Do you have trouble recalling names, dates, numbers or past events? Are you longing to sharpen your focus and enhance your memory? You’re not alone – most of us have moments of forgetfulness and blanking out from time to time. And while this can be completely normal, having a poor memory can also be frustrating.
Exposure to toxins combined with poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, genetics and much more can hold back the proper functioning of our brains. Luckily, researchers have shown that a good diet and healthy lifestyle can support brain health and even encourage the brain to grow new neurons, a process known as neurogenesis.
Here are some science-backed tips that can help you to improve your memory naturally:
Practise meditation: As we age, the grey matter in brain regions associated with memory declines, which negatively impacts memory and the ability to acquire new knowledge. Studies suggest that practising meditation may increase the grey matter in the brain and improve short-term memory in both young and old. It may even prevent cognitive decline.
Keep a healthy weight: Maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the best ways to keep your body and mind in top condition. Studies have established obesity as a risk factor for cognitive decline, and being obese can cause changes to memory-associated genes in the brain and negatively affect memory. Obesity can also lead to insulin resistance and inflammation, both of which can negatively impact the brain. Obesity is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, which over time destroys memory and cognitive function.
Take exercise: Exercise is important for overall physical and mental health and may help improve memory in people of all ages. Many studies have shown that exercise may increase the secretion of neuro-protective proteins and improve the growth and development of neurons, leading to improved brain health and preventing cognitive decline. Regular exercise in midlife is also associated with a decreased risk of developing dementia later. Activities like walking, jogging, swimming and biking can all have a pronounced effect on memory function in younger and older people.
Play brain games: Challenging the brain with new information and exercising cognitive skills by playing brain games is a fun and effective way to boost memory. Activities like trying a new sport, reading a book, learning computer code, doing crossword puzzles or word-recall games, or even learning a new physical skill can all strengthen memory.
Get enough sleep: Studies show that if you are sleep-deprived, you could be negatively impacting your memory. Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, a process in which short-term memories are strengthened and transformed into long-lasting ones. Health experts recommend that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Less than six hours of sleep at night makes it more difficult to think clearly the next day, so it is best to avoid all-nighters before a big event or exam.
Reconsider multitasking: If you find yourself trying to complete five tasks at once, stop and focus your attention on the task at hand. Multitasking may actually slow you down, make you prone to errors and make you more forgetful. Research shows you need about eight seconds to commit a piece of information to your memory, so if you’re talking on the phone and carrying groceries when you put down your car keys, you’re unlikely to remember where you left them.
Watch Vitamin D levels: Studies have found that those who have blood levels of Vitamin D lower than 20 nanograms per ml lose their memory and other cognitive abilities faster than those with normal Vitamin D levels. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to a greater risk of developing dementia.
Eat a balanced diet: Avoid greasy fast-foods and reduce the amount of added sugar and grain carbohydrates in your diet. Studies show that eating too much added sugar can lead to poor memory, so try to eat more fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts, all of which are anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants and other compounds that protect brain health, prevent memory loss and may even stimulate the production of new brain cells. Many studies have also shown that consuming fish and fish-oil supplements may improve memory, especially in older people.
Add cocoa to your diet: Cocoa provides a powerful dose of antioxidants called flavonoids that according to research are particularly beneficial to the brain. They may help to stimulate the growth of blood vessels and neurons and increase blood flow in the parts of the brain involved with memory. To get the most benefit, choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 per cent or higher.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly