Having a strong memory depends on the vitality and the health of the brain. Improving overall mental performance and memory seems to be an often encountered aim these days, whether we’re talking about students looking to cram in as much information as possible, people who seek to maintain their memory performance at work or people who feel their memory is bad. Many seem to make the mistake of believing that after a certain age it is hard, if not impossible, to bring back the memory capacities they once had. There is something amazing with the human brain, the fact that it can recover its elasticity. an that you can reconstruct and build neural pathways again, modify connections that already exist and adapt in a constantly changing manner at any age.
How Does Memory Work?
Memory appears by creating a link between 2 or more nerve cells in the brain, which are called neurons. There are more than 100 billion neurons in the brain, and the memory needs to be solidified be available later on, according to Neal Barnard, who works as an adjunct associate professor of medicine in Washington at the Washington University School of Medicine. This ability is called neuroplasticity. 
What Type of Activities Are Useful for the Brain?
There are some main elements people who want to improve their memory need to take into consideration. Broadly, activities that participate in boosting the brain capacities need to comply with four key points:
- It has to offer a reward. A reward makes people more interested and more motivated to finish an activity, which boosts attention, focus and also memory. As such, promising yourself a reward you like at the end of completing a task or a creative activity will make the process more efficient. Of course, it is important for the activity to offer satisfaction and to be enjoyable.
- It has to bring something new. If you do an activity you already know, or you already master, it will not bring you anything new, and it will not make your brain exercise. Something which is unfamiliar, out of the comfort zone, will cause the brain create new paths and thus improve the cognitive processes. For a sharp mind, it is advised that you should continually learn and develop new skills.
- It can be further expanded. Activities that let you start with easy tasks and then to expand further on them, reaching more and more milestones are the best for improving memory and brain capacities. Once you get comfortable with a level, it’s time to move on to the next.
- It is challenging. An activity that helps your memory should demand the entire attention all the time. This means that it shouldn’t be an easy one, but one that will require mental effort at all times. Reading a book you already read is not very helpful, but reading a complex new one will totally challenge the brain and the memory. 
Theoretically, any activity that fulfills the above criteria will be good enough to improve your memory. However, it is best to keep a constant activity and not just take up a particular course every once in a while.
Ways to Improve Your Memory
Another important key factor to improving your memory is physical exercise. Mental activity mentioned above is just as important as the physical one. There is even an old Latin saying, “Menssana in corporesano.” Physical activity has its fair share in maintaining brain health since it brings more oxygen to the brain. Regular exercise is essential in reducing the risks for issues that further have as consequence memory loss (e.g.: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.). Sports help in boosting brain chemicals that assist the brain and reduce stress. Moreover, it stimulates new neural paths and promotes growth factors, thus sustaining neuroplasticity.
Aerobic is the right type of exercise that helps in boosting the brain power. In general, sports or activities that benefit the heart also assist the brain. Including exercise in the morning routine might lead to a more productive day, since it contributes to eliminating the sleep fog. The oxygen rush throughout the body prepares the brain for an intense activity and promotes learning.
Any activity that requires hand-eye coordination or using very complex motor skills will make the mind focus and work more and as such are useful for strengthening the memory and concentration. However, you don’t need to exercise all day long, but you can take strategic exercising breaks throughout the day. In the afternoon, when usually the brain is tired and needs a break, you can boost the energy and focus levels by taking a short walk or jumping up and down a few times.
Another essential thing not to miss when you are aiming to improve your memory is getting enough sleep. Many people claim that they can resist with 4-5 hours sleep at night. This is true, many people can survive with few hours of sleep, but according to research, almost all the adults need to sleep somewhere between 7.5 and 9 hours to get full rest and not be sleep deprived. Though missing on a couple of hours of sleep now and then does not seem to be a real issue, it can seriously affect critical thinking, creativity, memory or the ability to solve problems.
In fact, sleep is essential for the brain to function properly. During sleep, the brain stores and consolidates new information obtained during the day. Memory consolidation takes place during the deepest stage of sleep, which is why it is important to respect the stages. Waking up and interrupting an in-depth process of sleep (called REM sleep) results in a bad mood and difficulty in the course of waking up.
The main thing to keep in mind is to set a regular schedule for sleep. Try to keep the same hour for going to bed and for waking up. In this way, the brain will get accustomed to the routine and will perform better. To get the best rest, it is recommended not to use smartphones, tablets or watch TV at least an hour before going to bed. The blue light wakes up the brain, making it think it’s morning already and thus it becomes very hard to fall asleep. Caffeine can also be another factor that affects a good sleep. While some people enjoy it and feel its effect throughout the day, others might feel the effects late at night. Some people don’t even realize that this is the cause for their bad quality sleep.
Social life is also an important aspect of improving memory, though many people fail to see the connection. Most people think that to improve brain activity, you have to do significant efforts and hard work. However, relaxation and time spent with friends contribute as much as “serious” efforts to brain health. Humans are not designed to spend time alone, and social interaction stimulates the brain. Having people to support you has a positive impact on brain health, as well as body health. Volunteering, joining a club, going out with friends relax the mind and bring out the endorphins. A similar effect is having a pet and taking it out for a walk every day.
Another golden rule when it comes to maintaining the brain healthy and having a sharp memory is to keep stress at bay. In time, chronic stress slows down brain development and produces irreversible damage to the hippocampus. It destroys brain cells, and it is linked to memory loss. To minimize stress, it is a good idea to take several breaks in a day when to completely disconnect. A break where you still think about work or the stress factors is of no use. Experts also recommend expressing your feelings instead of keeping everything inside. This does not mean you have to do it in a violent or aggressive manner, but just acknowledging the current state and feelings helps you feel better.
Balance is essential to have a healthy life. Save up enough time for leisure and a decent amount of hours for work. Too much work damages the brain as it forces it to push more and more, while too much free time proves to be unproductive. Multitasking, though it sounds like a good idea, it makes the brain pay less attention to each activity instead of fully working on a task. Needless to say, this might prove to be less productive than actually taking one task at a time.
Perhaps the most important tip someone can give on improving memory is to laugh. They say laughter is the best medicine, and there is some truth in that when it comes to brain and mind. Laughter is an activity that solicits several regions in the brain, not just one. Having contact with jokes or punch lines forces the brain to become more creative and to learn new things. If you need to introduce more laughter in your life, you can start by laughing at yourself. Sharing embarrassing moments and talking about times that are not that pleasant can prove to be a fun way of releasing stress and making other people laugh, as well as yourself. Choosing as friends people who are always happy is a good idea since they can be a good company to play and have fun. You might even slowly adapt their vision on life and become a person who takes things more lightly. Children are also a good source of laughter and fun and you can learn from them how to play and bring joy back into your life. Last but not least, place reminders all over to remind you to smile. Whether it’s a post-it, a small toy or an object that is dear to you, put them on your desk, in the car or your room to always remind you to laugh and smile. 
Just as the entire body needs some fuel to work properly, the brain does so too. Diet is crucial when aiming to improve your brain activity and, implicitly, memory. A person who includes in their diet fruits, whole grains, vegetables, olive oil, fish, nuts or lean protein will sustain their brain to have a sharp memory and improve cognitive processes. If you’re not sure which foods are good for your brain, look for those that contain omega 3s, namely fish such as herring, trout, halibut, tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel. However, there are also other sources of healthy fats such as:
- kidney beans
- pinto beans
- pumpkin seeds
- flaxseed (and flaxseed oil)
- winter squash
- spinach and soybeans
Needless to say, saturated fats are not healthy neither for the body nor the brain. High amounts of butter, whole milk, cheese, red meat, cream or ice cream in your diet can slow down memory and concentration and increase the risk of dementia. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of antioxidants which prevent brain aging, along with green tea. Moderate drinking of red wine (which means a glass a day for women and two for men) is also beneficial for the brain since it offers the necessary dose of resveratrol, a substance that increases blood flow to the brain. However, too much alcohol kills brain cells, according to numerous studies.
When confronted with memory loss, whether critical or minor, many people do not think that certain diseases might be the cause. Especially if this change in memory took place unexpectedly, you should get a check-up and run some health tests on your body and brain. Not just dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are responsible for affecting the memory, but also other disorders or diseases that have this effect. Heart diseases, for instance, can affect brain functioning, together with its causes such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Diabetes or hormone imbalances also cause confusion, lack of focus, lack of attention and forgetfulness.
The common cold or allergy medications, antidepressants, and sleep aids can have as side effect memory loss. Check out the prospects of the medication you are taking and consult a doctor and/or a pharmacist.
There are also some useful tips for learning and studying better. One of the most important things to do is to pay attention. You can’t memorize anything if you’re not paying attention to what you’re seeing or reading. Studies have shown that eight seconds of intense attention should be enough for retaining the information. This is why it is important to choose a quiet place to study and read.
Relate information to as many senses as possible and previous information. Try to use colors, smells, textures, tastes to force the brain to retain new things. Also, making rhymes of a text you need to memorize will also help you. Creating association between something you already know and something new will build on the previous done neural paths, and it will be much easier to learn. If you have a hard text to retain, try taking out the main ideas, focus on understanding them and then try to explain them to somebody else.
You can even try some brain supplements. Though Gingko Biloba is famous for helping brain development and memory, recent studies have shown that there is no significant improvement after administering high doses of such supplements. However, fish oil proved to be the best in boosting memory and concentration. This happens because it contains omega three acids that inhibit memory-damaging substances produced in the brain and can even help in creating new neurons. Vitamin D is also useful, as well as the B vitamin complex, particularly B6 and B12. 
One last tip for improving memory and attention is to meditate. Taking some time each day to think about what is going on in your life or even practicing actual meditation techniques helps in reducing stress and “rewiring” the brain. Mind games are also ideal for challenging memory and attention. There are lots of books and apps with puzzles, memory tests, and other creative games that aim to test your cognitive functions and many are free, so it would be a shame not to take advantage of them.