking your brain for a run while lifting weights at the same time. Be sure that you’re reading a real, physical book whenever possible-- e-reading is okay, but science suggests that physically feeling and flipping the pages helps retain the contents of those pages. It’s a mind-body connection, just like meditation or mindfulness. One of the biggest bonuses of reading daily, even just for fifteen minutes to help you relax before bedtime? It helps prevent Alzhiemer’s disease. So get out those library cards and bust open a good book!
Memory-Boosting Tip: if you’re having a hard time committing to a full novel, try short story collections! Especially ones by the same author that explore the same world. Each story is self-contained from beginning to end, so you get the whole story without losing track of character’s names and motives from night to night.
Sleep and Exercise
We’ll keep this section a bit short, because our advice here is very straightforward: get a good night’s sleep, and get off your butt!
Sleep is essential to your entire body, but especially to your body’s main muscle: the brain. Sleep is like hitting the restart button on a computer-- it provides time for your brain and body to perform repair and maintenance procedures that it can’t do at any other stage of the body’s awareness. If your brain can’t reset, it can’t work at top performance.
Exercise works the entire body, including the brain. You need your brain’s functions to create a connection between what you want your body to do physically, and what your body actually does. It’s called the mind-body connection, and strengthening it helps boost memory because both are cognitive functions. Exercise also regulates hormones and body chemicals, which-- when they are all in peak balance-- keep the brain sharp and focused. As a bonus, getting enough movement in your day also translates to better sleep!
Develop good memory habits
There are several habits that you can get into that boost memory. Many of them involve writing, because writing involves the mind-body connection we discussed earlier and it involves a few areas of the brain-- including the center of memory.
For example, carrying a notepad or mini calendar with you at all times and writing down your appointments, to-do lists, wish lists, and ideas all contributes to good memory. Yes, you could store all of this information on your phone-- in fact, we encourage you to do that, but as a back-up not as a main form of tracking your life. Write everything down during the day, and spend a few minutes plugging the information into your phone later-- perhaps before you shut it down for the night and read.
Placing post-it notes to yourself is also a good idea. Leave them on the fridge or on your bathroom mirror-- places you’ll see them!
Especially if you’re someone who has a hard time keeping track of your belongings, try making a habit out of leaving items where you’re likely to need them. For example, keep sunglasses and your dog’s leash by the door and pens and paper near the kitchen counter and by your favorite place to sit and chat on the phone. Store lip balm near the bathroom sink.
And despite the way our society touts multi-tasking, don’t. Do one thing at a time, and give it your full attention. You can do it in short bursts-- work on it for fifteen minutes, working something else or take a break for five-- but work on one thing at a time. Slow down. And use mnemonic devices like rhymes and acronyms such as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” for the order of operations.
You also need to understand how you learn. This is crucial, because if you understand how your learn best then you can use that style of learning to boost your memory. For example, if you are an auditory learner then speaking your to-do lists and keeping a recording device with you during doctor’s visits to record your sessions will help you retain the information better. Many of us can figure out what type of learner we are just by paying attention to how we do things-- but if you’re not sure, there are plenty of sites and questionnaires that can help you determine it. Try taking one from a college website, as they’re aimed more at an adult level.
There are a multitude of ways to boost your memory. But what it actually boils down to is taking really good care of yourself-- eating well, sleeping and exercising, decluttering your brain and training it to work in different ways. There are tragic brain disorders and diseases-- such as dementia and Alzheimer’s-- which rob people of their memory. But even these seemingly irreversible terrors can be prevented and their effects reduced by employing the healthy habits we’ve discussed in this article.