Medically reviewed by Nicholas R. Metrus, MD
Regardless of your age, your memory and ability to concentrate can fluctuate. If you want to know how to improve your memory, there are several evidence-based ways to boost cognition and recall. Increasing physical activity, improving your diet, and “exercising” your mental faculties with brain games can help preserve and enhance this vital function.
This article offers 12 ways to strengthen your memory skills and ability to concentrate and provides actionable tips to start improving your memory today.
How to Improve Memory Through Physical Exercise
The connections between exercise, memory, and cognitive function are well-established in scientific literature. One study found that study participants who did one single aerobic workout had significantly improved scores on word recall tasks afterward.
This effect is even more dramatic in people who exercise regularly, with studies noting a particular impact on short-term and working memory.
Types of Memory
Though there’s debate among researchers about how to categorize memories, the consensus is that there are four types, as follows:
Sensory: Sensory memory lets you remember sensations—what you see, feel, hear, or smell—after experiencing one; they are stored briefly.
Short-term: Short-term memory lasts about 30 seconds, allowing you to remember what you’re reading or recall a string of numbers.
Working: Working memory is what you use to perform cognitive tasks. It's your ability to process and use short-term memories to talk, read, solve problems, and stay on task.
Long-term: Long-term memory helps you understand the world and your sense of self.
What kind of exercise is best? So far, much of the research has focused on walking or jogging, though anything that consistently elevates your heart rate and gets your body moving can help. Stretching exercises are also effective. One study found that three months of regular tai chi among seniors significantly improved working memory in older adults.
If you’re an adult, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, along with two days of strength training. And if you don’t already exercise, start small and gradually scale up.
How to Improve Memory Through Food
What you eat and drink can also influence how well you remember, especially in your advanced years. Researchers found specific diets—such as the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diets, and a diet that combines many elements of both, the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet—to help preserve memory and cognitive ability, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease or age-related dementia.
A brain-boosting diet is rich in fresh vegetables and healthy sources of protein. These diets focus on boosting lean proteins, vitamins E and C, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. Here’s what you should emphasize:
Spinach, kale, broccoli, other leafy greens, and other vegetables
Beans, such as garbanzo or fava
Nuts, especially walnuts
Berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
Fresh fruit, as in apples, oranges, pears, and others
Fatty fish, such as salmon and trout
This also means steering clear of or significantly limiting the following:
Trans fats, present in many fried or processed foods
Fatty red meat
Dairy, butter, milk
Refined oils, such as corn, canola, and vegetable oil
Sweets, candies, cakes, and cookies
In addition, some studies have found caffeine—drinking coffee or tea—to have a positive effect on memory. One study of college students found that consuming caffeine improved explicit recall in nonoptimal times, like the early morning. In another, those who took large doses of caffeine could better recall words they’d seen in a list 24 hours after seeing it.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors for Memory Loss
While there are factors, such as diet and exercise, you can control for memory loss, other factors are uncontrollable, including:
Age: Being older than 70 increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
Genetics: More than 20 genes have been found to make you more susceptible to memory loss and dementia. One in particular, APOE4, is associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI): MCI is a form of memory loss that’s more pronounced than healthy memory but less severe than dementia. It leads to dementia in 33% of people with MCI.
Parkinson’s disease: About 20% to 45% of those with Parkinson’s disease, an inherited, progressive disorder that causes movement difficulties, develop dementia.
How to Improve Memory Through Brain Games
Playing games to occupy and activate your mind can help improve your concentration and memory. Researchers found that those who regularly play brain training games—number or word puzzles and other activities that challenge your logic, reasoning, and cognitive function—score better on working and verbal memory tasks.
Among many, popular brain game options include:
Sudoku: A number placement puzzle that can boost working memory and concentration. You fill in missing numbers into a 9-by-9 grid, so the digits 1 through 9 appear once in each 3-by-3 sub-grid.
Lumosity: Lumosity is an app that gives you access to a wide range of brain training games for your device while tracking your progress and results. Free subscriptions let you play three games a day, while paid subscriptions allow you more.
Crossword puzzles: These puzzles are a classic brain game requiring verbal recall while also accessing other aspects of knowledge.
Wordle: A Web-based game that involves guessing a five-letter word. You have six guesses, with feedback given in the form of colors indicating correct guesses.
How to Improve Memory Through Lifestyle Habits
Beyond modifying your diet and boosting exercise, additional lifestyle habits can positively affect memory and concentration.
Evidence suggests your brain works to consolidate memories—make them permanent—while you sleep. Studies found that people getting insufficient sleep fare worse with explicit and implicit memory tasks.
How much sleep do you need? If you’re an adult, you should get at least seven and up to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Adolescents, children, and infants need more. Set a consistent bedtime and wake time, and maintain good sleep hygiene.
Stress can also impact your memory. Studies have found stress during studying to affect memory retrieval. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress can also help you remember better. Was to manage stress include:
Social media or news breaks
Take a bath
Socialize with family or friends
Among other adverse health effects, alcohol use can affect your cognitive function. Not only can binge drinking cause alcohol-induced blackouts (memory lapses), but chronic use is associated with mild to severe deficits in memory.
Tips for Improving Memory Retention While Studying
If you have an upcoming exam or are learning something new, there are several tricks to improve memory retention.
To help remember strings of information, such as numbers, group them. For instance, you might remember the numbers 8, 6, 7, 5, 3, 0, and 9 by making groupings such as 867-53-09. Researchers think your brain uses shortcuts like this to help mediate the amount of information you receive.
Mnemonic devices are strategies or sayings that help you remember things. For instance, you might recall from astronomy class the sentence, “My very educated mother just served us nachos.” The first letters help you remember the order of the planets in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Research suggests your brain organizes and structures information, grouping together (clustering) similar concepts and ideas. Adopting a clustering strategy has been found to improve active recall and verbal memory. Try reorganizing your notes with an emphasis on drawing out connections between the concepts you’re learning.
Visualize Your Work
Visual representations, like pictures, charts, and graphs, help many people better understand a subject. Create color-coded charts that compare and contrast concepts you’re learning, use Post-it notes to group related ideas, or use highlighters to emphasize important points.
Write It Down
Writing something down can help with memory and recall since it engages more of your sense memory. Specifically, writing by hand was found more effective than typing or using a stylus and device, according to a 2021 study of graduate students in Japan.
Spacing Out Your Study
Spreading out your studying is more effective than cramming, especially if you want to retain the information long term. If you budget six hours for a test, three sessions of two hours on three different days will serve you better than six hours of studying the night before.
It’s normal to become more forgetful as you age; memory naturally declines as you get older, and your risk of diseases like dementia increases. Luckily, there are ways to preserve and boost your memory, regardless of age. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, and engaging your mind with brain games. Among ways to boost recall when studying are spreading out your studying, grouping concepts, and using mnemonic devices, among others.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.