How to Supercharge Your Brain to Boost Memory
Have you experienced memory lapses, slowed information processing, and even fuzzy thinking?
If so, I’ve got a secret for you: Your age isn’t the issue.
Sure, memory can decline to some extent as we get older, but there are other more important lifestyle factors that can either give you a sharp mind or one that’s slow as molasses. And if you don’t have these areas of your life optimized, you may experience cognitive decline even before your reach thirty.
For example, did you know that nutrition, physical activity, emotions, social connection, genetics and the environment all affect your brain’s functioning?
Sound crazy, right? But it’s true, and that’s good news, because it means we can take specific steps to improve our memory simply by changing the way we eat and live.
In fact, we can even regrow brain cells. The old myth that we have a finite number of brain and nerve cells and they cannot be replaced once they are damaged or lost—well, that’s totally outdated. New research shows that certain areas of the brain can, in fact, regenerate cells.[i]
That’s why scientists have been doing a lot of research on how we can improve memory and mental function by simply modifying the dietary and lifestyle factors that affect them.
I’m going to share that research with you today. Get ready to learn six proven tips to supercharge your memory starting right now.
1) Feed Your Brain
Eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is essential for general health and well-being, but science shows that certain foods may actually supercharge your brain for better memory.
Fruits and Vegetables
These foods are rich in powerful antioxidants that help protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. Research shows that a diet rich in antioxidants can slow age-dependent cognitive decline. In particular, certain fruits and vegetables have been associated with brain-boosting properties, including blueberries, bananas, apricots, cantaloupe, mangoes, watermelon, and leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, spinach, chard, romaine lettuce, and arugula.[ii]
Omega-3 Rich Foods
These include wild-caught fish, walnuts, and flaxseed, which are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important for healthy brain function and working memory. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, halibut, herring, and sardines are believed to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.[iii] Non-fish sources of omega-3 fats include ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, winter squash, and various kinds of beans.[iv]
Rich in choline (a B-vitamin), eggs help promote acetylcholine production. Choline is also essential for normal brain development during pregnancy. Low levels of acetylcholine are associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.[v]
This is an excellent source of protein, omega-3, iron and zinc, which help improve brain health, concentration, and memory. Iron helps in the distribution of oxygen in the blood throughout the body, including your brain.[vi]
Your brain needs carbohydrates to fuel its performance, but it is important to choose the type of carbs that can give you long-lasting energy. While simple carbs can give you a quick boost in energy, complex carbs such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, high-fiber cereal, whole beans, and lentils give you longer lasting energy.[vii]
Nuts, like almonds, are superfoods that are good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant that may lower your risk for age-related cognitive decline. Nuts are also rich in amino acids and essential oils, which help improve focus and concentration.[viii]
Green tea contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that protect against brain damage, slow brain aging, and enhance memory and mental alertness.[ix]
Red wine and grape juice, when taken in moderation, may help improve memory and cognition. Red wine is rich in flavonoids called resveratrol, which boost blood flow to the brain and reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other resveratrol-rich foods include cranberry juice, fresh berries and grapes, and peanuts.[x]
Experts recommend adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet to enhance brain health since it emphasizes fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats and moderate intake of red wine. To maximize the benefits of a healthy diet, limit your calorie and saturated fat intake.[xi]
Experts recommend eating a balanced diet to promote optimal brain function, but evidence shows that certain health supplements may be beneficial as well. These include:
- Vitamin B12 helps you learn, think critically, and concentrate.[xii]
- Ginkgo boosts blood circulation to your brain, thus improving memory, mental clarity, and reaction time.[xiii]
- Ginseng helps enhance memory, increase mental efficiency and boost energy levels.[xiv]
- Acetyl L-Carnitine helps in supporting energy function in the brain and reduces oxidative stress.[xv]
- CoEnzyme Q10, a natural enzyme that is necessary for functioning of cells, decreases with age; taking CoEnzyme Q10 supplements help maintain overall health and mental function.[xvi]
- Fish oil, which contains EPA and DHA (omega-3 fats), promotes brain health.[xvii]
- Resveratrol, a powerful free radical scavenger, works by inhibiting lipid peroxidation, a destructive process associated with premature aging. It may improve blood flow through your brain and support brain health.[xviii]
3) Stay Physically Active
Want to increase your brain size? Exercise! Studies show that regular exercise can increase brain size and boost memory.[xix]
“But I’m too busy to go to the gym,” I can hear you complain.
Try walking more, climbing steps, doing chores, playing with the kids, and walking the dog. Dancing is another great exercise because it challenges several areas of the brain while learning new steps, moving in time to the music, and interacting with others.
Exercise improves blood circulation and increases oxygen supply to the brain. It also helps prevent obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases that can affect brain function.[xx]
4) Do “Brain Workouts”
Aside from physical exercise, experts recommend doing regular “brain exercises” to improve memory and other cognitive functions.
Researchers at the UCLA Longevity Center found that healthy seniors who regularly played an online brain fitness program that focused on language, short- and long-term memory, visual-spatial processing, reasoning, and problem-solving skills showed improvement in memory.[xxi]
Scientists believe that brain fitness programs promote new brain cell growth and help seniors find new ways to compensate for age-related memory deficits.[xxii] There are various ways you can challenge your brain through brain workouts:
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Video games
- Find a new way home or try new routes when driving
- Mental calculations instead of relying on a calculator
- Memorize phone numbers, lists, addresses, and passwords instead of relying on your gadgets
- Crossword puzzles. Play chess, cards, and other games that help enhance memory and recall
- Mentally-challenging apps. Use while waiting in line
- Practice doodling
5) Learn Something New
Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Nobody is too old to learn something new. Challenging yourself to learn new things can help increase your brain power and can even help you feel younger.
Join a book club or get a library card. Studies show that reading stimulates the growth of new brain cells and connections in the brain. A higher level of reading skills is associated with better performance in cognitive tests, regardless of age or length of schooling. Experts say that reading books, magazines and newspapers improves focus, concentration, and memory.[xxiii]
Get a New Hobby
Any activity, when practiced diligently, can stimulate brain function.[xxiv] These include knitting, playing the keyboard, or skiing. You are never too old to start a new hobby such as gardening, collecting coins, making jewelry, or painting.
You do not have to have artistic talent to practice creativity. Creativity can be expressed in various ways. Many people have started to enjoy blogging online about their travels, recipes, and DIY projects. You can learn now to recycle stuff you have at home. Try taking great photos out of your smartphone and share them with friends.
Enroll in a New Course
A recent study found that learning a new language helps improve memory.[xxv] Other experts also recommend going back to school or enrolling in courses that interest you. You can also learn to play a musical instrument such as the violin or continue where you left off from your childhood piano lessons. Or, you can enroll with some friends in a cooking class.
6) Manage Stress
Anxiety, stress, and depression can take their toll on the brain. Although stress and anxiety are part of normal daily life, chronic worry and distress can destroy brain cells and damage regions of the brain involved in memory.[xxvi]
Many of the symptoms of anxiety and depression include difficulty remembering, concentrating, and making decisions. You may also experience sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits and loss of energy, which can influence the way you think and use your mental abilities.
Chronic stress may result from many factors, including family and social relationships, work issues, chronic health problems, and other things. Although you may not be able to solve your problems easily, there are many ways you can manage stress and cope with challenges during the day in order to improve your physical and mental health.
A cluttered home or work space can place a greater demand on your brain.[xxvii] Your working memory cannot focus on accomplishing the task at hand if it is distracted by disorder. Sometimes, you are looking for something you need, but you come across something else that distracts you from your task. Clutter may apply not only to physical objects, but assorted emails, projects, appointments and tasks that demand your attention in varying degrees. The way to deal with these is to organize everything using a day planner or a smart phone calendar, which can help you keep track of activities and appointments that need to be done. You can also use it as a journal to write anything you need to remember. Sort your emails and tasks according to priority and deal with the most essential ones in the morning and the less important ones in the afternoon.
For many people, multitasking means having the ability to do more than one task simultaneously. However, studies have shown that when you think you are multitasking, what really happens is that your brain is just rapidly switching its focus among the various tasks, which actually impairs productivity and even reduces your memory. Furthermore, habitual multitasking reduces your ability to relax or to focus on anything.[xxviii] Over time you will realize that you are always tense or stressed. One reason why you cannot remember where you placed your keys or your eyeglasses just a few moments ago is that you did not pay attention to what you were doing and your mind was somewhere else trying to do another task. So instead of you being able to do more things at a time, you lose more time trying to remember where you placed your glasses or your keys, which adds to your stress.
Stop Smoking, Alcohol Abuse and Illegal Drug Use
These unhealthy chemicals may cause short-lasting stimulation to the brain, but ultimately, they may cause damage not only to the body, but to the brain as well.[xxix]
Studies suggest that acute smoking, chronic smoking, and abrupt withdrawal, as well as nicotine administration can affect one’s performance on tests for working memory. Compared to non-smokers, chronic smokers are more likely to show slower responses and to commit errors, especially after a short period of abstinence.[xxx]
Alcoholic intoxication can lead to blackouts, where people forget everything they did before getting drunk. Habitual heavy drinking may lead to short-term memory loss, sluggishness, as well as risky behaviors.[xxxi] According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), most cases of memory loss occur because of binge drinking (drinking five or more standard drinks in two hours), which causes blood alcohol levels to shoot up rapidly. Binge drinking is prevalent among young adults, usually students.
Studies show that marijuana has ill effects on working memory and can reduce your ability to process information for comprehension, learning, and reasoning. Marijuana has a major psychoactive ingredient that impairs memory.[xxxii] In addition to marijuana, Ecstasy, heroin and cocaine have also been linked to memory loss. Aside from recreational drugs, some prescription drugs may have side effects that can affect mental functioning. Ask your doctor about these side effects.
Make Time for Enjoyment
To have balance in life, you must find time to enjoy yourself. Laugh more.
Listen to music. Go out with friends and family. Take care of a pet. You do not have to go far or spend much to find ways to enjoy life more. Research shows that laughing, socializing, and having meaningful relationships are important not only for emotional health, but also to mental health.[xxxiii]
Get Enough Rest and Sleep
Your brain cannot work to full capacity when you are chronically deprived of sleep. Sleep deprivation compromises your problem-solving abilities, critical thinking skills, and creativity. Studies show that sleep is critical to memory and learning because it plays a role in memory consolidation, which usually occurs during the deep stage of sleep.[xxxiv] University of Pennsylvania researchers have found that losing even three or four hours of sleep in one night can affect memory.[xxxv] Nature Neuroscience also reported that improving the duration and quality of sleep can help slow mental decline in aging adults. It is believed that during deep sleep, the brain shifts memories from short to long-term storage.[xxxvi]
It’s never too early to start taking care of your brain. All you have to do is eat right, exercise, take the right supplements, manage stress, do brain work-outs, and always try to learn something new.
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[iii] Study: Eating Omega-3s May Help Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk, Alexandra Sifferlin, Time, Published May 03, 2012, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[v] Choline, Jane Higdon, Ph.D., Micronutrient Information Center, Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Written November 2013, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[x] Brain Health: Health Benefits of Drinking Red Wine, Men’s Journal, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xi] The Mediterranean Diet: Myths, Facts, and Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet, Greg Boose and Robert Segal, M.A., Helpguide.org, Last updated February 2015, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xii] Vitamin B May Protect Against Alzheimer’s, Say Researchers, Joseph Mercola, M.D., Mercola.com, Published June 3, 2013, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xiv] Effects of Korean Red Ginseng on Cognitive and Motor Function: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Trial, Hye-Bin Yeo, Ho-Kyoung Yoon, Heon-Jeong Lee, Seung-Gul Kang, Ki-Young Jung, and Leen Kim, Journal of Ginseng Research, Published April 2012, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xv] Chronic acetyl-L-carnitine alters brain energy metabolism and increases noradrenaline and serotonin content in healthy mice, Smeland OB, Meisingset TW, Borges K, Sonnewald U, Neurochemistry International, Published April 23, 2012, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xvi] Coenzyme Q10 administration increases brain mitochondrial concentrations and exerts neuroprotective effects, Russell T. Matthews, Lichuan Yang, Susan Browne, Myong Baik, and M. Flint Beal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published July 21, 1998, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xix] Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills, Heidi Godman, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, Published April 9, 2014, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxi] UCLA program helps slow the mind’s aging, one exercise at a time, Anna Gorman, UCLA Longevity Center, Published March 4, 2013, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxiii] 10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day, Lana Winter-Herbert, Lifehack, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxiv] How hobbies can boost our brain power in retirement: Sports, reading and travelling help stave off depression, The Daily Mail, Published October 2, 2013, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxv] Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children, Julia Moralesa, Alejandra Calvob, and Ellen Bialystokb, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Published February 2013, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxvi] Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity, Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today, Published February 12, 2014, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxviii] The Ability to Multitask Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be, Laura McClellan, Lifehack, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxx] Working memory in cigarette smokers: Comparison to non-smokers and effects of abstinence. Adrianna Mendrek, John Monterosso, Sara L. Simon, Murray Jarvik, Arthur Brody, Richard Olmstead, Catherine P. Domier, Mark S. Cohen, Monique Ernst, and Edythe D. Londona, NCBI, Published May 2006, Retrieved March 27, 2015.
[xxxii] Marijuana’s health effects: Memory problems, addiction, Cathy Payne and Michelle Healy, USA Today, Published December 7, 2012, Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxxv] Here’s A Horrifying Picture of What Sleep Loss Will Do to You, Laura Schocker, The Huffington Post, Published January 8, 2014, and Retrieved April 6, 2015.
[xxxvi] Poor sleep in old age prevents the brain from storing memories, Yasmin Anwar, UC Berkeley News Center, Published January 28, 2013, Retrieved April 6, 2015.