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Published on November 5, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Recall What You’ve Learned Fast

How to Improve Memory and Recall What You’ve Learned Fast

How to improve memory is a common question that’s brought up once we hit that certain age. Friends and family remind us that memory is the first thing to go when we get older. Or perhaps hearing and eyesight which are linked to our ability to learn and develop ourselves.[1]

True, as we get older, things don’t always work the way they are supposed to. But maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe it’s not because we’re getting older, but rather the methods we use to learn and improve our memory are bad?

Nevertheless, it’s important to not panic as there are all kinds of strategies and resources available to improve our learning and memory.

Why Is Our Memory Not Good Enough?

To understand why the strategies I’ll share are helpful, you need to understand why your memory is bad in the first place. The first most important thing to remember is:

People forget all the time.

Passwords, grocery lists, our phone, car keys, and more. People forget that stuff and it has nothing to do with age. That being said, there are particular causes that enhance the frequency of this. Excessive use of the following will further inhibit our memory and learning capabilities:[2]

  • Lack of sleep – Quantity and quality of sleep are essential to memory. Most tips offered for retaining and growing memory is to get sleep. So it’s no surprise a lack of it will harm memory.
  • Depression and stress – Depression will normally cause people to lose focus and not pay much attention. This state of mind eventually turns to people losing their memory. Stress works in a similar fashion as we struggle to concentrate. We’re too tense and our mind is overstimulated.
  • Nutritional deficiency – Our brain needs certain nutrients in order to function. Specifically, B1 and B12 are vitamins that impact our memory. Lack of which will cause memory loss.
  • Alcohol or drug use – Excessive use of either substance has been linked to brain damage which results in memory loss. Smoking also falls in the same category.
  • Medication – A large number of over-the-counter medications can actually cause memory loss. From antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to sleeping pills and pain medications.

How to improve memory can first be as simple as avoiding these causes and considering the following:

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These are all great things, but we can always do more. The number of causes of memory loss isn’t subject to those causes. There will still be lapses in memory and other factors.

Thankfully, the tactics I’ll share below will help in mitigating those factors.

How to Improve Memory Fast

How to improve memory quickly is no easy task. In most research revolving around memory, the training process can take months or even years. The upside is that all these techniques are simple and take a few minutes out of your day.

So while the process takes a while, the daily demand is minor and easy to get into a cycle with.

1. Work Out Your Brain

Our brain is immensely powerful. Over the span of our lives by this point, our brain has developed millions of neural pathways. These pathways give us the ability to process and recall information quickly. The speed in which we can solve problems, execute habitual tasks with no effort is thanks to these pathways.

That being said, if we continue to stick to those comfortable roads, we’re not really growing, are we? While well-worn pathways are helpful – especially when they’re linked to good habits like exercise, grooming, or reading – they’re not challenging.

So do yourself a favor and once in a while challenge yourself. As the saying goes:

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“Use it or lose it.”

This refers to muscle strength, but the same can be said for our memory. If we don’t use it, how will we be able to retain it? The further you give your brain a workout the more you’ll be able to use it in the future.

2. Learn Actively

Another great way to improve memory is to get out there and learn a thing or two. But instead of learning passively by just reading more or taking classes, use your brain as you learn actively. How Take some practical steps to support your own learning and memory:

  • Pay attention. Even if the topic is familiar or you’ve heard it all before. Learning isn’t always about hearing it once and abandoning the subject. Ideas and concepts are worth repeating. It takes exactly eight seconds of intense focus for us to fully process a piece of information and keep it to memory. So pay attention.
  • Tie information in with what you already know. People learn through stories or by example. It’s why some people associate words or items with people’s names sometimes. These strategies help us in learning and retaining information. The same can be said about the information on any subject.
  • Rehearse the information you already know. Reviewing and studying do help in retaining information and growing. When we have a grasp of the basics, we can expand from there.

3. Work Out Your Body

At the same time, research has shown that working out our bodies also promotes memory growth.[3] Specifically, exercising affects our plasticity. Plasticity is more or less the ability for our brain to change its structure as it develops and grows.

In other words, exercise can open our minds to changes. Not always dramatic changes but changes to our habits and routines as well. Exercising can also promote new neuronal connections which in turn help solidify new habits in the first place.

Best of all, these exercises don’t have to be incredibly strenuous to get the benefit. Aerobic exercises work especially well on the brain. Examples are walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling. Generally speaking, any exercise good for the heart is good for the brain.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep, as I mentioned above, is important though people have different definitions of proper sleep. Not to mention there are some people who know this but simply can’t get good sleep for whatever reason.

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First off, the vast majority of us need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.[4] Skipping out on a few hours will make a massive difference in our daily function.

That being said, some of us are in the camp where we can’t get enough sleep. In those cases, consider the follow techniques prior to sleep:

  • Have a sleep schedule. Train yourself to go to bed at a specific hour every night and to get up at roughly the same time every morning. This habit will eventually condition your brain to make you feel tired at a certain hour and to get up at a specific time.
  • Avoid blue light for an hour before going to bed. People are glued to their tablets, computers, phones, and TV. This suppresses our brain’s production of melatonin – the brain drug that makes us sleepy.
  • Cut back on the coffee. Sure some love to have a cup of joe in the morning, but some are also highly sensitive to caffeine. So much so that a single cup in the morning can interfere with your sleep at night. If you are having trouble sleeping, see if caffeine is the problem by reducing the amount or avoiding the drink for a week and see what happens.

My other article about building a night routine can help you sleep better too: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

5. Socialize and Be with Others

Another way on how to improve memory is being with friends. There are all kinds of studies that highlight the benefits of being around friends;[5] most important is the cognitive benefits including improving your mood and reducing your stress.

Start making friends and spending a lot of time together. After all, when we get older, we tend to narrow our circle of friends and that too impacts our memory.

6. Eat the Right Foods

Another way on how to improve memory is by having the right foods. I mentioned a diet above, but not the specifics of the diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet is eating fruits and veggies as well as whole grains. You also want protein, but make sure it is low on fat; examples are fish, beans, or skinless poultry.[6]

On the note of protein, it’s worth noting the types of fish worth eating. Research shows that eating fish that are high in omega-3 is good for your brain.[7] So coldwater fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, or halibut are excellent choices.

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And if you’re not a fan of fish, some alternatives are spinach, broccoli, pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts amongst others.

Drinks also play a role as I mentioned, alcohol can impact your memory directly as well as coffee to an indirect extent. My suggestion is to stick with water and if you do want a bit of caffeine, consider tea.

7. Don’t Ignore Your Health Problems

Various health problems have an impact on our memory. Some medications also affect our own memory even if they are designed to treat a particular health problem. While it’s obvious that we ought to deal with any health problems, we can find early signs.

Particular health problems that affect our memory include:

  • General heart problems – Cardiovascular diseases include high cholesterol and blood pressure. These have been linked to mild cognitive impairment and even dementia.[8]
  • Diabetes – Studies have also found those experiencing this have a greater cognitive decline than those who don’t.[9]
  • Hormone imbalance – From estrogen to testosterone and thyroid imbalance, hormone imbalance can contribute to memory loss in some fashion.[10]

Bottom Line

From what I’ve listed above, the techniques are quite straight forward. The tricky part is implementing these strategies into our lives. After all, these are habits and some can take time to build.

Memory loss stems from our neglect of these habits or by other factors. To accept memory loss is to accept other memory loss problems into our lives like Alzheimer’s, or dementia.

But one piece of good news I’ll leave off with is that you don’t need to implement all of these. Adding even one or two of these techniques will change your life!

More to Boost Your Memory

Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on February 11, 2020

25 Memory Exercises That Actually Help You Remember More

25 Memory Exercises That Actually Help You Remember More

The brain is often thought of as similar to a computer. When the brain is powerful and working properly, it will enable you to perform all your cognitive and bodily functions smoothly and efficiently, and the reverse is also true.

Unfortunately, our brainpower tends to decline as we grow older. And as you might have seen in media reports, loss of memory and dementia is a growing concern for people today. Brain wellness is now right up there with heart health.

If you are finding yourself forgetting things more than usual, it can be a little alarming. But you need to know you are not helpless when it comes to keeping your brain healthy and powerful. There are simple brain exercises for memory improvement you can do to boost your brainpower so you remember more.

According to a 2015 study published in the journal Neurology, older adults who engage in regular physical exercise like jogging and cycling are less likely to be affected by age-related brain illnesses that can limit memory and mobility.[1] And those people who perform regular, targeted brain exercises keep their brains sharp and healthy, which reduces cognitive decline and memory impairment.

When you exercise your brain, you will also improve your creative abilities, which will give you a competitive advantage in your job.

Moreover, brain exercises strengthen your ability to think on your feet and give witty responses, meaning you won’t be lost for words at critical moments in conversations.

Goodbye to awkward silences!

While you can enroll in a number of online brain training programs, experts generally recommend sticking to brain training exercises that involve real-world activities.

According to David Eagleman, PhD, neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, exercises to strengthen brain function should offer novelty and challenge:

“Almost any silly suggestion can work.”

Here’re 25 simple real-world exercises you can do starting today to sharpen your brain and improve memory.

1. Drive a New Route Home

As simple as this exercise may sound, taking a different route home stimulates the brain. You are forced to involve more senses to find your way around, which keeps your brain alert instead of mindlessly driving home or to work on familiar routes.

Avoiding ruts and boredom is critical to keeping your brain sharp, says Eagleman.

2. Repeat It out Loud

In order to remember anything you have just read, heard or done, repeat it out loud.

For example, repeat out loud the name of someone new you’ve just met and you will nail the name down in your mind.

3. Listen While You Read

A study conducted at the University of Puerto Rico found that out of 137 Spanish-speaking students quizzed about an English book they were given to read, those students who read the book while simultaneously listening to an English audio version outscored the group that only read on eight different quizzes about the book.[2]

Listen to audio of something while simultaneously reading or watching it. You’ll engage more of your senses and help your mind remember more.

4. Play Crossword Puzzles

Simple crossword puzzles and other word games like scrabble, where you rearrange letters and make as many words as you can, stimulate the brain and improve memory.

5. Play Chess

Don’t forget to play other brain-boosting, strategy games like chess and checkers. Logic-based numbers games like Sudoku can also keep your brain fit.

6. Learn a Musical Instrument

Start playing a musical instrument. Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is beneficial for the aging mind.[3]

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7. Play a New Sport

Start playing a new sport that utilizes both mind and body, such as tennis, golf, or even yoga. Athletic exercise like these will not only improve your physical fitness, but also your mental fitness.

8. Learn a Foreign Language

Enroll in a foreign language course online or at your local education center. It will help to sharpen and rejuvenate your brain.

9. Draw a Map from Memory

When you return home from visiting a new place, draw a map of the area from memory. Expand this brain exercise by drawing maps of your commute, neighborhood and other areas to enhance memory.

10. Cook a New Cuisine

Take a cooking class. Learn how to cook new cuisines. Cooking stimulates different parts of the brain and different senses including smell, sight, and taste.

11. Do Chores with Eyes Closed

Try washing the dishes, sorting laundry or taking a shower with your eyes closed. This will force your brain to use other neural pathways to get the task done.

Obviously, don’t do anything with your eyes closed that would endanger others or yourself.

12. Eat a Meal Using Chopsticks

Chopsticks will force your brain to pay attention and give your brain a good workout, especially if you have never used them before to eat.

13. Switch Hands When Doing Stuff

If you are right-handed, try using your left hand to do things like brushing your teeth and eating.

For example, if you are already good at using chopsticks to eat, use your non-dominant hand instead to challenge your fine-motor skills that are controlled by the nervous system consisting of the brain.

14. Connect with New People

Every time you connect with other people, you expose yourself to new ideas and other ways of thinking and doing things. This stimulates your mind and widens your world view and thinking process.

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So, be open to traveling more and attending shows and events to meet and interact with new people. It’ll keep your mind in tip-top shape.

15. Savor Different Flavors in Meals

Challenge your taste buds by deliberately savoring your meals. Try to identify the individual ingredients in food, including subtle spices and herbs for a tasteful burst of mental stimulation.

16. Do Math in Your Head

Don’t always rush to use a pen and paper, or a calculator to figure out math problems. Try to do them in your head. Make things a little bit more interesting by working out math problems in your head while also walking.

17. Practice Meditation

Training your mind to be quiet is not always easy, but it can be done through meditation.

Some of the benefits of practicing meditation include stress reduction, improved learning ability, increased focus and attention, enhanced memory and mood, and also reversal of brain atrophy.

18. Memorize Phone Numbers

By memorizing people’s names and phone numbers, you strengthen connections between your brain cells, which can make a big difference for your memory.

Divide 10-digit numbers into sections, such as 801 665 9378 to make it easier remember. It is arguably easier to remember 801 665 9378 than 8016659378.

19. Take up a Craft Hobby

Craft hobbies like knitting, drawing and painting are now getting more attention for their brain-boosting powers.[4]

Take up any craft hobby of your choice to strengthen your fine-motor skills and boost your brainpower.

20. Tell Stories

Telling stories stimulates the brain through recalling and recounting important details. It also helps you remember events and associate emotion with memories.

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Storytelling is so good for memory it is used to improve the lives of people with in Alzheimer’s disease.[5]

21. Create New Acronyms

Come up with your very own clever acronyms whenever you need to memorize something in a hurry.

Creating original acronyms or mnemonic phrases, where you use the first letters of words within a phrase to form a name, can sharpen your brain and assist in remembering more.

22. Visualize What You Want to Remember

Let’s say you want to remember to buy an item you need from the supermarket. Picture the items on your shopping list balancing on parts of your body.

For example, imagine balancing an egg on your nose, a bottle of milk on your head or a package of cheese on your shoulder. It’s fan and you won’t forget that image.

23. Vary Aspects of Your Surroundings

Vary things like the music in the background, time of day and whether you sit or stand when doing something to increase recall.

The theory is that the brain associates words (or whatever you are doing) to the context or environment around you. The more contextual cues you provide your brain, the more it has to draw upon when trying to remember specific things.

24. Space out Your Learning Sessions

Cramming is not always the best way to learn or remember things. Instead, review the information you want to learn or remember (statistics, foreign vocabulary, historical dates, scientific definitions, and so on) periodically over time. By spacing out your study sessions throughout the day, you learn more. Learn more about the technique here: How to Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You’ve Learned

Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that he could learn a list of nonsense words if he repeated them 68 times in one day and seven more times before being tested the next day.

25. Sleep on It

Get enough shut eye each night. The brain needs six to eight hours of sleep, or at least two cycles of deep sleep each night to complete the necessary chemical changes needed to integrate new skills and information into long-term memory.

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Remember, your brain thrives on variety to keep those synapses firing. Exercising your brain with activities that are challenging, novel, and complex will help you to remember more and keep your brain fit.

More Brain Exercises

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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