Take a moment and think of the memory you cherish the most. Describe your surroundings in that very moment you hold dear: the sounds, aromas, faces, feelings. Use your mind to breathe life into that memory again. The experiences you’ve enjoyed or endured, the knowledge you’ve gained, pivotal moments in your life—these memories make up who you are. As we age, recalling information may seem to become more difficult, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Whether you want to improve your memory for that next big exam, or you want to sharpen those memories that are starting to fade, your memory can improve thanks to neuroplasticity and these 43 scientifically proven ways to boost your memory.
1. Make Memories Worth Remembering
Before we dive into improving your memory, let’s first explore how a memory is made. First, you take in sensory information and your brain encodes the experience then records/consolidates it. However (somewhat counter-intuitively), in order to make a memory, you have to remember it first, which is the process of retrieval. Your brain makes neural pathways to retrieve the stored information, and each time you recall the information, that memory is strengthened (and other memories may weaken). This means that it is important to make memories worth remembering so you can reflect on them often, strengthening your brain.
2. Take Time to Reminisce
Remembering increases your memory by enforcing the neural pathway your brain created the first time you retrieved that memory. This process makes it easier to retrieve and recall each time you remember that memory. If you’ve heard some of the same stories over and over from your grandparents, it may be because these memories are the ones that are easier to retrieve. To prevent yourself from becoming a broken record, set aside time to reminisce about a variety of memorable moments.
3. Be Mindful
Mindfulness and memory capacity are intertwined, so it’s no wonder that the word remember is rooted in the Latin word of ‘memor’ meaning mindful. Mindfulness training such as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can all increase your awareness and attention to the present moment. These techniques not only allow you to make a clear new memory, but they also strengthen cognitive abilities, improve mental health, increase your focus, and bolster your ability to recall information even in stressful situations.
According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, mindfulness training can improve memory capacity. The study evaluated the performance of students taking the GRE and noted that the students who participated in a 2-week mindfulness-training course prior to the GRE exam were less prone to distraction. Study participants also showed improved working memory and performed better overall in the reading comprehension portion of the exam.
One of the ways to practice mindfulness to improve your memory is through yoga. Yoga is a discipline that uses body postures, movements, breathing techniques, and various forms of meditation. There are many types of yoga such as Yin Yoga or Bikram Yoga (hot yoga), but the best kind is the one you’ll actually do. Try out a local yoga studio or follow along with an online tutorial to find the best yoga practice for you.
By incorporating yoga into your routine, you can reduce memory difficulties, relieve stress, and help your mind focus. A Nationwide Randomized Clinical Trial investigated the relationship between memory and sleep in cancer survivors practicing yoga and found that yoga reduced patients’ self-reported memory difficulty.
Studies suggest that meditation can offset age‐related cognitive decline. There are many ways to get the memory-boosting benefits of meditation. From guided meditation to simply contemplating and reflecting on the good moments of your day before you fall asleep, you can meditate in the ways that work for you.
You may be fast asleep, but your brain continues to work through the night to store your memories. When you enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, your hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with memory, emotion, and the autonomic or unconscious nervous system) is busy regulating specific neurochemical cellular signals and cholinergic changes. Scientists believe that REM sleep may be how your brain starts the process of hippocampus-dependent memory storage.
Since REM sleep is vital to memory storage, it is important to develop and maintain good sleep habits and bedtime routines. You can improve your sleep by turning off your screens early, keeping a clean and relaxing environment in your bedroom, investing in curtains to darken your room, and by keeping a consistent bedtime routine.
7. Is Napping Naughty or Nice?
Even though sleep is important for memory, taking a nap may do more harm than good, according to a JAMA Neurology study. The research found that elderly participants without dementia who experience excessive daytime drowsiness were more vulnerable to β-amyloid (plaque) accumulation, increasing their risk of Alzheimer's. However, for people who love naps, there is also research that shows short daytime naps can boost your associative memory capacity and also help infants learn new skills. So whether you’re young (or young at heart), naps are probably best in moderation.
8. Shake Up Your Routine
R. Douglas Fields, Senior Neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health, Maryland, stated, “When you're in a novel situation, your brain assumes that information is going to be important and holds on to it.” By having new, unpredictable experiences and switching up your daily routine, your life becomes less mundane, keeping your brain on its toes. So try a new route to work, take a trip, or order a new menu item at your favorite restaurant. Go out and strengthen your memory by making new memories, becoming familiar with the unfamiliar, and adding some unpredictability to your day.
9. Eat Well
If you want to improve your memory, don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables. The foods you include in your daily routine can make a significant impact on your cognitive capabilities. There are foods that boost your memory as well as foods that may even drain your brain’s memory abilities. By adding the foods suggested below (numbers 10-14) to your diet, as well as foods to avoid, you can strengthen your brain's memory bank.
10. Follow or Implement Aspects of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is commonly followed by people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The foods commonly consumed in these regions, such as nuts, olive oil, legumes, and fish, are high in healthy fats. The monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats provided by these Mediterranean Diet staples have been linked to lower rates of mild cognitive impairment and dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. The main ingredients in the Mediterranean Diet may be “core neuroprotective foods,” and are associated with higher cognitive functions.
11. Incorporate the MIND Diet
Trying the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND Diet, may decrease your risk of Alzheimer's. This lifestyle diet is a cross between the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which includes foods that better regulate blood pressure. You can have the benefits of these diets by eating more fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole grains while decreasing consumption of sodium, sweetened beverages, and red meats.
12. Foods to add in:
Show your brain some love by eating the foods it can’t get enough of. Foods rich in omega-3s such as nuts, seeds, and soybeans, as well as foods filled with antioxidants such as blueberries, oranges, and mangos, can boost your brain power.
13. Foods to avoid:
You can improve your memory by decreasing the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fat, found frequently in fatty meat products and byproducts, has been linked to cognitive decline in women.
Also, avoid high-fructose and artificial sweeteners. A study conducted at UCLA demonstrated that a high-fructose diet damages learning and memory. Another recent study found that artificially sweetened drinks may increase the risks of stroke and dementia.
However, no one likes to be told they can’t have something. Instead of focusing on foods to avoid, try adding more foods that are good for your brain. By making good choices instead of begrudgingly passing on unhealthy foods, you can strengthen your willpower and brainpower, which makes giving up these brain sabotaging foods a delight instead of a chore.
14. Drink Water
Your brain and heart are both composed of 73% water—proper hydration is absolutely necessary for your body to function at its best. One study found that being dehydrated by just a mere 2% impairs brain “performance in tasks that require attention, psychomotor, and immediate memory skills.” It’s crucial to continually hydrate because you are not aware of being thirsty until you are at the same 2% dehydrated level. To keep your memory at its peak, remember to drink water often even before you’re thirsty.
15. Take an Omega 3 Fish Oil Supplement
By taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement rich in EPA and DHA, you can boost your brain's performance, speed, and short time memory. One study suggests that fish oil may improve cognitive performance in healthy individuals by enhancing their working memory. Check out Xyngulars amazing omega-3 fish oil supplement, a blend of the 3 essential Omega-3 fatty acids that are designed to help your brain, heart, and metabolism function at their best to keep you at the peak of health.
16. Consider Taking a Ginkgo Biloba Supplement
Leaves from the Ginkgo Biloba tree have been used as Chinese medicine for thousands of years and are commonly used to treat dementia in Europe. This supplement is often advertised as a way to improve memory. However, this supplement may also be linked to an increased risk of stroke, so do your research before taking Ginkgo Biloba supplements.
17. Add in a Vitamin B-12 Supplement
Getting enough vitamin B-12 by taking a supplement can improve your memory. Vitamin B-12 aids in sustaining healthy red blood cells and nerve cells.
18. Clear Out your Medicine Cabinet
Talk with your doctor about how your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can be affecting your cognitive abilities. A study published by JAMA Neurology found that cognitive impairment may be connected to a class of drugs commonly used in over-the-counter medication. You should never discontinue a prescription medication without first consulting with your doctor—however, it can be a good conversation to have during your next doctor’s visit.
Exercise is equally important to your body as it is to your brain. Physical activity increases oxygen flow to your brain, physically changes your brain, and can reduce the risk of dementia. A study published by Current Biology found that engaging in exercise 4 hours after learning information improves memory. Three groups of participants tried to memorize and link an image with information for 40 minutes. They then attempted to recall the image and information connections 48 hours later. One group exercised immediately after the 40-minute study, one group did not exercise at all, and the final group exercised for 35 minutes four hours later. The group that engaged in physical activity 4 hours after attempting to memorize the materials were able to more correctly recall the information 48 hours later than those in the other groups.
20. Have Sex
21. Enjoy Nature
Boost your brain power by going outdoors—it gets your blood pumping and oxygen flowing to your brain while you enjoy nature. One study compared children’s attention and memory while they were indoors vs outdoors. Researchers found that children’s spatial working memory improved while performing tasks outdoors compared to indoors.
22. Take a Photo, It Will (Make Your Memory) Last Longer
Next time you experience something you want to remember, snap a photo and your brain will do the same. In a study published by The Association for Psychological Science, participants who took a physical photo of an image increased their ability to accurately recall it as a mental image. These results are thought to be attributed to a shift in attention when taking a photo that focuses awareness of visual aspects of an experience.
23. Write it Down
When you’re learning something new that you want to remember, it is helpful to write the information down. Repeated writing has been shown to increase memory recall by encoding visual-motor information.
Since writing things down can improve your memory, keep a journal (or “memory book”) as you create new memories and as you recall old ones.
25. Take Notes
Two is better than one. By combining both listening and writing, information is better stored in your memory. Next time you’re listening to a lecture or an audio recording, and there’s information you want to remember, take a note for increased retention.
26. Forgive, let go, and forget bad memories
You want all the memory storage you can get, so free up some mental space that’s only weighing you down by erasing unpleasant memories. By resolving and overcoming less favorable memories, you’ll live and remember better. Your brain is constantly trying to store and organize what it thinks is important. By forgiving and forgetting moments you’re better without, you can tell your brain: this isn’t important anymore. Even if you can’t fully forget, you can reframe the memory and make room for better experiences.
27. Turn off GPS
Turn off the GPS and flex your brain power a bit next time you’re driving about. One study evaluated the impact of using GPS on the hippocampus (an area of the brain heavily involved in memory and navigation) and the prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain that is used in decision-making and planning). The study showed that these two regions of the brain used for navigation aren’t as engaged when using GPS.
28. Make a Mental Map
Mind mapping is a form of brainstorming in which you have a topic and branch outwards with related topics, words, and pictures in order to better organize thoughts. Mind maps can include keywords, colors, and details to better understand the topic. By creating a mind map, you can visually see connections between concepts.
29. Quit Smoking
According to one study, smokers had double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to individuals who have never smoked. Also, the less time you spend on smoke breaks and the less money you spend on packs of cigarettes, the more time and freedom you have to make and keep positive memories.
30. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Working memory (the part of short-term memory that’s responsible for present awareness) plays an important role in appetite control. Poor memory is connected to a decreased responsiveness to the brain’s ability to determine hunger and fullness, which can lead to the tendency to eat uncontrollably. Evidence also suggests that weight gain and high BMI can impair your brain’s working memory and episodic memory (your brain’s autobiographical dialogue of events).
31. Learn a new Language
Your mémoire, memoria, 记忆, or memory can increase when you exercise your brain by learning a new language. One study found that bilingual children have a better working memory than monolingual children. Not only is learning a new language a great way to improve your memory, but by putting your new language skills into practice, you can create new memories.
32. Brain Training Apps
Looking for a fun way to sharpen your noggin? Download a brain training app. By using one of the many memory-improving, problem-solving, cognitive smartphone apps, you can flex your brain’s capacity through short games and activities.
Exercise improves memory by stimulating the release of chemicals in the brain that impact the health and maintenance of brain cells and the production of new blood vessels in the cerebrum. Regular exercise also improves sleep which, as we’ve learned, is a contributing factor in memory capacity.
34. Solve a Puzzle
Boosting your brain activity can be fun by piecing together a puzzle, playing a board game with loved ones, or becoming a sudoku master. Find a game you’ll look forward to playing to make sharpening your cognitive skills enjoyable.
35. Make connections with Abbreviations, Acrostics, or Acronyms
Using abbreviations (short formed words), acrostics (a poem or statement in which certain letters stand for certain words), and acronyms (abbreviations pronounced as words) can make putting information to memory easier.
An abbreviation allows your brain to take a shortcut in remembering more information in a condensed version. Where the famous PEMDAS acronym or Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is a pneumonic that can help you memorize the mathematical order of operations Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction. By using these strategies you can strengthen your memory.
Have you ever turned on the radio and immediately recognized the song playing? You turn up the volume, and your mind travels to a moment you enjoyed that song. Perhaps a song played at your wedding brings back the fondness of that day in your heart, or those tracks you listened to over and over in your first car transport you back to your youth. No matter what the song is, music is powerful in creating and recalling memories.
Music also increases your ability to remember information. One study found that music can assist in learning, retrieving, and reconstructing written information. So whether your studying or just cruising around town, crank up the stereo.
A study that accessed the brain scans of 150 people during various mediation and religious activities found that religious activities such as prayer can have a significant impact on physical and mental health. By implementing religious or spirituality practices, you can reduce stress, improve memory, and enhance your immune system.
38. Find a Hobby
By enjoying leisure activities such as playing music, reading, and working on art and crafts projects, you can stimulate your neurological system.
39. Be Creative
Creativity can be expressed in so many ways. You can develop your inner artist by painting, drawing, sculpting, taking a photo or video, writing a poem, & jewelry making—anything is possible when you set your sights on creating something new. Whether you’re into woodwork, building things with your hands, decorating, scrapbooking, or video editing, using your creativity can stretch your mind and help you develop new skills.
40. Learn Something New Every Day
Learning something new each day keeps your brain sharp and life full. Find a topic you’re interested in and learn all you can about it until another topic piques your interest. Increase your vocabulary with new words daily from a dictionary, read books, watch Ted Talks, or listen to a podcast—these are all ways you can sharpen your wit.
41. Use a Checklist
Give your brain a break; make a checklist. By writing out your to-do’s and errands, you can free up your brain and give it more energy for more important memories (instead of trying to remember if you need to pick up a gallon of milk). To-do lists may seem like you’re relying on notes to remember. However, by using checklists, you can organize your thoughts and use the experience of writing the information to better commit the list to memory. And when you can’t quite remember what else to get at the grocery store, you’ll have a backup memory in your pocket.
42. Manage Your Stress
You may undergo various kinds of stress throughout the day. From stress in social settings to the physical stress your body combats during an infection, stress can negatively impact your memory.
Many of the suggestions throughout this article will help boost your memory while simultaneously lowering your stress levels. By exercising, eating and sleeping well, meditating, and enjoying hobbies, you can better relax and remember.
43. Build a Supportive Social Network
Sharpening your mind and memory only gets you so far if you don’t have anyone to reminisce with. Do you best to be the kind of friend that you want to have, so you can build up a network of positive, uplifting people to create and share memories with. Use a few of our science-based suggestions to improve your memory to also improve your relationships. Try a yoga class with a friend, learn a new language so you can make interesting new friends, enjoy good food with good people, and maintain a healthy lifestyle so you can spend time with your loved ones while living a long, memorable life.
As you implement these brain-building strategies, your ability to recall information and the moments you cherish will strengthen. It’s important to keep in mind that the quality is equally as important as quantity of memories. So eat well, sleep well, live well, and be well so you can remember well. Your memories say a lot about who you are, and we hope that these 43 scientifically proven ways to boost your memory also improve your life.