13 Ways to Sharpen Your Memory at Any Age

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It’s time to think beyond crossword puzzles and sudoku. While some research does show that these activities and other “brain-training” games can slow cognitive decline, they aren’t the only ways to keep your mind sharp.

Try one of these other strategies to avoid embarrassing memory lapses.

1. Learn to love fish

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A 2020 study from the National Institutes of Health determined that fish is the most important element of the oft-recommended Mediterranean diet when it comes to lowering your risk of both cognitive impairment (when your cognition is worse than that of your peers) and cognitive decline (when your cognition becomes worse over time).

To learn more about the study findings, check out “Eat This Food If You Want to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease.”

2. Meditate

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Meditation has been linked to all sorts of health benefits, from decreased insomnia to improved moods. It also seems to help with memory. A 2010 study found that as few as four days of mindfulness meditation can significantly improve working memory as well as the brain’s executive functioning and visuospatial processing.

3. Eat berries

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Berries are one of several foods that appear to promote good memory. In particular, flavonoid-rich berries like strawberries and blueberries seem to guard against declining memory in women, according to results of a 2012 study by Harvard researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Berries are recommended for anyone seeking to improve their brain health, though, not just women.

In 2018, the Global Council on Brain Health examined data about how diet impacts brain health in people who are age 50 and older and then issued recommendations. Berries were among the most highly recommended foods, as we detail in “The 5 Best Foods for Brain Health as You Age.”

4. Exercise regularly

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Strap on your running shoes if you want to increase the size of your hippocampus — the part of your brain that helps with verbal memory and learning. Research from the University of British Columbia found aerobic exercise does just that. To get the benefits, participants in the school’s study walked briskly for one hour, two days a week.

For more inspiration, check out “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying in Shape After Age 50.”

5. Control your blood pressure

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Hypertension, another term for high blood pressure, can reduce the flow of blood to the brain and impact memory functions.

What’s more, high blood pressure during midlife is considered a risk factor for cognitive decline later in life. Even having moderately elevated blood pressure is linked to dementia, as we detail in “Is Your Blood Pressure ‘Mildly’ High? Here’s Why You Should Worry.”

6. Make over your meals

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Much has been said of the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet — that is, one heavy on fish, vegetables, whole grains and daily servings of nuts and olive oil — and it apparently does your memory some good, too. A 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that a Mediterranean diet appears to reduce age-related cognitive declines in people in their 60s and 70s.

7. Soak in the sun

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There’s a growing body of research that links low levels of vitamin D with an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

A 2015 study out of Rutgers University found that elderly folks with dementia had lower levels of vitamin D than those with only mild cognitive impairment or a healthy memory. Those folks with low levels of the vitamin also showed a more rapid decline in executive functions and episodic memory (the ability to remember personal experiences) than others.

You can get vitamin D from sunlight, as well as foods like eggs and oily fish as well as supplements.

8. Embrace lifelong learning

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Just as your muscles get weak and sluggish if they’re not exercised regularly, the same can be said for your brain.

Kathryn Papp, a neuropsychologist and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Health Blog that if you want your memory to stay sharp, you should regularly challenge your brain. Examples include learning a new skill, taking part in a new activity or simply driving a different route to work or listening to a different type of music.

9. Stay busy

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Keeping an active lifestyle has been shown to be good for your memory.

In a 2016 study, researchers from the University of Texas, Dallas, tested the cognitive functions — including memory, reasoning and metal quickness — of more than 300 people between the ages of 50 and 89. Participants who self-reported busier lifestyles scored higher on the cognitive function tests.

The reason may be that keeping busy requires people to flex their memory and brain muscles frequently. That, in turn, keeps them sharp.

10. Address underlying health conditions

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Before you worry about your memory slipping, make sure you don’t have a health condition that is causing the problem. Sleep apnea and diabetes are among the health conditions associated with an increased risk of memory loss if left untreated. If you’ve been feeling forgetful, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any underlying medical cause.

11. Give your brain a break

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Interestingly, one of the best things you can do for your brain is nothing at all. Research dating back to 1900 has shown that taking short breaks — as little as 10 to 15 minutes — with no distractions can help improve memory recall.

12. Quit smoking

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As if you need another reason to quit smoking, a 2011 study out of the United Kingdom found that smokers fared worse in a test of their everyday memory than nonsmokers and former smokers. Moreover, the former smokers remembered nearly as much as the study participants who had never smoked.

13. Find a friend

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Being a loner isn’t good for your memory. A 2007 study out of the University of Michigan found that chatting with another person for 10 minutes can improve memory.

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