21 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. Meditate daily

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Meditation has been linked to all sorts of health benefits, from lower blood pressure to improved moods. It also seems to help with memory. One 2010 study found that as few as four days of mindfulness meditation can significantly improve working memory and executive functioning of the brain.

2. 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. Meanwhile, more recent research from researchers at The Ohio State University and Stanford University found a link between a larger social network and enhanced memory.

3. Quit smoking

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As if you need another reason to quit smoking, a study out of the U.K. in 2011 found that smoking caused people to lose some of their everyday memory. Fortunately, it can be restored by quitting the habit.

4. Exercise regularly

Aerobic exercise class.
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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.

5. Try something new

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Doing the same tasks over and over lets your brain operate on autopilot. However, mixing up your day with new information, hobbies or other activities may boost memory, according to 2006 research from University College London. Novelty appears to fire up a region in the midbrain that may help with memory.

6. Control your blood pressure

blood pressure
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If you’re having trouble remembering where you left the car keys or the name of your co-worker’s daughter, make sure your blood pressure isn’t too high.

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 could mean cognitive delays later.

7. Eat berries

fresh produce
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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 study by Harvard researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

8. Learn to love fish

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Fish and fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, and young adults who took fish oil pills every day for six months improved their working memory by 23%, according to one study.

9. 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.

10. Drink your water

Woman drinking water from a bottle
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It’s not just what you eat that can affect your memory. A 2016 study by British researchers found that being even slightly dehydrated was associated with poorer memory and attention while drinking water improved memory and focused attention.

11. Laugh a little

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You’ll probably be happier if you look at the lighter side of life, and your memory might benefit too. A small study out of Loma Linda University in California found older, healthy adults who watched a funny video for 20 minutes scored better on a memory test than those who just sat calmly for 20 minutes.

12. Chew gum

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Forget whatever you’ve been told about chewing gum being a disgusting or dirty habit. Instead, science says chewing gum can give your concentration and memory a boost. Researchers theorize that it could be because it increases blood flow to the brain. To avoid increasing time at the dentist’s office, however, reach for a sugar-free variety.

13. Pour a glass of wine

Pouring red wine into glass.
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Cheers! Researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K. found people who had an alcoholic drink after studying a word-learning task had better recall than those who skipped the drink.

Of course, if you don’t stop at one drink, you could find the opposite is true. Remember: Moderation is the magic word when it comes to alcohol.

14. Avoid multitasking

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You may think you’re being efficient by doing more than one thing at a time, but you could be taxing your working memory. That’s particularly true if you’re more than 60 years old.

A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seemed to come to that conclusion in 2011. If you want to keep your memory sharp, focus on one task at a time and avoid distractions.

15. Let your mind wander

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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.

16. Get a good night’s sleep

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Taking undistracted breaks may help your memory in the same way that sleep does. University College London reports that sleep is when our brains replay, transfer and file away memories. Without adequate rest, the mind can’t do this work, which makes turning in at a decent hour each night all the more important.

17. 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. One study out of Rutgers University in 2015 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 than others. You can get vitamin D from sunlight, as well as foods like egg yolks and fortified milk or supplements.

18. 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. If you want your memory to stay sharp, the Harvard Health Blog suggests incorporating challenges for your brain — such as learning a new skill– into your day.

Research published by scientists at the University of Edinburgh in 2014 found that people with complex jobs scored higher on memory tests at age 70 than those who did less challenging work. Maybe you can’t change your career, but you might benefit from incorporating mentally challenging reading, activities or volunteer work into your schedule.

19. Stay busy

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Keeping an active lifestyle has been shown to be good for your memory. Researchers from the University of Texas, Dallas, tested 300 people between the ages of 50 and 89 and found that those who self-reported busier lifestyles scored higher for memory, reasoning and mental quickness.

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

20. Listen to music

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You’ve probably heard of the “Mozart effect,” a concept introduced in 1993 after a study found students who listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos for 10 minutes did better on tests than those who spent 10 minutes in silence or doing relaxation exercises.

Since then, a number of studies have linked music to brain function and worked to explain how certain songs can evoke memories. However, if you really want to make music work for your mind, take it to the next level and learn to play an instrument as well.

21. 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 concerns that can lead to memory loss if left untreated. If you’ve been feeling forgetful, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any underlying medical cause.

What are you doing, if anything, to keep your memory sharp? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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