Improve your memory with simple, powerful lifestyle changes. Evidence-based, these tips will help you increase your memory now and avoid memory loss later.
Until fairly recently, it was believed that you were born with a set number of brain cells and when they died, that was it.
And once your brain and your memory were on the slippery slope downhill, things could only get worse.
But it’s now known that this is not true.
Every day your brain has the opportunity to grow new brain cells and form new neural connections … provided you give it what it needs.
Simply put, your brain is constantly changing.
And all of your daily habits are either working for or working against the state of your brain and your memory.
We’ve put together 50 of the most effective and easy ways to improve memory that harness the power of your brain’s ability to change.
Use them to improve your memory now, overcome any memory loss you may have, and keep your mind sharp in the future.
How to Improve Your Memory with Nutrition
Here are our favorite foods, drinks, and nutritional supplements that provide your brain with the nutrition it needs to operate quickly and clearly, as it’s meant to.
You’ll notice that these are foods you can easily find — not the latest exotic berry from the Amazon.
And since they are delicious, adding them to your diet is no hardship!
Berries of all kinds, especially blueberries, are widely considered to be the #1 brain food.
Berries contain compounds called anthocyanins that have been linked to improved memory and a host of other cognitive skills such as learning, reasoning skills, decision making, verbal comprehension, and numerical ability. (2)
Rosemary has been associated with memory improvement ever since William Shakespeare wrote “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” about this fragrant herb.
It’s mainly the curcumin found in turmeric that makes this spice “gold” for your brain.
This potent antioxidant readily crosses the blood-brain barrier. (7)
Nuts of all kinds are rich in brain-essential omega-3 fatty acids, B complex vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Weirdly, a walnut happens to look a lot like a little brain.
Chocolate contains flavonoids that when combined with the stimulants caffeine and theobromine create the same feeling as being in love.
They also contribute to the improved memory, focus, and attention that chocolate lovers experience. (10)
You can also drink your chocolate.
Seniors get a memory boost that lasts hours after drinking hot cocoa. (11)
Milk binds with some of the beneficial compounds, so dark chocolate will be better for your brain. (12)
Avocados have been called “the most perfect food in the world.” (13)
This creamy fruit is loaded with fiber and vitamins, but where it really shines as a brain food is as a source of healthy fats.
Avocados boost production of the neurotransmitter dopamine which keeps you focused.
They even help ward off Alzheimer’s. (14)
7. Wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef
Wild-caught salmon is a top notch brain food mainly due to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, one of the most important nutrients for your brain. (15)
Grass-fed beef, grass-fed bison, pasture-raised pork, and free-range poultry and eggs are also good sources of brain-essential omega-3s. (16)
8. Coconut oil
Coconut oil was once vilified as a source of unhealthy fats but now has become a new health food darling that’s especially good for the brain.
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which uniquely feed the brain by bypassing glucose metabolism.
Use it in cooking wherever you normally use vegetable oils like canola.
You may have heard that coconut oil is being touted as a cure for Alzheimer’s.
That’s not as far fetched as you might think.
MCTs already appear in prescription-only food for Alzheimer’s patients.
A clinical trial is currently being run on coconut oil for Alzheimer’s patients. (17)
Water makes up 75% of the brain but most of us are chronically dehydrated. (18)
Even mild dehydration results in shrinkage of brain tissue and temporary loss of cognitive function. (19)
Forty-one studies on fluoride in our water concluded that it lowers IQ. (20)
If your water is fluoridated, get a filter that removes fluoride.
Coffee is the most popular brain boosting substance in the world (21).
The average American spends a shocking $1,092 a year on the stuff! (22)
Science is proving that many of us have been onto a good thing.
Coffee improves memory, mood, and overall brain function. (23)
Coffee may also keep your memory sharp for the long haul.
Coffee drinkers have a significantly reduced risk for Alzheimer’s. (24)
11. Green tea
Green tea may be even better for your brain than coffee!
It’s a good source of l-theanine, an amino acid that releases neurotransmitters that can improve memory recall, learning, and mood. (25)
L-theanine combined with caffeine has a synergistic effect that boosts brain function. (26).
It prevents the buildup of plaque in the brain, which makes it preventative against Alzheimer’s. (27)
Black tea and white tea also provide significant brain health benefits.
12. Yerba mate
Yerba mate is a traditional South American tea brewed from a member of the holly family.
Users report increased mental energy, clarity and focus, but without the caffeine jitters sometimes experienced with coffee.
One of the most famous brain hackers, bestselling author Tim Ferriss, calls this his favorite brain-boosting substance. (28)
13. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that’s a major building block of the brain.
But according to a Harvard study, 99% of us are deficient. (29)
It’s widely agreed that taking an essential fatty acid supplement, specifically DHA, is one of the best things you can do to improve memory and mood.
14. Vitamin D
Vitamin D can lift your mood, banish depression, improve memory, and increase problem-solving ability. (31)
Sun exposure is the best source, but few people who live in North America or much of Europe can realistically get the sun they need year round.
Anywhere from 40% to 90% of US adults and over 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient. (32)
Unless you live in a warm, sunny climate and spend a lot of time outside without sunscreen, you almost certainly need to supplement.
15. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is the most common vitamin deficiency in the US.
People who eat little or no meat are particularly at risk, since animal foods are the only dependable sources of B12. (33)
Seniors, who often have poor absorption, are at risk too.
An Oxford University study found that B12 taken along with folic acid and B6 prevents mental decline and dementia, and may even be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s by reducing levels of a toxic byproduct of metabolism called homocysteine. (34)
16. Vitamin C plus E
Vitamin C taken with vitamin E is a promising combination for memory improvement.
When taken together, they work synergistically to increase memory and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by roughly 60%. (35)
17. Memory supplements
Memory supplements have become a huge business.
Alarmingly, most memory supplements are developed by companies with little or no brain expertise.
We recommend trying one only after you’ve made these other changes to your diet and have met your brain’s basic nutritional needs.
Two of the best ingredients that have been shown to improve memory are acetyl-l-carnitine and phosphatidylserine.
Learn more in our discussion about memory supplements.
18. Multivitamin supplement
A multivitamin supplement fills in nutritional gaps and acts as nutritional insurance when you don’t eat as well as you should.
The Harvard School of Public Health advises all adults to take a multivitamin. (36)
Studies have shown that taking a multivitamin alone can improve your memory and overall brain function. (37)
19. Don’t drink diet soda
Ditch diet soda and other diet products that contain artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde and known excitotoxins that literally “excite” or stimulate brain cells to death.
There are currently 92 known side effects yet these products still remain on the shelves. (38)
Sucralose, long held to be safer than aspartame, causes a long list of common neurological side effects including headaches, migraines, dizziness, brain fog, anxiety, depression, and tinnitus. (39)
20. Don’t eat butter-flavored microwave popcorn
Skip butter flavoring on your microwave popcorn.
It contains the additive diacetyl which causes beta-amyloid clumping in the brain, a significant indicator of Alzheimer’s. (40)
21. Avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Like aspartame, MSG breaks down in the body into formaldehyde and glutamate, a known excitotoxin.
It can cause brain fog, migraines, mood swings, asthma, and digestive upset. (41)
A truly alarming thing about MSG is that it is in just about all processed foods, yet it’s not required to be listed on labels. (42)
This makes it very difficult to avoid.
Generally the saltier the food, the more MSG it will have, with worst offenders including canned soups, snack foods, refined soy products, and ramen noodles.
We’ve compiled a long list of foods containing MSG.
22. Avoid sugar
Sugar may be the most harmful substance for your brain yet the average American annually consumes 156 pounds of the stuff! (43)
Poor memory formation, learning disorders, and depression have been linked to eating refined sugar.
Chronically high blood sugar levels lead to decreased activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain most associated with memory.
Excessive glucose affects your attention span, your short-term memory, and your mood stability. (44)
Sugar is highly suspected of causing Alzheimer’s which many experts consider a third form of diabetes.
23. Stop low-fat diets
Low-fat diets have been a disaster for our brains.
They haven’t helped us lose weight and may even be responsible for the rise in cases of Alzheimer’s.
Your brain is largely made of fat, 60% by volume.
It has a higher cholesterol content than any other organ — about 25% of the body’s cholesterol is found in the brain.
Low cholesterol increases the risk of suicide, depression, and dementia.
The risk of dementia is reduced by 70% in those with high cholesterol. (45)
You read that right. We’ve had this all wrong.
High cholesterol reduces risk of dementia!
How to Improve Memory with Physical Exercise
Physical exercise doesn’t just keep our bodies fit, it keeps our brains fit, too.
It’s been said that exercise could be the most important thing you do to keep your brain in shape, even more important than thinking! (46)
Fortunately, brain-boosting exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous.
The best types of exercise that directly benefit your brain and can help to improve your memory are actually enjoyable.
24. Stand up for your brain
Our bodies are meant to move but most of us spend 12 hours per day or more sitting.
And all of this sitting is making us sick and sluggish, mentally and physically.
Dr. Joan Vernikos, a former NASA physician, discovered the best way to counteract the ill effects of constant sitting.
Surprisingly, the answer was not more exercise or walking.
In her book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, Dr. Vernikos maintains that the laughably easy solution is to stand up frequently throughout the day, at least 30 times.
25. Take a walk
Taking 10,000 steps per day is the gold standard fitness milestone, but most people take less than 3,000 steps a day.
Using an activity tracking device will help you know where you stand.
People who use one automatically increase their number of steps. (48)
Now, there are some really cool little fitness trackers which tell you the number of steps taken, distance walked, and calories burned.
26. Spend time in nature
Compared with indoor exercise, exercising outdoors increases vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure, and self-esteem while lowering tension, depression, and fatigue. (49)
Memory performance and attention spans improve by 20% after spending an hour interacting with nature. (50)
Gardening is one of the best overall exercises for your brain health.
Gardeners have a significantly lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners. (51)
Yoga is a practice of poses and breathing techniques designed to strengthen and balance your body and your mind.
Yoga’s proven brain benefits include stress reduction, better sleep, and improved concentration, mental balance, and mood. (52)
28. Tai chi and qi gong
Tai chi and qi gong involve a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner, accompanied by deep breathing.
Improve Your Memory with a Good Brain Workout
Just as your brain benefits from physical exercise, it also benefits from a brain “workout.”
But that doesn’t mean it has to be hard.
Any activity that’s new, fun, and challenging will fit the bill.
Some of the reported benefits of brain exercise include faster thinking, improved memory and mood, better vision and hearing, quicker reaction time, and feelings of increased focus, motivation and productivity. (55)
Here are just some of the many proven ways to improve memory with a mental workout.
29. Try neurobics
The term “neurobics” was coined by Dr. Lawrence Katz in his book Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness.
This book is the grandaddy of brain exercise, written back in 1998 when few people were talking about brain fitness.
Examples of neurobic exercises include using your non-dominant hand, wearing your watch upside down, folding laundry with your eyes closed, or eating with chopsticks.
30. Read a book
As an avid reader I was shocked to learn how few people read books. (56)
80% of US households have not purchased one book this year, and 42% of college graduates never crack open a book after graduating!
That’s a shame because reading is one of the best brain activities you can do.
It increases intelligence, improves memory and analytical thinking, and reduces stress. (57)
Reading also “future-proofs” your brain.
The more you read and write, the better off your mind will be as you get older. (58)
31. Take a vacation
Few real life experiences stretch your mind and stimulate your brain like travel.
But an estimated 459 million vacation days go unused in the US every year. (59)
Do your brain a favor and use your vacation days.
32. Learn a new language
If you are already bilingual you have a head start on the rest of us.
Because speaking or learning a second language is one of the most effective and practical ways to keep your mind sharp and protect your memory.
It can actually make you smarter, improving cognitive skills not related to language, and even buffer you from age-related mental decline. (60)
33. Turn off the GPS
The use of GPS technology is making us mentally lazy and destroying vital navigation skills that have taken mankind thousands of years to perfect. (61)
Get a map and learn how to read it.
Bill Gate is said to drive home a different way from work every day to stimulate his mind. And he seems to have done pretty well.
34. Embrace your inner artist
Creating art of any kind stimulates your imagination, makes you more observant, and improves your memory.
Art therapy can improve cognitive abilities even in people with serious brain conditions.
Remarkably, it can improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients up to 70%. (62)
35. Try a brain training program
Brain training programs are an exploding, billion dollar a year industry. (63)
But do they work as advertised?
If you think your brain could benefit from brain training, pick a program and give it a try.
In our review of popular brain training programs you’ll find links where you can sign up for free trial offers.
But our opinion is that most of us already spend WAY too much time sitting in front of screens.
36. Never stop learning
Albert Einstein famously said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
When you stop learning, some parts of your brain start to atrophy while unused neural connections wither away. (66)
Fortunately, we live in the greatest time in history to keep up with lifelong learning.
The internet has made much of man’s knowledge available at your fingertips, much of it for free.
37. Have a clear purpose in life
People who follow their life’s passion are happier, experience better mental health, and live longer.
Having a clearly defined purpose can even Alzheimer-proof you for the future. (67)
38. Surround yourself with music
Listening to music is said to be one of the few activities that requires using both sides of the brain simultaneously.
Listening to music, particularly instrumental music, can lead to improved memory, focus and attention, language skills, and physical coordination. (68)
Playing an instrument is even better for mental development than passively listening to music.
Kids who join a band or learn to play an instrument develop better memories and higher IQs than kids with no musical training. (69)
Some seniors with dementia have been brought back to life when listening to their favorite music. (70)
Listening, playing, singing, and dancing — it’s all good for your brain.
39. Take up a hobby
Craft hobbies such as knitting or woodworking are finally getting the respect they deserve.
They have the power to focus the brain similarly to meditation.
They act as a natural antidepressant and may protect against brain aging. (71)
Knitting, particularly, got a big thumbs-up recently.
In a large study of more than 3,500 knitters, over 80% of those with depression reported feeling happy when they knit. (72)
Another study found that any “purposeful activities” such as arts and crafts and doing home repairs specifically stimulate the neurological system and enhance mental well-being. (73)
Want to know how to improve memory while doing “nothing?”
That’s not a trick question.
The answer is to meditate.
Of all brain exercises you can do, this may be the most challenging … and the best.
Our brains are non-stop thinking machines so training your mind to be quiet is hard work!
One general likens meditation to “pushups for the brain.”
Proven brain benefits include stress reduction, memory improvement, mood enhancement, increased focus and attention, and reversal of brain atrophy.
There are plenty of ways for beginners to get started with meditation.
But getting proficient at meditation can be hard and take a long time.
Binaural beats meditation is a technology shortcut to get the benefits of meditation quickly and more easily.
Unexpected Ways to Improve Memory
There’s a lot more to a brain-healthy lifestyle than eating right and exercising.
Unexpected ways to improve your memory include things as seemingly unrelated as your stomach, your weight, and your mobile phone.
We think you’re in for a few surprises.
41. Limit prescription medications
Prescription medications are notorious for causing memory loss.
Check out our list of the top 20 Kinds of Drugs That Cause Memory Loss to see if yours is on the list.
Then talk to your doctor about switching medications or lowering your dose if possible.
42. Get 8 hours of sleep
Getting adequate sleep is no indulgence.
It’s critical for your health and mental well-being.
Lack of quality sleep will impair your memory, creativity, judgment, and attention.
A major culprit for the current epidemic of insomnia is using electronics in the evening.
They give off blue light that signals your brain that it’s daytime — time to be alert, not asleep. (82)
43. Limit exposure to electromagnetic fields
Whenever an electric current flows through a wire, an electromagnetic field (EMF) is created.
Living in an ocean of EMFs is harming our brains in unforeseen ways.
The World Health Organization puts mobile phone use in the same cancer-causing category as lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform. (88)
Mobile phones are particularly bad since they are held directly next to the brain.
If you use your phone frequently, consider getting a mobile phone case that filters EMFs.
44. If you smoke, quit
Every drag on a cigarette creates million of free radicals — unattached oxygen molecules that attack and kill brain cells in much the same way that oxygen causes metal to rust. (89)
Smoking can more than double your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. (90)
45. Lose weight
There is a strong link between obesity and memory loss.
Overweight people have less brain tissue and, upon examination, their brains appear years older compared to the brains of people of healthy weight.
The more overweight you are, the more brain shrinkage and corresponding brain function loss you’re likely to have. (91)
46. Spend time with friends
People with the most active social lives have the slowest rate of memory decline.
And if you have a good laugh, even better.
Laughter can increase memory by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. (94)
47. Balance your intestinal flora
Surprisingly, the health of your gut directly impacts your brain.
Proliferation of bad bacteria disrupts neurotransmitter balance, increases brain inflammation, and damages the hippocampus, the seat of your memory.
The “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin is largely created in your gut, not your brain. (95)
Replenish good bacteria with fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut.
If you know your digestion is a problem, take a good probiotic supplement.
48. Challenge negative thinking
The average person has around 50,000 thoughts per day and most of them are negative. (96)
Your thoughts are more than fleeting moments created by your brain.
In many ways, your thoughts create your brain.
One way thoughts change your brain is by stimulating the production of neurotransmitters which can alter the structure and function of your brain.
Learn more about this fascinating topic in Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Brain.
49. Get rid of clutter
Using MRIs, researchers have decisively concluded that clutter affects your brain’s ability to concentrate and process information.
Having an organized environment can make you more focused and productive.
You’ll remember information better.
It can even improve your mood. (97)
50. Stop multitasking
Trying to multitask affects your ability to learn, concentrate, and remember.
It even prematurely ages your brain cells by shortening protective end caps on your chromosomes called telomeres. (98)
True multitasking is impossible anyway.
Your brain quickly toggles back and forth between tasks, sacrificing the efficiency of doing one task for another. (99)
Give Your Brain Some TLC
When you first looked into how to improve your memory, you may have expected it to be hard.
Or maybe you believed that it wasn’t even possible.
But as you can see, most of the lifestyle adjustments proven to improve memory will also contribute to your quality of life.
Many changes are as simple and enjoyable as eating fine chocolate, reading a good book, and spending time with friends.
Give yourself permission to take time to smell the roses.
Besides developing a better memory, you’ll feel more focused, relaxed, and happy.
You’ll enjoy life more and maybe even live longer.
That’s a pretty good deal.