12 Natural Tips to Improve Your Memory at Any Age
Ever walked into a room with purpose, only to get there and not remember why you were there? Or searched for your sunglasses, only to find them resting on your head? Or ran to the store just for eggs and arrived home with a full load of groceries but no eggs? Or crammed for a test or presentation but still felt completely unprepared? (Wondering if you even read the material?)
You, my friend, are not alone. It happens to everyone occasionally. But it can lead to embarrassment, frustration, not to mention time lost searching or having to head back out to pick up what you forgot. So, if all of this sounds a bit too familiar, you may be wondering how to improve your memory.
Before we begin, though, it’s important to understand that improving memory won’t likely ever make you infallible. There are no guarantees when it comes to memory, especially if faced with something like dementia. Genetics also play a role. There are, however, activities that can help improve your memory.
12 Tips to Improve Memory
1. Get and Stay Active
Enjoying some physical movement every day is a great way to increase blood flow throughout the entire body, including the brain. This, in turn, improves memory. 1,2 While the recommendation is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity throughout each week, you don’t necessarily have to fit in a full workout every day. Enjoy a few exercise snacks throughout the day to help keep your mind sharp and your body energized. Even a couple of 10-minute walks each day can be a rewarding mental and physical endeavor that boosts memory. 3
For those who enjoy regular activity, research suggests you may increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that’s involved in storing memories and promoting verbal memory. 4,5
2. Exercise Your Brain
In addition to keeping the body active, it also helps to keep the brain active. For example, learn to play an instrument or learn a new language. Try new things, even if it’s just a different route to work. Or play games or enjoy puzzles like crosswords, Sudoku, or jigsaws.6,7,8 Just remember to push yourself to improve, so you keep stimulating your brain with new, more challenging activities.
3. Get Social
Spending time with friends, in groups, or even chatting with a friendly neighbor or a new acquaintance at the grocery store can help ward off stress and depression, which can make memory loss worse. Get together with others regularly, especially if you live or work alone.
4. Study Smarter
Need to remember something specific—such as for an exam or because you need to give a presentation or sales pitch? The process can be stressful, taking loads of time and effort. Even then, you’ll likely still worry about what you might forget. Fortunately, science has found that one of the best ways to remember material is to study it before you go to sleep and then do a quick review once you wake up. People who use this method have been found to spend less time studying (50% less) while increasing their retention rate by 50%. 9 This is much more effective than doing a marathon study session.
Don’t just read or rehearse the material, though. Give yourself some quizzes as you study, as self-testing is another way to boost memory and learning. 10 What if you fail your own quiz? Does that mean you’re hopelessly lost? Don’t stress—it’s also been found that not remembering something the first time allows it to stand out, so it’s easier to remember the next.
Interestingly, even just asking yourself if you’ll remember something makes it more likely that you will (by as much as 50%). 11 This method appears to be most effective when used for prospective memories, or memories that involve remembering some future action, such as responding to an email or text, adding something to a calendar, or giving thanks to a friend or co-worker.
Having the information repeated but spaced out over several times also helps better retain information. And the richer the details, the more likely you are to remember the information at a later date. 12
5. Practice Healthy Sleep Hygiene
Sleep, in general, is important for memory as when we’re asleep is when memories are consolidated, organized, and stored for future use. 13 When you don’t get enough sleep or not enough quality sleep, it can compromise memory. Shoot for between seven and nine hours of quality shut-eye each night to maximize brain health and function. 14
If you’re struggling to get enough sleep at night, though, short naps (~30 minutes) have also been shown to increase memory. 15 In short, if you want to maintain or improve memory, sleep is non-negotiable.
6. Eat a Healthy Diet
A nutrient-rich diet packed with colorful vegetables, fruits, quality proteins (e.g., fish, beans, and poultry), mushrooms, and whole grains is vital to a healthy body and brain. 16 Specific foods may have some powerful benefits. For example, berries may help increase blood flow in the brain due to their high concentration of flavonoids. 17
7. Cut Back on Refined Sugar
Eating excess sugar is associated with several health problems, and that includes mental and cognitive decline. Consuming a sugar-heavy diet, according to research, can decrease brain volume and declines in memory, especially short-term memory. This is true even in the short term, especially due to sugary drinks like sodas and juices 18 but also applies to refined carbs like cakes, cookies, and cereal.
Other substances that can affect memory negatively and cause confusion include excess alcohol and recreational drugs.
8. Eat Healthy Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and herring as well as omega-3 supplements have been shown to support general health and the body’s healthy response to inflammation as well as help decrease anxiety, stress, and mental decline. Research has found that folks who are suffering from short-term memory issues may experience improvements after consuming omega-3 fatty acids. 19 – 22
Walnuts are another food rich in omega-3 fats (namely alpha-linolenic acid), which has been shown to improve cognitive function and improve memory. 23
9. Get Organized
If your inbox, email, desk, and home are in disarray with clutter and excess information, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget what you need to be, do, or take care of. Having a central location to write down notes, schedules, special events, and things you do can help calm the chaos so you better remember.
Repeating out loud as you write in your notes (or at least mouthing it out) is another way to help lock it into memory. 24 Just remember to use the system you create, removing things you’ve accomplished and updating what’s next.
Having a place set aside to keep your wallet, keys, purse, glasses, and other essentials is another way to eliminate having to remember the random place you set something down. Limiting distractions and avoiding having too much happening at once makes it easier to focus, which makes it easier to retain information to recall later.
Finally, keeping like information organized together—i.e., grouping similar terms and concepts—can help relate materials together, which also helps you better remember it. 25
Meditation has been shown to help you relax and soothe the mind to lower stress, decrease pain, and even promote better memory. It may even increase gray matter and thus brain cells (neurons). 26 Giving the brain time to meditate and relax fully has been shown in research to improve short-term memory, no matter how young or old you are. 27
11. Get Focused
One of the most important aspects of memory starts with focus and actively attending to retain new information. If studying to prepare a presentation, pitch, or exam, remove distractions including TV, music, kids, pets, or roommates in the background, and anything else that may pull your attention away.
If you’re reading a book or article that you want to be able to recall after you’ve set it aside, it can help to focus your attention as you’re reading by asking simple questions, such as:
- How can I use this information?
- Why must I use this information?
- When will I use this information?
These types of questions can help you make the information more relevant to your life, which makes it easier to remember.
Another focusing tool is to practice mindfulness throughout the day, bringing your awareness to your surroundings, feelings, and the moment. This is a proven method for enhancing memory and concentration. 28
12. Create a “Memory Palace” (aka Method of Loci)
Say you want to remember everything on your grocery list, but you don’t have a pen or place to write it down. If you have a shorter list, you can use parts of your body to help you remember each item. Place your hand on a body part and repeat the food you want to buy, for example, moving down your body.
Let’s say you need blueberries, romaine lettuce, walnuts, and chicken. Place your hand on your head and say blueberries, your hand on your nose and say romaine lettuce, with your hand on your chin say walnuts, and your hand on your chest and say chicken. Then as you go through the store, use your hand and body to help you recall what’s on your list. (Give it a try and see how much easier it is to remember a list of words.)
If you have a longer series of words or numbers to remember, you can use your house, your street, or even your city to attach each item, number, or letter to a specific location. This method has been shown to be much more effective when it comes to remembering than repetition or memorization. 29, 30
Why Improve Your Memory?
We all have something we need to remember. And with so much happening in our modern lives, it can be challenging to keep it all straight. There are just so many distractions! But memories also hold us together and help shape who we are. They keep us connected to friends and family, tell us the stories of our lives, and help us navigate the world we live in. It’s no wonder that one of the top fears people have as they get older is losing memory.
While it may not be possible to eliminate all risks, and we’re still likely to forget something from time to time, fortunately, there are proven ways to help protect memory, including exercising regularly, eating a nutrient-dense, flavonoid-rich diet, and avoiding memory killers like high-sugar diets, smoking, and excess alcohol.
As the old saying goes, use it or lose it. Make sure you’re regularly challenging the brain to learn new information and skills to keep your memory sharp long into the future.