Improve your memory with these simple but powerful tips and techniques. Based on the latest science, our in-depth guide is the way to build a better memory.
Whether you want to be a better student, maintain your competitive edge at work, or stay mentally sharp as you age, you will benefit from having a better memory.
Until fairly recently, it was believed that once your memory started to slip, there was little you could do to turn it around.
But it’s now known that this is not true.
Every day, your brain has the opportunity to grow new cells and form new neural connections … provided you give it what it needs.
The brain’s ability to change and grow, to get better throughout life is called neuroplasticity.
Simply put, the brain is constantly changing.
And all your daily habits influence — for either better or worse — how well your brain works, including your memory.
How to Get the Most From This Guide
In this guide, we’ve compiled the most effective ways to improve your memory by harnessing the power of the brain’s ability to change.
All 36 tips and techniques are based on time-tested results and the latest scientific evidence.
And we’ve included action items for each tip, so you know exactly which steps to take to start enhancing your memory today.
Improve Your Memory With a Brain-Healthy Diet
The human brain is the most complex organism known.
So, treat your brain like the powerful organ it is and give it the highest quality fuel.
Eating the right foods — and avoiding the wrong ones — should be a cornerstone of any long-term strategy for keeping your memory sound for life.
1. Follow a Proven “Memory Diet”
The Mediterranean diet is widely considered the healthiest diet of all.
People who eat this way rank high in health and longevity and have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease.
Following this eating plan has been shown to boost memory and attention and slow the rate of age-related cognitive decline.
Here’s a visual of the Mediterranean diet:
The MIND diet is a version of the Mediterranean diet designed specifically to preserve the mental faculties of seniors.
MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
In the MIND diet study, over 1,000 seniors were tracked for 8 years.
When study participants rigorously followed the MIND diet, they reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s by an impressive 53%.
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Researchers were surprised that participants who didn’t follow the diet strictly still experienced substantial protective benefits.
Even making modest dietary changes reduced their risk by 35%.
This graphic illustrates the principles of the MIND diet:
Additionally, following a very low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet (high in good fats and proteins) also shows promise for memory improvement.
But don’t let these seemingly contradictory diet concepts confuse or discourage you.
The thing to focus on is what all of these diets have in common, not their differences.
They all emphasize eating unprocessed foods, avoiding sugar and trans fats, and including plenty of healthy fats.
Start eating a Mediterranean-style or other “real food” diet.
You’ll find hundreds of delicious Mediterranean diet recipes at Oldways.com.
Oldways is a nonprofit organization that created the original Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in conjunction with the World Health Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health.
2. Emphasize Foods Known to Improve Memory
A good overall diet has the most positive effect on memory, but certain foods are notable for their outsized benefits.
It may seem like a stretch to claim that eating a particular food can improve your memory.
Yet these foods, when eaten consistently, can:
- strengthen memory by improving blood flow to the brain
- provide precursors for conversion into critical brain chemicals
- form the structural components of brain cells
- protect brain cells from aging and damage
Here’s a list of the top memory foods and their main brain-enhancing components:
- avocado — monounsaturated fats, tyrosine
- berries of all kinds — anthocyanins, resveratrol
- coconut oil — medium-chain triglycerides
- cold-water, fatty fish — omega-3 essential fatty acids
- dark chocolate — flavonols, caffeine
- eggs — choline, omega-3 essential fatty acids
- fermented foods — probiotics
- green leafy vegetables — vitamins C, K, and B complex, magnesium
- olive oil — monounsaturated fats, vitamins E and K
- sea vegetables — iodine, inositol, vitamin B12
- turmeric — curcumin, turmerone
- walnuts — omega-3 essential fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, polyphenols
Add these foods to your grocery shopping list and make them a regular part of your diet.
Learn more about the memory-boosting power of these foods, including lots of practical tips on buying, food prep, and much more, in our brain foods guide directly below.
3. Avoid Unhealthy Trans Fats
Trans fats are unhealthy, adulterated fats found in processed foods.
They contribute to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and other diseases.
Trans fats harm the brain in several ways.
They cause inflammation, promote free radical damage, compromise cell membrane integrity, and inhibit the production of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Trans fats are such a health hazard that much of the world has enacted laws to phase them out of the food supply.
Clear your kitchen of any foods that list trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats on the label.
Next, stop using processed vegetable oils like soy and canola oil.
These oils can contain up to 4.2% trans fats that are created during processing.
Don’t be fooled when you see “0 g trans fats” on product labels containing these oils.
The FDA allows processed food manufacturers to round down their figures, so that anything less than 0.5 grams per serving can be listed as 0 grams.
4. Avoid Sugar
White sugar is one of the worst food-like substances for the brain and memory, yet the average American consumes 57 pounds of it every year.
Poor memory formation, learning disorders, and depression are linked to eating refined sugar.
Chronically high blood sugar levels lead to decreased activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain most strongly associated with memory.
Sugar consumption negatively affects attention span, short-term memory, and mood stability.
Sugar is highly suspected as a root cause of Alzheimer’s disease which many experts now consider a form of diabetes of the brain.
Read the labels of all the foods and drinks you eat and eliminate those with the most added sugar.
This means looking beyond the word “sugar.”
The most ubiquitous sugar alternative is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
But there are over 60 alternative names for added sugar including healthy-sounding names like cane sugar, raw sugar, honey, agave nectar, and fruit juice concentrate.
You’ll find a comprehensive list of alternative names for sugar at Sugar Science, a University of California website.
5. Avoid Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a popular but controversial flavor enhancer added to many processed foods.
In the body, MSG breaks down into two known neurotoxins — formaldehyde and glutamate.
Glutamate is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter but, in excess, it becomes a potent excitotoxin that overstimulates brain cells, sometimes to the point of death.
If you’ve ever felt dizzy, flushed, mentally fuzzy, or gotten a headache after eating at a restaurant, you may have experienced MSG symptom complex.
The US National Library of Medicine has a list of MSG symptoms, ranging from mild to serious, even life-threatening.
Reported side effects of MSG include asthma, headache, flushing, sweating, psychiatric disorders, convulsions, migraines, nausea, fuzzy thinking, diarrhea, heart palpitations, mood swings, burning or tingling, muscle weakness, numbness, chest pain, and back pain.
MSG is extremely common in processed and fast foods including canned soups, snack foods, ramen noodles, and refined soy products.
Check out this list of foods containing MSG and minimize the major sources in your diet.
If you know that you react badly to MSG, accidental consumption is always a concern, but fortunately, there are supplements that can help.
6. Keep Your Brain Hydrated
It isn’t just what you eat that affects your memory, it’s also what and how much you drink.
Water might just be the best brain tonic.
To illustrate how easily mild dehydration can happen, you can lose 10% of your body’s water after a strenuous physical workout.
Mild dehydration causes measurable brain shrinkage with adverse effects on concentration, alertness, and short-term memory.
It’s estimated that 75% of the US population does not drink adequate fluids.
The effects of dehydration on the brain are so pronounced that they mimic the symptoms of dementia.
How much do you need to drink?
The “8 glasses per day” rule is an over-simplification.
A better rule of thumb is to divide your weight in pounds by two and drink that many ounces of water per day.
Better yet, check out this online hydration calculator created by Camelbak.com.
It will help you determine the amount of water you need when you exercise by taking into account such variables as your age, weight, gender, activity level, temperature, and even cloud cover.
Determine how much water you need, then start drinking!
Get a BPA-free, leakproof water bottle and never leave home without it.
If staying well-hydrated does not come naturally to you, download an app like Waterlogged or Daily Water to remind you to drink enough.
7. Drink Caffeine Strategically
Caffeine is humanity’s favorite mind-altering drug.
People around the world rely on caffeinated beverages to upgrade their memory, mood, focus, and productivity.
And while some caffeine might be helpful, too much can leave you irritable, sleepless, anxious, and even addicted.
Caffeine now meets the criteria for an addictive substance: dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal.
The American Psychiatric Association currently acknowledges four caffeine-related psychiatric disorders.
So, respectfully consume caffeine in moderation from natural sources like coffee, various teas, and yerba mate.
These traditional brews are loaded with antioxidants, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds that nourish and protect the brain and increase mental vitality.
Drink caffeine in moderation.
Get it from natural sources rather than from sodas and energy drinks which are laden with sugar, chemicals, and synthetic caffeine created in foreign laboratories.
8. Drink Alcohol Moderately
Red wine has a reputation for being the healthiest alcoholic beverage.
It’s a top source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant isolated and sold as a memory supplement that protects against age-related mental decline.
Drinking moderately throughout adulthood protects your memory later in life and significantly decreases your risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
It seems that what you drink isn’t as important as how much you drink.
Here in the US, moderate drinking means one drink daily for women and two for men.
Here’s a visual of what constitutes one drink.
To support your memory now and protect it later in life, enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation.
You’ll find a comprehensive list of drinking guidelines by country at the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking.
Enhance Your Memory With the Right Supplements
Eating a healthy diet isn’t always enough to get all the nutrients you need to maximize mental performance and memory.
Processed foods, depleted soils, stress, pollution, and medications are just some of the many thieves that rob the brain of nutrients.
Here are some supplements that can help, including two that provide an immediate memory boost that you can notice within minutes.
9. Take an Omega-3 Supplement
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that’s a major building block of the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory, language, creativity, emotion, and personality.
It’s widely agreed that taking an essential fatty acid supplement, specifically DHA, is one of the best things you can do to support brain health and cognitive function.
DHA facilitates neurotransmitter activity and increases the number of neurotransmitter receptors.
Having a low DHA level results in a structurally smaller brain.
Fish oil, a popular source of DHA, has been shown to improve working memory in young adults by 23%.
Don’t be among the 80% of the population estimated to be deficient in DHA.
Take supplemental omega-3s in the form of a DHA, fish oil, or krill oil supplement.
10. Ensure Nutritional Balance With a Multivitamin Supplement
Virtually all vitamins are needed in adequate amounts for an optimally functioning brain.
Proper amounts of vitamins C, D, E, K, and B complex in the diet have all been linked to memory enhancement.
The same goes for minerals like magnesium, iron, iodine, and zinc.
But there is no need to take a lot of pills.
Most people can fill in the nutritional gaps in their diet with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement.
If you don’t already do so, start taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement.
If you already take a multi, make sure that the one you are taking is high quality.
Contrary to what many people believe, the FDA does not “approve” supplements or test them for purity or effectiveness.
To make sure you are getting what you’ve paid for (and nothing else), make sure that your supplement meets the criteria in our 10-point supplement evaluation checklist.
11. Try a Memory Supplement
Memory supplements have become a huge business and too many companies are trying to cash in.
Several popular brain supplements have come under fire from the FDA or have had class action suits filed against them for making false claims, not reporting side effects, or failing to comply with Current Good Manufacturing Practices.
And not all supplements for the brain contain ingredients that do anything for your memory.
When choosing a memory supplement, look for one that contains therapeutic dosages of one or more of these proven memory enhancers:
Do your homework before taking any memory supplement.
Not all of the above supplements are a good fit for everyone.
Determine which ones best match your unique set of symptoms here: 20 Memory Supplements That Really Work (in-depth guide).
And keep in mind that no memory supplement will take the place of the core nutrients — vitamins, minerals, and essential fats — that the brain needs.
So, we recommend trying a memory supplement after you’ve taken care of all your core nutritional needs.
12. Use Essential Oils for an Instant Memory Boost
Essential oils are naturally occurring volatile compounds extracted and concentrated from plants.
They are rarely taken internally, but instead are inhaled or applied topically.
A few are renowned for their ability to give you an instant memory boost.
Ancient Greek scholars wore wreaths of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) to sharpen their minds.
Science has confirmed that sniffing rosemary essential oil can significantly improve memory, processing speed, accuracy, alertness, and focus on the spot!
Peppermint is another essential oil that can make you more alert and attentive.
This mint’s volatile oils are so intense that you can even get an instant memory surge from peppermint tea, candy, or gum.
Sniff undiluted rosemary essential oil, inhale with a diffuser, or apply diluted oil to your wrists or temples.
Chew peppermint gum or mints, drink peppermint tea, or sniff peppermint essential oil for an immediate memory boost.
Boost Your Memory With Mental Workouts
Just as the body benefits from physical exercise, the brain benefits from mental “workouts” as well.
Some of the reported benefits of brain exercise include better memory and mood, faster thinking, better vision and hearing, quicker reaction time, and feelings of increased focus, motivation, and productivity.
Here are just some of the many proven ways you can develop your memory by stimulating and challenging your brain.
13. Turn Off the GPS
On a routine commute, the brain is on autopilot and gets very little stimulation.
But taking an unfamiliar route activates the cortex and hippocampus.
The use of GPS technology is making us mentally lazy and destroying vital mental skills that have taken mankind thousands of years to develop.
Don’t let this happen to you.
London cab drivers must memorize a map of London, a feat known as “The Knowledge.”
Astoundingly, this includes 320 main routes, 25,000 streets, and the location of 20,000 landmarks.
As a result, the hippocampus of a London cabby is significantly larger than average.
Put away your GPS devices to exercise your mental navigation skills.
Using your memory instead of relying on maps or GPS will help increase your memory capacity too.
14. Get Familiar With a New Language
Few people will learn a new language for the primary purpose of enhancing their memory.
But fortunately, there’s no need to be that ambitious.
Even a minimal knowledge of a second language can improve your mental abilities.
If you are already bilingual, you have a greater advantage since speaking a second language is one of the most effective ways to keep your mind sharp and protect your memory.
Adults who speak more than one language are likely to have a better working memory and memorization skills.
But you don’t have to master a new language to get those benefits.
It’s estimated that the 100 most commonly used words of any language comprise 50% of the words used in day-to-day conversation and that the top 1,000 words comprise 89% of everyday writing.
Google “learn 100 core words” and you’ll find a series of free online lessons that teach 100 core words in numerous languages.
Set a goal of learning 3 words per day and you’ll have those 100 core words mastered in three months.
At this rate, you’ll be reading reasonably proficiently in less than a year.
15. Try Out a Brain Training Program
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the multibillion dollar brain fitness industry.
The experts are still on the fence as to whether brain training makes you better only at playing brain games or whether the benefits translate to an overall improvement in mental function.
Most brain training programs contain games specifically for improving memory, but the only way to know for sure if it will help you is to give it a try.
Brain Training Program
If you already enjoy playing games online, then trying a brain training program is a no-brainer.
Sign up for a program that offers games for improving memory and see how it works for you.
Most programs offer a trial period so that you can try them for free.
16. Do Neurobics
Brain exercises don’t have to be high-tech to be effective.
Neurobiologist Lawrence C. Katz, PhD was well ahead of his time when he coined the term neurobics in his book Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness.
This book is the granddaddy of brain exercise, written in 1998 when few people were talking about brain fitness.
To qualify as neurobic, an activity must be new, fun, and challenging, and should engage as many senses as possible.
Try some neurobics.
You can follow Dr. Katz’s prescribed exercises or create your own.
Examples include doing tasks with your non-dominant hand, wearing your watch upside down, folding laundry with your eyes closed, and eating with chopsticks.
One of Katz’s favorite neurobic activities is engaging all your senses by shopping at a farmer’s market.
With this neurobic activity, you’ll have the added benefit of getting the freshest brain foods.
17. Fill Your Life With Music
Music is one of the few activities that engages both sides of the brain simultaneously.
Listening to music, particularly instrumental music, positively impacts memory, focus, attention, language skills, and physical coordination.
Playing an instrument is even better for mental development than just listening.
Kids who learn to play an instrument develop better memories and higher IQs than those with no musical training.
Seniors with dementia are almost miraculously brought back to life when they listen to their favorite music.
Listen, play, sing, and dance to music — it’s all good for your brain.
If you want to listen to music to specifically enhance learning or concentration, check out the free music streaming service Spotify.
They have an entire category of playlists called “Focus” that have been curated to help you do just that.
Or sign up for a free trial of Focus@Will which offers scientifically engineered music channels for enhancing focus based on your personality type.
According to Focus@Will’s studies, the average person increases their focus by 75%, while some improve by up to 400%.
The average person has a non-stop flow of up to 70,000 thoughts per day.
Meditation might not sound like mental “exercise,” but quieting your perpetual thinking machine is hard work.
Researchers at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging have called meditation “pushups for the brain.”
Over 1,000 published studies have demonstrated the health benefits of meditation.
Proven cognitive and mental health benefits of meditation include:
- memory improvement
- stress reduction
- mood enhancement
- increased focus and attention
- better performance at work
- growth of the hippocampus
Start practicing meditation.
There’s evidence that even as little as two minutes per day is beneficial.
Check out our beginner’s guide to meditation.
Or try listening to a binaural beats meditation.
Binaural beats sound technology provides a shortcut to get the benefits of meditation more quickly and easily.
19. Take Up a Hobby
You’d expect mentally intensive hobbies like playing chess or computer coding to give your brain an excellent workout.
But craft hobbies such as sewing and woodworking are great brain exercises too.
One study found that any “purposeful activity,” such as knitting, quilting, drawing, photography, gardening, and do-it-yourself home repair, has the power to focus the brain in a manner similar to meditation.
Crafting hobbies of all kinds ward off depression, protect the brain against aging, and increase dopamine, the brain chemical that keeps you motivated.
They can improve memory now and future-proof your memory against age-related decline.
Take up a hobby.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, think back to what you enjoyed when you were a kid.
If you still need a nudge, browse through this list of hobby ideas.
20. Embrace Your Inner Artist
Creating art 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 by up to 70%.
Engage in a creative pastime just for fun. The results don’t need to be fine art.
If you need ideas to get started, check out this list of 100 Art Therapy Exercises.
If you feel that you aren’t artistic, no worries!
Even doodling can help you stay focused, learn new concepts, and retain information.
Doodling while listening to a lecture can increase memory recall by an impressive 30%.
21. Never Stop Learning
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
And, in a very real sense, this is true for your brain.
When you stop learning, some parts of the brain start to atrophy, while unused neural connections wither away.
Fortunately, we live in the best time in history to keep up with lifelong learning.
The internet has put much of our knowledge at our fingertips — much of it for free.
Build a Strong Memory With Physical Exercise
Physical exercise helps keep both the body and brain fit.
In fact, physical exercise could be the most important thing you do to keep your brain in shape, even more important than using it to think!
Just as regular exercise builds bigger muscles and a stronger heart, it also increases brain volume.
Exercise raises levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that stimulates the formation of new brain cells and neural connections.
Exercise specifically increases the number of cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.
The hippocampus gradually shrinks with age, but exercise stimulates its growth.
You may be pleased to know that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to build brain fitness.
The best types of exercise are those that just about everyone — no matter their level of physical fitness — can do.
22. Take a Walk
Since the time of ancient Greece, philosophers have made the connection between walking and better thinking.
Now, there’s scientific evidence to support this.
Walking not only clears the mind, it actually builds a bigger, sharper brain.
Walking increases oxygen, encourages the growth of new brain cells, offsets brain shrinkage, and promotes connectivity between brain cells.
Take one or two 10-minute walks daily.
Two hours of walking per week can measurably increase hippocampus volume.
Plus, you’ll be meeting the US Centers for Disease Control’s recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.
If you need a little motivation, consider getting a personal fitness tracker or app that measures your mileage or counts your steps.
23. Engage in Mind-Body Exercises
No-impact exercise practices like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong provide significant mind-body benefits.
Just one 20-minute session of Hatha yoga can have a significant, immediate impact on working memory and concentration.
The slow, controlled movements of tai chi and qi gong look easy, yet give both your brain and body a deceptively good workout.
These ancient exercises increase brain volume while improving memory and thinking.
The next time you’re feeling mentally foggy, do a few minutes of yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.
The top yoga poses for better concentration include the eagle pose, the prayer pose, and the warrior pose.
You’ll find instructions for these poses at Yoga Journal.
If you don’t currently practice yoga or you want to get the benefits of yoga while at work, try these desk yoga positions.
24. Exercise Outdoors in Nature
Exercising outdoors, even more so than indoor exercise, increases vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure, and self-esteem while lowering tension, depression, and fatigue.
And walking in natural surroundings is more beneficial for memory and mood than walking in an urban setting.
Memory performance and attention span improve by 20% after spending an hour interacting with nature.
Gardening is a great way to get your daily dose of “vitamin N.”
Daily gardening lowers the risk of dementia by an impressive 36%.
Spend some time each day in nature.
It doesn’t have to be wilderness.
Any little green corner of the world, such as a park or garden, will do.
If you can’t get outside, gazing out a window or even looking at pictures of nature can boost cognitive functions.
Surrounding yourself with houseplants is an easy way to improve your mental performance naturally.
Improve Your Memory With a Healthy Lifestyle
We’ve dealt with nutrition and exercise in our first 24 tips and techniques because they are so influential to the state of your memory and general brain health and fitness.
But there are some other lifestyle factors and habits that can dramatically boost your memory as well.
25. Get 8 Hours of Quality Sleep
More than half of all adults have at least occasional insomnia, but getting adequate sleep is not an indulgence.
It’s critical for your health and mental well-being.
Lack of quality sleep will impair memory, creativity, judgment, and attention.
Research done at UCLA found that skimping on just one night of sleep affects mental performance as much as being drunk.
Your ability to get to sleep doesn’t depend just on what you do the last few minutes before you go to bed.
Food choices, stress levels, caffeine consumption, light exposure, and other lifestyle factors play a role in how well you sleep.
If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, check out Mental Effects of Chronic Insomnia (+ how to stop it).
26. Breathe From Your Diaphragm
If you’ve ever watched a baby or a pet sleep, you’ll notice their stomach, rather than their chest, rises and falls as they breathe.
That is because they are breathing from their diaphragm — the way we are meant to breathe.
If you are like most adults, the stress of modern life has you shallowly breathing from your chest instead.
Improper breathing cuts down on the amount of oxygen the brain receives.
This is bad news for the brain since the brain uses a disproportionate amount of oxygen and brain cells can live only a few minutes without it.
Every day, you take tens of thousands of breaths.
You can maximize your oxygen intake with each breath by practicing diaphragmatic (belly) breathing.
To train yourself to breathe properly, it’s recommended that you practice this diaphragmatic breathing exercise 5-10 minutes, a few times per day.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
Sit comfortably or lie down.
Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
Slowly exhale through your mouth.
Then slowly inhale through your nose, concentrating on keeping your chest still while expanding your stomach.
27. Spend Quality Time With Friends
People with the most active social lives have the slowest rate of memory decline.
As little as ten minutes of conversation with a friend can result in measurable memory improvement.
And if you have a belly laugh while you’re together, even better, since laughter boosts memory by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.
Take steps to foster your relationships.
Texting and email do not provide the same cognitive value as having a conversation.
Talk on the phone, arrange a Zoom chat, or talk to your neighbors over the fence.
If appropriate, meet a friend for an alfresco meal or coffee, take a walk together, or engage in other activities you both enjoy.
28. Avoid Medications Known to Cause Memory Loss
Prescription medications are notorious for causing memory loss.
An entire group of medications — the anticholinergic drugs — cause memory loss by blocking acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of memory and learning.
And it’s not just prescription medications that can diminish memory.
A large study found that the use of over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines, pain relievers, sleep aids, and remedies for acid reflux significantly increase the risk of cognitive decline.
Check out Drugs That Cause Memory Loss (& what you can do) to see if you take any memory-destroying drugs.
There, you’ll also find expert tips on how to effectively talk to your doctor about switching medications, lowering your dose, or getting off them completely if possible.
If you are taking any OTC remedies, look for less harmful alternatives.
29. Quit Smoking
Every drag on a cigarette creates million of free radicals (unattached oxygen molecules) that degrade and kill brain cells.
Smoking more than two packs a day increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia over 150% and 170%, respectively.
If you’ve struggled to quit smoking, you might be low in the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Many people with a low dopamine level self-medicate with nicotine or other addictive substances and activities.
Low dopamine could be an underlying reason why your attempts at quitting have been unsuccessful.
Learn more about the signs of low dopamine and how to correct it.
30. Lose Weight
There is a strong correlation between obesity and memory loss.
Overweight people have less brain tissue and, upon examination, their brains appear years older than the brains of people with a healthy weight.
The more overweight you are, the more brain shrinkage and corresponding brain function loss you’re likely to experience.
You already know if you need to lose weight.
Perhaps understanding that extra weight is also affecting your memory and cognitive functions will help make it happen.
Fortuitously, the best diets for brain health (i.e., the Mediterranean and MIND diets) are also excellent for sustainable weight loss.
Never Forget With These Top Memory Techniques
Memory techniques, also called mnemonics, were first developed and used by ancient Greek teachers and philosophers.
They understood that having an excellent memory is a skill that can be taught and learned.
Back in those pre-book, pre-internet days, having a good memory was essential.
Some of the current world memory champions freely admit that they were not born with exceptional memories.
Instead, they mastered the best memory techniques.
Don’t be concerned that memory techniques will act as a crutch and make your memory worse.
This is an unfounded fear.
As US Memory Champion Joshua Foer explains:
“They (memory techniques) work because they make you work. They force a kind of depth of processing, a kind of mindfulness, that most of us don’t normally walk around exercising. But there actually are no shortcuts. This is how stuff is made memorable.”
31. Assign Abbreviations or Acronyms
From the names of government agencies to chatspeak, our modern world is bursting with abbreviations.
An acronym is a type of abbreviation that forms a word from the initial letters of other words.
They can form a word you’ll find in the dictionary, like radar (radio detecting and ranging).
Sometimes they are an abbreviation that’s spoken as a word such as AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) or NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
If you grew up in the US, you may have learned the acronym SHOME (“show me”) to remember the names of the Great Lakes.
Create an acronym anytime you need to remember a short list.
If you need to remember to buy milk, apples, carrots, and eggs at the grocery store, just remember “MACE.”
32. Use Acrostics
An acrostic is a sequence of letters to help you remember a set of facts in a particular order.
A popular acrostic is this one for remembering the order of the planets: “Mary’s Violet Eyes Made John Stay Up Nights Pining.”
“Pining” is optional, depending on whether Pluto is considered a planet when you read this.
Use acrostics when you need to remember something in a particular order.
If you’ve ever played a musical instrument, you may have learned that “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” to remember the notes that fall on the lines of the treble clef.
If there isn’t a well-known acrostic for what you want to remember, make up one of your own.
I can never remember how to spell “rhythm” so I use this acrostic to remember: Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move.
33. Use Chunking
It’s generally accepted that the average person’s short-term memory can hold only about four arbitrary pieces of information.
The act of chunking breaks pieces of information into smaller, more memorable bits.
That’s why phone numbers, social security numbers, and zip codes are broken into small groups of numbers.
For example, it’s harder to remember 8034273298 than it is 803-427-3298.
Use chunking to remember phone numbers, social security numbers, passwords, and other important numbers that you need to memorize.
Chunking can also be used to create small subgroups of items that are easier to recall.
If you need to pick up 10 items from the grocery store, it’s easier to remember that you need 4 items from frozen foods, 3 from produce, and 3 from the snack aisle than a list of 10 seemingly unrelated items.
34. Use the Mind Palace
The mind palace memory technique, also called memory palace or method of loci, calls upon the brain’s power of visualization.
If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, you’ll recall that Holmes goes into his “brain attic” to reconstruct events.
Let’s start with a very basic example of using your own home as the location to remember a grocery list.
In your mind’s eye, place the items you want to remember throughout your house, such as apples on the coffee table, carrots on the bed, and lettuce on your desk.
Later, when you want to recall the items as you shop, visualize walking through your house.
You should be able to “see” the items on your shopping list.
Practice using the mind palace the next time you have to pick up a few items at the grocery store.
If you want a demonstration of how effectively this works, watch US Memory Champion Joshua Foer’s TED Talk Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do.
He guides you through a mind palace exercise so painlessly, you won’t even realize you are doing it.
I think you’ll be impressed at how easily you can memorize a list of items.
35. Use Reminders
There are several kinds of reminders that can make your life go more smoothly.
Checklists are used by people in a variety of occupations such as surgeons, pilots, and emergency workers.
If people in these high-responsibility, high-stress occupations rely on checklists, maybe you should too.
Compared to taking notes electronically, manually writing them down increases the likelihood that you’ll remember the notes you’ve taken.
Curiously, using red ink seems to work better than either blue or black.
Use Visual Cues
The old “string around the finger” memory tip cliché has some merit.
Put any item out of its normal position as a cue to remind you that there’s something you need to remember.
This works particularly well when trying to create a new habit.
Leaving your athletic shoes by the door is an excellent way to ensure that you’ll remember to take your daily walk.
Create a Mind Map
Mind mapping is a non-linear way to take notes that can help you learn and remember better than conventional note-taking.
Mind mapping is sometimes described as a tree, with the main ideas represented as branches and topics of lesser importance represented as twigs.
A mind map can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be.
You can create them by hand or with software.
Below is a fun, colorful mind map that illustrates the process of “how to mind map.”
Make a checklist for any tasks you do regularly at work or home.
Keep a small notepad or sticky notes in your desk, purse, nightstand, car, or anywhere you might have a flash of inspiration.
If you’d like to give mind mapping a try, download the free version of the mind mapping tool Mindomo.
Even if you are new to mind mapping, you’ll find it easy and intuitive to use.
36. Pay Attention
Paying attention may be the most powerful, but overlooked, way to improve your memory.
Why? Because you can’t remember what you never process in the first place.
Yet it’s rare these days for anyone to give a task or person their undivided attention.
You’ll have a much easier time paying attention if you avoid distractions.
Two significant kinds of distractions are clutter and multitasking.
Clutter affects the brain’s ability to concentrate and process information.
Multitasking interrupts one task to focus on another.
This disrupts short-term memory, the capacity for retaining pieces of information for short periods of time.
If either clutter or multitasking is a problem for you, we’ve got articles on our site that can help.
Read Remove Clutter to Reduce Stress (+ 5-Step Decluttering System) for a simple decluttering plan and other tips to get organized.
Learn two simple but effective antidotes to multitasking in 7 Ways Multitasking Hurts Brain Health and Performance.
How to Improve Your Memory: Take the Next Step
Memory is a skill you can learn and continue to improve throughout life.
The best strategy for lasting memory improvement is to take a two-pronged approach.
First, adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle — the foundation of a fit and resilient brain and a good memory.
Eat brain-healthy foods, make sleep a priority, and engage in both physical and mental workouts.
Take supplements that contain ingredients proven to enhance memory.
Second, utilize the same time-honored memory techniques used by people with exceptional memories.
These techniques work because they make you use your brain in new and productive ways.
Recommended: Upgrading brain health is key to making your brain work better.
Mind Lab Pro is the brain supplement we recommend because, by boosting your brain health, it can help you:
- Improve your mental clarity and focus.
- Boost your memory and your ability to learn.
- Increase your capacity to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions.