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5 Simple-Yet-Useful Strategies To Always Remember Things You Learn

5 Simple-Yet-Useful Strategies To Always Remember Things You Learn

Our brains are incredible landscapes that medical science is just beginning to understand. They are made up of a vast territory of firing neurons bathed in chemicals that enable us to inhabit our bodies with authority and purpose.

As humans, we exercise the most powerful machine of recall on the planet, with a memory capacity that far exceeds any modern-day hard drive. When faced with the challenge of assimilating new information, the human brain goes through a specific method of cognitive processing. All input is stored initially in short-term memory, but this piece of our processing is like a small bucket, constantly overflowing and losing facts under a deluge of information and sensation.

Studies indicate short-term memory can hold up to 7 items for only twenty seconds at a time. Extensive research into learning strategies in the past few decades have enabled scientists to identify a few methods that ensure your brain will hold onto and remember the factual items you process. Most of the following are simple methods that you can use independently or combine to improve your ability to learn and retain important information.

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Strategy 1: Write It Down

This method, confirmed by a Princeton study in 2014, is based on the research that indicates our brains are much more likely to remember information that we physically write down as opposed to simple auditory processing or even typing electronic notes.

Because the physical act of writing utilizes different areas of the brain, it gives our memories more points of reference when we seek to recall that information. The tactile sensation of pushing against the paper is an important component of this strategy, as well as the speed in which we are able to take written notes. Scientists found that the slower pace of writing required students to reorganize information in smaller, shorter phrases that proved to be advantageous over electronic note takers, who were more likely to produce notes verbatim, but also less likely to remember the increasing amount of detail.

Strategy 2: Use Mnemonics

This is a strategy that has risen in popularity in recent years and studies have supported its ability to increase memory performance. Mnemonics involve consolidating a larger piece of information or a complex idea into a simpler phrase or sentence, where key points of the concept are usually represented by a corresponding letter that begins the first word of the idea being recalled.

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For instance, a mnemonic for the scientific method might be ” Quick (Q= Question) Rabbits (R=Research) Hover (H=Hypothesis) Everywhere (E=Experiment) Chewing (C=Collect Data) Giant (G=Graph/Analyze Data) Cabbages (C=Conclusion).” The Center for Research on Learning reports that students who employed this method before exams received test grades that increased from an average of 51 percent to 85 percent.

Strategy 3: Create Visual Organizers

Teachers have long noted the appeal of this method, specifically for younger learners. The use of visual imagery in note taking has the ability to cement ideas in the brain that enable the memory to work more easily off association, like a kind of shorthand. This mind mapping, if done well, can create a vast web of concepts tied to a particular image in the learner’s mind and is effective for those who are more active learners. It also, by default, utilizes the same tactile sensations as the strategy of producing notes by hand and can even employ mnemonics as an additional advantage for recall.

Strategy 4: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

While the effectiveness of this method has been under fire in recent years, it is still a preferred strategy for many learners. The brain is more likely to remember information it sees repeatedly. But there are a few ways to enhance this fairly simple tactic, including auditory methods like repetitive songs or chants that utilize mnemonics or an approach called spaced repetition.

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Spaced repetition, championed by language learning icon Paul Pimsleur, involves repeating exposure to information at increasingly longer intervals of time. Initially, when seeking to learn something, it helps to repeat frequently. But as time goes on, spacing the repetition out a few hours and then a few days between can result in better recall over longer periods of time. It’s like endurance conditioning for your memory.

Strategy 5: Get Some Sleep

You’ve probably seen the research that suggests sleep is necessary to cement our memories and keep the integrity of information we learn intact. While we rest, our brains are quietly categorizing a vast trove of items in our memories, sorting and prioritizing so that information can be pulled up with ease when the need arises.

A study in Germany in 2011 suggested that our ability to learn information is enhanced directly before we sleep. To take advantage of this method, try to read and review notes immediately before drifting off. Our minds have a habit of holding onto the last thing we do or see before sleep and this phenomena can work in your favor when seeking to learn something new.

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Featured photo credit: wokandapix via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

How Do We Remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

7 Natural Memory Boosters

So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

1. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

2. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

3. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

Conclusion

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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