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3 Ways to Improve Memory

3 Ways to Improve Memory

The human brain is one of the most mysterious and powerful tools in the modern world. This magical organ interprets reality through synapses and neurons, forming subjective thoughts, qualities, and memories, which form our identities. Using up to twenty percent of the energy we consume, our brain is always working and always changing. As we grow, the connections between regions of the brain reinforce each other, fortifying our memory, until a certain age at which, either naturally, through “disuse,” or through memory loss diseases such as Alzheimer’s, we begin to lose control of our memories. But we are not necessarily doomed to forget our brief passage through this life before our brain finally shuts down: here are three ways you can enhance your memory through lifestyle changes.

1. Self-Awareness

Understanding how your brain makes memories is crucial to improving memory function. As you experience the world, the sensory information received is encoded through your short-term memory—visually, acoustically, and semantically—and stored in various regions of your brain with your working memory. Through the long-term process of recollection, your brain reconstructs the memory from storage, meaning that the more times you access a memory, the more likely it is to change (the opposite is true of “commonplace” memories which you rarely revisit, such as this morning’s shower, yesterday’s commute, etc.).

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The act of recollecting is a helpful exercise in improving memory itself. What you notice in certain memories upon recalling them also affects their ability to be recalled. Becoming aware of what draws your attention to certain memories and choosing to focus on different points of view can force your brain to make new associations, thus strengthening your neural network and placing the memory in a context. Keeping a journal is possibly the best way to improve self-awareness, but literal self-awareness with mirrors, cameras, microphones, or audiences also improve the accuracy of memory.

Our memories fade with old age because our brain becomes less effective at encoding and retrieval as we discontinue learning. Learning and socialization arouse various parts of the brain—language, perception, problem-solving, motor coordination—all at once, and are undoubtedly the cornerstones of a bright, sharp, longitudinal memory.

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2. Stress Reduction

Stress has a significant detrimental effect on memory formation. If any strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during this event produce strong connections with each other. When the event is recalled, the neurons will more easily and speedily make the same connections (which can be disastrous for those suffering from PTSD or drug addiction withdrawal). These memories also tend to be warped or focused on extreme details rather than the greater context of the scene—another way self-awareness can promote healthy memories.

Get plenty of sleep! Neuroimaging studies have shown activation patterns in the sleeping brain which mirror those recorded during the learning of tasks from the previous day, suggesting that new memories may be solidified through such rehearsal. Coupled with a nightly recollection of the day prior, or even a dream journal, sleep can be a very powerful tool for managing memories.

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Meditation, a form of mental training to focus attention, also seems to increase the control over brain resource distribution, improving both attention and discipline. The changes are potentially long-lasting, as meditation may have the ability to strengthen neuronal circuits as selective attentional processes improve.

Playing music also improves various aspects of memory through abstract connections in the brain between acoustic, semantic, and language-processing regions. Research shows that children who participated in one year of instrumental musical training showed improved verbal memory, whereas no such improvement was shown in children who discontinued musical training.

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3. Diet and Exercise

Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive performance on encoding and retrieval of information, and has been found to regulate hippocampal neurogenesis, which promotes the survival of newborn neurons and helps form new memories. Physiological activity also provides the brain increased blood-flow and oxygen levels, which, along with the right diet, keep the brain healthy.

There are many “brain foods,” but only a certain group of fruits and vegetables provide direct benefits to the facilitation and maintenance of memory processes—flavonoids. Flavonoids are photochemicals found in plant-based foods and valued for their antioxidant properties,  and are found in onions, leeks, broccoli, parsley, celery, soybeans, citrus fruits, berry fruits, tomatoes, green teas, red wines, and cocoa. Glucose also plays an important role in improving memory, as it can pass from blood to the brain, providing energy and boosting neural metabolism.

Excess intake levels of fat and calories are harmful to memory function. Saturated fats and cholesterol are especially high-risk foods for the onset of Alzheimer’s, not to mention the myriad other health risks associated with these food groups.

Featured photo credit:  Businessman with confusing tangle of thoughts via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

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    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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