Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant
Memories are stored as chemical and electrical signals in the brain connected by unique networks called synapses. Retrieving a memory occurs when these synapses are triggered, and the chemical and electrical signals are translated into information processed by your brain.
From the research that’s been done on memory to date, it seems that the brain functions a lot like a muscle. Memory loss can happen when people fail to nurture or frequently use their brains. On the other hand, people who nurture, use, and challenge their brains can improve their memory.
Here are a few things you can do at home to improve your memory.
1. Listen to music.
Music is a phenomenon that affects nearly every part of your brain. to music requires the auditory nerve to send signals to the brain, which reassembles those sensory inputs into a meaningful sound we call music.
Reading music requires the optic nerve to send visual signals to the brain that are processed and sequenced.
And music requires the brain to retrieve visual and auditory memories as it stimulates the muscle memory that lets you use your practiced fine motor skills to play an instrument.
Music is also a powerful way of storing and retrieving emotional memories since music causes events to be stored with more meaning. This gives them priority over less evocative memories, making them easier to retrieve. This is why hearing a song you associate with your past causes you to experience strong emotions and vivid memories, and “takes you back.”
Whether you’re listening to it or making it, music is a powerful tool that can help strengthen your brain’s ability to process information, store sensory signals and retrieve memories.
As an added benefit, music has also been shown to be good for your overall mental health because it can lower anxiety and improve your mood!
2. Play mind-stimulating games.
If the brain is a muscle, games that stimulate it are its exercise equipment. Activities that require strategy, memory recall, and creative thinking can improve your brain function, making your brain more adept at storing and retrieving information.
These activities also cross-train different areas of your brain to make them more efficient at working together.
Examples of activities that improve cognitive skills include chess, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, word games, trivia games, jigsaw puzzles, and memory game apps on your phone or tablet.
3. Eat a brain-healthy diet.
Yes, “brain food” is actually a thing! There’s a lot of research that shows that when you ingest specific forms of nutrition, your brain is healthier and less prone to memory-damaging conditions like strokes and dementia.
Fatty fish is a great start because 60% of your brain is composed of fat. Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon, sardines, and trout, can make sure your brain gets all the healthy fats it needs to function well. If you don’t have enough fish in your regular diet, you can also supplement with daily fish oil vitamins.
Blueberries are also a good option because the antioxidants they contain help your brain cells communicate better. These antioxidants also protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation that can lead to memory loss.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, antioxidants, and caffeine, which combine to improve concentration, enhance memory and make the brain less susceptible to age-related decline.
Pumpkin seeds, broccoli, eggs, green tea, nuts, and oranges have also been shown to improve brain health and memory function.
4. Get plenty of exercises.
Cardiovascular exercise is vital to your brain’s health. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain, which improves the brain’s circulation and enhances its oxygen supply.
Exercise also stimulates your brain to release proteins that can protect it against damage that causes memory loss and cognitive decline. Even 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity has been shown to improve short-term memory.
Exercising outdoors has the added benefit of increasing your Vitamin D levels, which lowers your risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
And, like music, exercise is also important to your overall mental health, because it lowers rates of anxiety and depression, and serves as a natural mood booster.
5. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment, paying close attention to your surroundings, focusing on your breath, and gently bringing your attention back to the present when it starts to wander. If you don’t know how to begin this practice, there are many meditations and mindfulness tools, and apps that can help you get started.
People who make mindfulness an everyday practice tend to have improved concentration, enhanced memory recall, and lower rates of age-related memory loss.
Mindfulness also lowers rates of hypertension (high blood pressure), which is a key risk factor for strokes. And practicing mindfulness reduces insomnia, which means your brain can get the restorative sleep it needs to function well.