Ten great ways to boost your memory
Ever reach the top of the stairs and forget why you climbed them? Don't panic, help is now at hand. Ailin Quinlan explains how to improve your recall.
We expect too much of our memory, says Professor William O'Connor, Head of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the Graduate Entry Medical School, University of Limerick. Instead of assuming that the memory is a sort of an effortless DVD recording device, he says we should realise that our ability to remember is influenced by a wide range of factors. Here's how to improve it:
1. Pay attention
Memory involves a form of learning or encoding. In order to encode information properly, you must consciously direct your attention at the thing you want to learn.
"Think of a squirrel who wants to hide a cache of nuts for the winter and is in the process of burying them when it is interrupted by a fox and runs away. That squirrel may have difficulty remembering where the nuts were buried because its attention was disrupted. It's important to give attention and time to the information you wish to encode," O'Connor explains.
2. Manage stress
Sharpen your ability to pay attention by examining the kind of stress you experience and deciding to learn how to manage your stress levels. If you manage to control your stress, your ability to pay attention to things will improve.
Meditation works for 85% of people, says O'Connor, who suggests starting with just 10 minutes of meditation a day to help sharpen your focus in general. "If you develop a strong capacity to pay attention, you'll remember things better."
4. Breathe deeply
Oxygen is required by every cell in the body and the brain cells, which encode the information which allows you to learn and remember, are no different. Oxygenating the brain triggers a process called neurogenesis, which is the growth of new brain cells.
5. Be curious
Consciously improve your attention levels by focusing on your environment and teaching yourself to be observant, suggests O'Connor.
"Learn to be observant and curious. Take notice of the things that are going on around you. Fixed attention is very good for the brain."
6. Chew gum
When you chew gum, says Professor O'Connor, you exercise the major muscles of the jaw and this introduces oxygen to your brain - improving its ability to perform - and increases your capacity to learn and remember.
7. Get knitting
Knitting and crocheting are extremely powerful ways of training yourself to focus and improve your attention. This is firstly because it requires you to focus closely on an intricate knitting pattern and secondly to replicate the pattern through paying attention to achieving the end result.
8. Read more of less
Mental exercise is very important for the brain, says O'Connor, who advises the regular reading of "challenging" materials such as a thought-provoking book which exercises the mind. "Read one book which is challenging rather than skimming through 15 light novels."
O'Connor suggests Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which examines the dual process of the brain and our deeply embedded self-delusions.
9. Eat memory foods
A diet high in fish oil is conducive to a good memory. Eat oily fish at least once a week, advises O'Connor who suggests a simple and inexpensive meal like sardines on toast rather than expensive fish oil supplements. "You get the benefit of the oil and you also get a food rather than just taking it in a supplement," he says, adding that fish oil helps reduce inflammation, which damagers the body and the brain and distracts you.
Other anti-inflammatory-and-anti-oxidant-containing foods such as berries, vegetables and fruits should also be included.
10. Eat less
"Some people advocate the Okinawa Diet, which involves eating a hot meal once every two days rather than every day, believing that it lengthens life and improves the ability to learn and remember," says O'Connor. "Because we are by nature hunter-gatherers, we are not meant to be over-fed. Our ancestors were often hungry."
In fact, O'Connor points out, the optimal intelligent human being is slightly under-fed, slightly under-weight, extremely aerobically fit, highly focused, in touch with the environment, and excellent at assessing a calculated risk.