1. Talk with your hands.
It may sound strange, but waving your hands and gesturing while trying to learn a concept may help your brain remember something important, says Jeff Brown, PsyD, ABPP, coauthor of The Winnerâ€™s Brain. "Gesturing in a meaningful way while you are learning may help you when recalling the concept,â€ he says. â€œThe idea is that you are storing at least two different types of information about something you'll need to recall later. A good example of this is when kids speak math problems aloud, but also 'work them' in the air.â€ Tactics to try: When youâ€™ve just learned someoneâ€™s name, â€œwriteâ€ it down on the palm of your hand with your finger. The act of tracing the letters on your palm (discreetly, of course) can help your brain remember it, says Dr. Brown. Or, â€œAir-write on an imaginary map of your grocery store or mall as you name aloud the items or stores you need to remember when shopping.â€
2. Take a chill pill.
Learning to calm down and not carry as much stress can help your brain in significant ways, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, PT, a psychologist and physical therapist in Wexford, Pennsylvania, and the author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. â€œThe best tip to improve your memory is: Reduce your stress,â€ says Dr. Lombardo. â€œResearch shows that when people experience chronic stress, their hippocampusâ€”the part of your brain that is responsible for some memoriesâ€”literally shrinks in size.â€ In fact, a 2007 study in the journal Neurology by researchers at Rush University Medical School found that people who are easily distressed and had more negative emotions were more likely to develop memory problems than more easygoing people. How to reduce your stress? Consider delegating more tasks at work, clearing your social calendar for the weekend (thereâ€™s nothing wrong with having nothing on the calendar!) and purging negative relationships from your life.
3. Get plenty of zzzâ€™s.
Youâ€™ve heard the concept of â€œsleeping on itâ€ when youâ€™re faced with a problem or difficult decision, right? Well, getting a good nightâ€™s sleep can help you improve your memory, too. "Sleep is critical for memory consolidation,â€ says Dr. Brown. â€œGetting at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep following exposure to new information can help in the recall of that information.â€ But thereâ€™s an important side note: â€œThe trick is going directly to bed without inserting any new information or activity between what you want to recall and going to sleepâ€”no reading, no TV, no sex, no music."
4. Eat more fruits and veggies.
Eating your spinachâ€”and carrots and peasâ€”is not only good for your body, itâ€™s good for your memory, too. A recent Harvard study found that people who ate more vegetables had a slower decline of brain function as they aged. â€œOther studies, such as one published in Pharmacology, have shown that essential brain-boosting nutrients found in certain produce, such as quercetin and anthocyanin, may reverse memory loss,â€ says Tosca Reno, a health and fitness expert and author of the bestselling book The Eat-Clean Diet. You can find these compounds in cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage, as well as in leafy greens, including kale, spinach and Swiss chard. Also load up on brightly colored produce such as berries, red apples, eggplant and grapesâ€”their bright hue is an indication of their brain-boosting antioxidants.
5. Join a book club.
Not only is reading great for your brain, but discussing what youâ€™ve read can improve your memory by leaps and bounds, says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD. In fact, a book club with your closest girlfriends may help strengthen your brainâ€™s frontal lobe function. â€œThe frontal lobe is the last region of the brain to develop, but the first to decline with age,â€ explains Dr. Chapman. â€œTo strengthen function of the frontal lobe, engage in deeper-level thinking activities such as interpreting what you read in a book, discussing the â€˜larger messagesâ€™ in the book and pushing to see how many meanings you can derive from it.â€
6. Go to yoga class.
What can a downward-facing-dog pose do for your memory? A lot, says Gina Norman, a yoga teacher in New York City. â€œA new study out of the University of North Carolina shows that brief meditative exercise helps cognition and skills essential to critical thinking,â€ she says. But if youâ€™re not into yoga, exercise of any kind works to boost your brain, says Dr. Lombardo. â€œResearch shows that exercise increases the blood flow to all areas of your body, including the brain and specifically areas involved in memory,â€ she says. â€œOne study found that mice who exercised grew new brain cells in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus which can be affected by declines in memory as we get older.â€ Short on time? â€œTry running up a flight of stairs, jogging to a bathroom that is farther away from you, doing 50 jumping jacks, putting on a great song and dancing around, or grabbing your childâ€™s hand and jumping on the bed together.â€
7. Sniff some rosemary.
Parsley and sage are great, as is thyme, but when it comes to improving memory, rosemary is king. In a recent study, UK researchers looked at scents and how they boosted or detracted from mental performance. They found that office workers whose cubicles were infused with the scent of rosemary had better long-term memory than those in unscented cubes. â€œThere are other essential oils that can help with memory, but rosemary is by far the best and most economical,â€ says Cher Core, an aromatherapist in Boston. â€œDiffuse rosemary essential oil in the air, wear it in a perfume, use it in mists and more. It is a good choice for those studying and folks who need help with memory, focus and concentration.â€
8. Pay attention.
Duh, right? It may sound obvious, but according to experts, when most people think theyâ€™re having memory problems, itâ€™s really because they were distracted or didnâ€™t record the information in their brain properly to begin with, says Linda Edelstein, PhD, adjunct faculty at Northwestern University and the author of The Art of Midlife. â€œWhen people cannot retrieve information it is often because they haven't taken it in in the first place,â€ she says. â€œYou cannot recall information that you did not store.â€ The number-one trick to paying closer attention? Stop multitasking and be fully present. That means setting down the BlackBerry while lunching with your friend, turning off the TV when youâ€™re trying to read something and not letting your eyesâ€”or mindâ€”wander when chatting with someone at a party. Youâ€™ll be more likely to remember the personâ€™s name.
9. Learn a new song.
Have you ever found yourself singing along to a song you love that debuted 10 years ago, and yet you still donâ€™t know the lyrics? Learning the words could be fun, but it could also be good for your memory in general. By memorizing a song, â€œyou will be working out at least two different kinds of memory, auditory and verbal, which is probably something you don't do very often,â€ says Cynthia Green, PhD, an expert on brain health and memory. â€œThe research suggests that constantly challenging our brains with intellectual pursuits may boost our â€˜cognitive reserveâ€™ and can have the associated benefit of reducing our dementia risk over the long-term.â€
10. Go ahead and doodle.
Whenâ€™s the last time you grabbed a pencil and paper and let your mind goâ€”drawing hearts and rainbows, or whatever scene or object popped into your head? Surprisingly, says Dr. Green, a free-flowing pen could be the key to strengthening your brainâ€™s memory centers. â€œDoodling has been found in studies to boost concentration, which is an essential first step to learning and memory,â€ says Dr. Green. â€œAfter all, if you can't focus on information, you don't acquire it effectively, and you can never remember something you don't learn in the first place!â€