The saying goes “you can’t teach a old dog new tricks,” but scientific research has shown that this just isn’t true when it comes to the brain. Humans have an amazing ability to adapt and change throughout the entire course of their lives, even well into old age. Thanks to neuroplasticity, with the right type of stimulation our brains can react and readjust to almost any situation by altering existing neural connections and even forming entirely new neural pathways.
The brain’s marvelous ability to rewire itself is especially true when it comes to learning and memory. By utilizing the natural power of neuroplasticity, you can boost your intellectual abilities, increase your ability to learn new skills, and enhance your memory at any age. Here are eight scientifically proven ways you can improve your memory.
8. Exercise Your Brain
By the time you’re an adult, your brain has built up millions of different neural pathways that enable you to solve problems, carry out familiar tasks easily, and quickly process information. But if you always stick to the same well-worn neural paths, you’re probably not giving your brain the type of stimulation it needs to continue developing. Just like your muscles, the more you work out your brain, the stonger it gets, and the stronger it gets, the easier it will be for you to process and remember information. Try seeking out activities that are both challenging and rewarding, but will also teach you something new or build upon an existing skill. The best exercises for your brain are those that disrupt your existing routine and require you to develop new pathways.
7. Exercise Your Body
Mental exercise isn’t the only way to keep your memory in shape, physical exercise can go a long way too. By working your muscles and getting your heart rate up, the oxygen flow to your brain increases, reducing the risk of developing a disorder such as diabetes and heart disease, which can hamper your ability to remember things. Activities that involve keen hand-eye coordination or more complex motor skills are especially good for your brain. Regular physical exercise also enhances neuroplasticity by boosting the effects of helpful chemicals that can encourage the formation of new neural connections.
6. Eat a Healthy, Brain Boosting Diet
Your brain is responsible for approximately 20% of the total number of calories you burn each day. And, while you’re likely aware of the strong physical health benefits associated with eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and healthy fats, you might not know that the same diet can also improve your memory and mental health. But, when it comes to the brain, what you don’t eat is almost just as important as what you eat. Sure, cheeseburgers and fries are delicious, but foods like these that are often high in saturated fats should try to be avoided if you want to decrease your risk of memory impairment and dementia later in life. If you substitute a few fruits and vegetables for some of the more fatty foods in your diet, you can increase your intake of antioxidants, which can shield your brain cells from damaging effects.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep
In today’s Western society, a lot of people get by on the bare minimum amount of sleep rather than getting the proper amount for optimal functionality. Although the optimal amount of sleep varies from person to person, most adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep every night to ensure they aren’t sleep deprived. Without the proper amount of sleep, memory, problem solving ability, and even creativity can be compromised. More recent research has also shown that the most important memory-enhancing activity occurs in the brain during the deepest stages of sleep.
To help get the most out of your sleep, try going to bed every night and waking up every morning at the same time (yes, even on weekends and holidays). And, if you’re a big coffee drinker, try cutting back your intake since even early morning caffeine can have an effect on a good night’s rest.
4. Try Not to Stress Out
Stress levels can have a major impact on your health in general, but when it comes to the brain, continuous high levels of stress can actually cause damage to the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for the retrieval of old memories and the formation of new ones. So it shouldn’t be surprising that chronic stress can lead to memory loss. But, if you’re someone who has a lot of difficulty relaxing, there are a few helpful stress relief tactics you can try, such as taking scheduled work breaks throughout the day, trying to focus on a single task at a time rather than multi-tasking, and maintaining a healthy balance between work and leisure time.
3. Listen to Music Before Studying
Lots of people get into the habit of playing music while they work or study. And, oddly enough, listening to music before you start reading something you want to memorize does indeed give you better recall. But once you actually start working, you should turn off the tunes. Research has shown that listening to almost any noise while studying is a distraction and you could end up recalling less of what you read in the future. It doesn’t matter if you love the music or hate it; it has the same distracting effect as someone speaking random gibberish in your ear. It might seem strange at first studying in complete silence, but science says it’s better for learning in the end.
2. Laugh a Lot
There’s some truth to saying that laughter is the best medicine. Unlike other emotional responses that only affect certain portions of the brain, laughter engages numerous regions across the entire brain. Furthermore, when you hear a joke and work out the punchline in your head, you activate key areas of your brain that are important for learning and creativity. So spend lots of time with fun, playful people and never feel afraid to laugh at yourself. Your brain will be all the better for it.
One of the most effective tricks to remember something, especially if it’s non-tangible, is to associate it with a visual image. People who participate in memory competitions often take this method to the extreme and are able to recall massive amounts of information with seemingly little effort just by developing a detailed visual image catalogue in their head. For instance, let’s say you were trying to remember all the major house names in Game of Thrones. You might think to yourself that Lannister sounds like banister, and so you visualize a staircase railing to associate it with the name. From there you can gradually add other pieces of information, such as their house sigil and family motto until you have a descriptive little filing cabinet in your head that you can access at any time. It certainly sounds a little strange to attempt to remember something by recalling something else entirely, but that’s exactly how some of the best memorizers in the world do it. And scientific research has validated it.