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These 7 habits improve your memory

Yes, cinnamon, the tasty and sweet-smelling spice that originates from South Asia and is widely used in combination with pastries or even drinks, it is healthy for the memory however in limited quantities. Apart from that, however, there are important habits and activities that strengthen your memory as well.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

– You come home from the shop with three big shopping bags, but you forgot that one thing you actually wanted to buy, in fact that one initial thing that went to the shop for.

– You want to log into your account. Suddenly you can’t remember the password you’ve entered 100 times before.

– You meet someone at a networking event. You think to yourself, “I will remember this person’s name. Her name is Susanne. I’m talking to Susanne. Susanne is her name.” Then, two seconds later, you forget the name.

These are just a few examples, but I am sure you have had your own. In my research and contacts with successful people over the years, I’ve come across one problem again and again: memory.

Fortunately, neuroscience can help – both to reassure you that you’re normal and to reinforce the idea that there are certain habits and practices you can learn to improve your memory performance just when you need it most. Here are seven of the most interesting findings and conclusions I have come to:

1. Make sure there is better light

Let’s start with this simple point. Researchers at Michigan State University studied whether rats have better memory when kept in an environment reminiscent of an office (e.g. dim fluorescent lighting) or when the lighting resembles a sunny day outdoors. The study found that in dim light, the rats lost about 30 per cent of their capacity in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain which is responsible for learning and memory, and they performed poorly on a spatial task they had previously been trained on.” One of the authors of the study put this in human terms as follows: “Light produces fools.”

2. Solve tasks and puzzles

D.P. Devanand, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Columbia University, studied 107 volunteers over a period of 78 weeks. He found that volunteers who were asked to do tasks and crossword puzzles regularly did much better in terms of memory loss than those who were asked to spend a similar amount of time playing video games. Volunteers, who were actually “using” their brain more made improvements in cognition, function and neuroprotection were the results. When it comes to different apps, you can use them to train your memory, they have a similar effect.

3. Try walking backwards.

This is somewhat unusual, but London researchers conducted six experiments to determine whether simply walking backwards can improve short-term memory. Let’s be clear from the outset: The six experiments conducted by the University of Roehampton researchers worked. “The results showed for the first time that motion-induced mental time travel while moving backwards improves memory performance when it comes to different types of information. This is called the “mnemonic time travel effect”, says Aleksandar Aksentijevic from the University of Roehampton – Department of Psychology.

4.    Eat more fruit and vegetables

I like this study because of the large number of people studied: 27,842 men over a period of more than 20 years. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at dietary habits over this period and found that participants who ate more fruits and vegetables – and in particular more dark vegetables, red vegetables, leafy greens and berry fruits – had less memory loss later in life. The caveats in this case were that it was correlation rather than causation, and that the study also did not support the idea that you can make up for not eating vegetables at a young age by becoming a vegetable fan later in life. Nevertheless, the experiment may be worthwhile and it may have an impact on your life.

5.    Read for pleasure

In a recent study, researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois investigated whether there are cognitive habits that could outperform solving various tasks and crossword puzzles (see point 2) in developing memory. They found that reading for pleasure – five days a week, about 90 minutes at a time – strengthened older adults’ memory better than solving puzzles. “The results were incontrovertible,” the researchers said. Reading thus strengthens your memory but also your language, your comprehension and increases your knowledge. 

6.    Get enough sleep

Yes, I know. Many articles on everything from losing weight to improving mood recommend getting enough sleep. But what is particularly fascinating when it comes to memory is that we not only suffer from “deficits … in “vigilance” (state of heightened responsiveness, alertness, wakefulness) and “episodic memory” (part of long-term memory) if we have only a small sleep deficit. We also lose the subjective ability to judge how the lack of sleep is affecting us. So, we don’t even know how bad our memory is getting. Is there any way to avoid this? Remember to prioritise sleep.

7.    Develop specific hobbies

Last but not least, a Canadian study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, researchers tried to find out whether the memory of people who are intensively involved in detail-oriented hobbies develops over time. In one study they found that people with detail-oriented hobbies – in the case of the subjects, birdwatching – who tended to characterise memories and store them according to more detailed criteria, were more likely to remember things. As one researcher put it, the explanation might be that “the more background knowledge you have, the better you’re able to learn and retain new information by fitting that information into the framework of existing knowledge.”