There isn’t one of us out there who’s never forgotten where they left their keys, wallet, or
phone. Experiencing patches of forgetfulness from time to time is completely normal –
especially when you’re stressed or tired — but it can be extremely frustrating when you’re
trying to recall important information and your memory just fails you.
In this online age, digital reminders are now commonplace. While this is obviously a helpful
way of tracking important dates and to-dos, offloading our memories onto our devices
means less information is being cemented into long-term memory than ever before, which
maybe having a detrimental effect on our cognitive capabilities — a kind of digital amnesia.
The human brain has an amazing ability to adapt and overcome, though (known as
neuroplasticity), and with the right kind of stimulation, it is possible for us to harness the
natural power of our brains to enhance memory at any age. So whether you’re trying to
preserve your memory as you grow older, or just sharpen your mind — here are 8 simple
methods you can use to boost your brainpower!
1. Eat Brain Food
No matter your eating habits, there are always plenty of ways you can incorporate brain-
friendly food into your diet (and cut out the unfriendly stuff!).
Diets high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates have been associated with greater
rates of cognitive decline, as well as an increased risk of dementia and symptoms of
preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Foods high in the glycaemic index are digested quickly and
spike blood sugar levels, which can contribute towards cognitive impairment.
To combat memory loss, try incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.
Chronic inflammation has been linked with greater rates of cognitive decline and
Alzheimer’s disease and foods such as fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants,
helping to reduce inflammation in the body and subsequently fend off memory loss and
reduce the risk of developing some nasty memory-related conditions. Many types of berry,
in particular, have been found to slow cognitive decline.
But don’t worry; you don’t have to completely cut out the tastier stuff! Your morning coffee
is most likely helping your short-term memory (though there are mixed results in younger
and older people, so don’t pick up a caffeine habit if you’re not already drinking it) and
flavonoids in cocoa found most commonly in chocolate, have been found to increase blood
flow in regions of the brain that have been associated with memory. You’re going to want to
eat dark chocolate of at least 72% cocoa for the best results, though — milk chocolate is just
going to be full of far too much harmful added sugar.
Take a gander at this helpful graphic, and make some alterations to the foods you consume
for the ultimate brain-booster diet!
2. Try Natural Supplements
If there are certain foods you just can’t stomach, there are a variety of natural supplements
you can take to help boost your brain.
Simply ensuring you’re receiving proper amounts of vitamins can provide you with powerful memory improvements. Low levels of vitamin D, in particular, have been associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, and studies into multivitamin supplementation have found significant memory-enhancing effects.
Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids that provide a number of health benefits — but it’s
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in particular that have been
linked to enhanced memory and slower rates of cognitive decline among the ageing
population. EPA is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and DHA acts as a facilitator of
neurotransmitter activity, stimulating the formation of new neurotransmitter receptors, a
process integral in the processing of memory. In fact, lower levels of DHA have been
associated with structurally smaller brains — and deficiencies have been observed in several
regions of the western world. Get ahead of the curve and take advantage of the 23%
improvement in memory functioning that can be provided by fish oil that no one else seems
to be paying attention to!
3. Exercise Regularly
Regardless of your age, some form of regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to
train both your body and your mind.
When we exercise, the secretion of neuroprotective proteins is increased, improving the
growth and development of our neurons and, subsequently, our memories. Just 15 minutes
of moderate exercise per day can be enough to provide you with some serious boosts to
your memory and cognitive ability. Aerobic exercise, in particular, has been found to greatly improve memory function — even in those suffering from Alzheimer’s — through increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein which both supports the health of your existing neurons whilst simultaneously stimulating the creation of new ones. Fear not if you’re less actively mobile than others, though, because aerobic exercise can be anything from a brisk walk to synchronised swimming or dancing.
If you’re more of a gym rat than a runner, then there’s still good news for you! There have
also been studies finding weight training can reduce or even reverse aspects of age-related
memory loss and memory performance can be enhanced with as little as a single bout of
resistance exercise. You don’t have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger to lift your way to a better
4. Train your Brain
Much like our bodies require training to remain in peak condition, our brains suffer if they
are not adequately exercised.
According to Dr. Marcel Danesi, playing ‘brain games’, such as a crossword or Sudoku,
“activates synapses in the whole brain, including the memory areas”. In fact, just 15 minutes of brain-training activity 5 days a week can be enough to bolster our working and short-term memories, along with our problem-solving skills. Fortunately, we no longer have to go and buy a newspaper to get a crossword done. There is a wealth of brain-training apps designed to improve your cognitive skills, and studies have found the use of such apps to be an effective way of creating robust enhancements in
If you do one thing today, devote 15 minutes or so to a free brain-training app, or use online
programmes such as Lumosity, whose creators boast a 97% memory-improvement rate
within just 10 hours of playtime. Surely it couldn’t hurt replacing Candy Crush with a few
good puzzles for the sake of your brain?
5. Try out Memorisation Techniques
Although it’s not as popular as it once was — what with our phones now storing important
information for us — chunking and other memorisation techniques are an effective way of
memorising long strings of complex information that may otherwise have fallen right out of our heads.
The average person’s short term memory can only store approximately four pieces of
arbitrary information. With this in mind, it becomes much easier to recall longer strands of
information when we group digits and related pieces of information together into smaller
and more memorable ‘chunks’ — so we’re recalling 3–4 chunks of information, rather than 10 separate pieces. You may be used to doing this already with some phone numbers, so why not extend this technique to other important info?
If you’re looking to really push your brain to its limits, try using the loci method, utilised by
competitors in the bizarre United States Memory Championship to memorise a whole deck
of shuffled cards. A technique developed by the Ancient Greeks (and popularised by BBC’s
Sherlock), loci involves visualising in your mind’s eye your home, and placing the items you
want to remember throughout different rooms. When it comes to recalling these items
later, you visualise yourself walking through your home, and simply pluck the items out of
the rooms you placed them in. You don’t have to be a savant to effectively use this method,
and who knows, after enough practise, you could develop a similar memory to that of Ben
Pridmore, who tweaked his technique to memorise an astonishing 4,140 random binary
digits in half an hour!
6. Chew Gum
Okay, this one might sound a little strange — and there has been some contradictory
research around the topic so it may work for some and not others — but it’s so simple that
it’s definitely worth giving a go!
Chewing gum while you learn new information has been linked with an easier consolidation of data into long-term memory stores. Gum-chewers have even been found to score 24% higher on tests of immediate word recall and 36% higher on delayed word recall tests than non-chewers. But how does a simple pack of Airwaves freshen our memories as well as our
The memory-boosting effects are supposedly achieved through an increased flow of oxygen
to the brain — specifically the hippocampus — created by the act of chewing. While this does not directly influence your memory capacity, it does keep you more alert and attentive to the information you’re attempting to memorise.
All those years of teachers telling you to bin your gum, and it turns out it was helping you all along.
7. Drink! (Responsibly)
You may be used to alcohol being responsible for entire nights being wiped from your
memory, but surprisingly, regular consumption of it (in moderation, of course) can actually
have memory-boosting capabilities.
Studies have found that a continuous but lower intake of alcohol throughout adulthood can
decrease the risk of developing brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life.
Let’s not go overboard with it, though, as binge-drinking can alter our brain chemistry and
result in severe memory deficits. Excessive alcohol intake has neurotoxic effects on the
brain, and repeated episodes of this behaviour can cause damage to the hippocampus — the
aforementioned region of the brain integral to the processing and storing of memories.
It’s less about what you drink, and more about how much. Stick to a small glass of red wine
or bottle of beer per day, and drink guilt-free knowing you’re unwinding and enhancing your mind.
8. Stay Hydrated
Water truly is the earth’s natural elixir — it lubricates our joints, regulates our body
temperature, maintains our blood pressure… and yet, 62% of Brits are not drinking the recommended daily amount of 1.5 liters — and astonishingly, a third have revealed that they don’t drink water at all. None.
So maybe this will convince you to fill up a glass: our brains are already made up of 73%
water, and it only takes dehydration levels of 2% for your memory to begin diminishing. In
fact, just mild levels of dehydration cause brain shrinkage, adversely affecting not only your
memory skills, but your concentration, alertness, and mood. The effects of dehydration on
the brain are so pronounced that, at severe levels, it actually mimics the symptoms of early-
the onset of dementia.
Is the water still too boring for you? There’s really no excuse for this one; start abiding by the 8x8 rule, and adjust accordingly depending on how active of a lifestyle you lead. Try using this helpful hydration calculator for a more precise measurement if you wish, just don’t be like those third of Brits, for the sake of your poor, poor brain.
Ready to Upgrade your Brain?
Memory loss may be a normal part of ageing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we
can do to slow it down.
As technology continues to advance and we’re able to outsource more and more of our
memory processing abilities onto various digital devices, we may have less than we need to
remember than ever before — but please, don’t let this digital age turn your brain to mush!