15 Ways to Improve Your Memory

Don’t forget!
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Eat Blueberries and Red Grapes

"Anthocyanins, the chemicals that give these fruits their deep hue, are absorbed into the brain’s membranes and can improve memory and cognition," says James Joseph, PhD, of Tufts University. "And frozen fruit works just as well as fresh." Get the same benefits with: plums (fresh or dried), purple grape juice, blackberries, and red cabbage. -Nicci Micci
Photo by Bob Stefko

Take the Stroop Test

This brainteaser of a game requires you to inhibit your brain’s automatic response in favor of spontaneous thinking: for example, the word red may be printed in green ink, and as quickly as you can, you have to identify the color of the ink rather than the word you see. You use this inhibition skill daily whenever you break your normal routine or have to use new information (holding your tongue in social situations or driving on the left side of the road in Britain, for instance). -Michael Dolan

Eat an Apple a Day

Cornell researchers recently found that quercetin, an antioxidant in apples, may protect the brain from the kinds of damage seen in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. All varieties contain healthy amounts of this and other antioxidants, according to study author Chang Y. Lee, PhD, chairman of the department of Food Science and Technology at Cornell University. Eat the peel; it’s where the compound is most concentrated. -Nicci Micci


Because creating visual links helps you remember a group of items, "If you need to buy bread and milk, envision bread dunking into a glass of milk," Nanette Santoro, MD of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in New York, suggests. Or try reQall.com, a free program that sends reminders to your cell phone or e-mail account. -Meryl Davids Landau
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A calm, focused mind also improves memory and concentration. So much of forgetfulness has to do with multitasking, with your mind scattered in a million directions. "When you can’t find your keys or remember a name, you have to ask yourself, how many things are you trying to pay attention to at once?" says Leslee Kagan, of the Mind/Body Medical Institute. Meditation teaches you to be mindful in the present moment, letting go of all those spiraling thoughts about the past, future, office politics, and the grocery list, and giving your mind and memory an opportunity to come into focus.
Photo by Helen Norman

Catch Some Zzzz’s

Focus on good sleep. Scientists from Singapore have documented their finding that a tired mind absorbs only a small amount of visual information. (That’s one way we take in important details.) -Meryl Davids Landau
Photo by Kritsada Panichgul

Do a Crossword Puzzle Every Week

"Some games also appear to help you multitask because they tap into several different cognitive domains at once," says Deborah E. Barnes, PhD, 41, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. "I like crossword puzzles and Sudoku, although they haven’t been formally tested for these benefits in a research setting. Crosswords require memory of past events and words as well as visual-spatial function. Sudoku requires these functions plus logic. Some researchers believe that consistently playing these games may build up what’s known as cognitive reserve. One example of how this might work: Your brain develops alternative connections between neurons, so when some begin to malfunction, you have other connections in place to pick up the slack. This means even if dementia is developing, it takes longer for symptoms to show up."
Photo by Adam Albright

Work Your Brain

Read a magazine. Reading books, magazines, and newspapers several days a week was associated with a 35 percent lower risk for dementia in older adults compared with those who read less often, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study, though researchers aren’t sure if a lack of reading caused the dementia to develop or if early dementia caused subjects to stop reading. -Michael Dolan
Photo by Mark Lohman

Boost Your Brain with Bridge

"Although bridge hasn’t been studied, I like it because it has all the components of a major brain booster," says Deborah E. Barnes, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. "It places you in a social setting and requires you to communicate bids with your partner, employing language skills; to remember which cards have been played, using short-term memory; and to strategize your next move, using judgment and expert knowledge. Chess, Scrabble, and even the card game Concentration require some combination of strategy, memory, and reasoning as well and thus may have benefits that can help stave off the symptoms of mental aging."
Photo by Scott Little

Cook with Garlic

What doesn’t it prevent? The March 2006 issue of the Journal of Nutrition devoted an entire section to 35 separate studies linking garlic to a reduction in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, and heart disease. And garlic packs just five calories per teaspoon.
Photo by Mike Dieter

Turn up the Radio

Listening to music triggers the release of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, which in turn promotes storage of memories. "We’re better able to record memories when we’re in a positive frame of mind," explains British psychologist Catriona Morrison, who teaches at the University of Leeds. It’s as if music gives you extra glue to cement data into your brain. You can use music to process new information more deeply. "You could train yourself by associating whatever you want to remember-your new PIN, say-with a particular piece of music," Morrison says. Repeat the number while listening to something you enjoy. And make it an instrumental selection, Morrison says: "Words are too distracting." -Elizabeth Devita-Raeburn
Photo by Peter Krumhardt

Feed Your Mind

Feed your memory the right foods. "The brain, like any other part of the body, functions best when it’s fed the right stuff," says David Perlmutter, MD, neurologist and author, The Better Brain Book. "Seventy percent of the brain is fat, so you need to provide it with the right fats. The most important one is DHA [docosahexaenoic acid]. People who have the highest levels of DHA have the lowest risk of Alzheimer’s disease. You get DHA primarily from eating fish or seaweed. If you’re watching your fish intake, any DHA supplement that is made from marine algae is perfectly safe. Also, avoid eating bad fats. Processed hydrogenated fats, like trans fats, which are so common in our diets, make for a brain that works less well."
Photo by Mike Dieter

Be Social

Go to a party. If you’re routinely depressed or isolated, you’ll be more likely to develop dementia, perhaps because you don’t get enough of the mental stimulation that comes from conversation and social activities. -Michael Dolan
Photo by Peter Krumhardt

Start Moving

"Aerobic exercise boosts brainpower, including the ability to pay attention to things and get back your capacity for controlled forgetting," says John Medina, PhD, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. "The data show that in as little as four months of exercise, it’s not unusual to get a 100 to 200 percent improvement in the various tests that measure the ability to process information. That is, as long as compliance is 100 percent. You won’t get those results exercising once a week. But preliminary research suggests memory improves only once you’ve been doing regular aerobic exercise for about three years. So this really is an argument for an immediate lifestyle change."
Photo by Blaine Moats

Get Into Gaming

"If you’re starting to have trouble balancing your checkbook or maintaining your finances, you can keep those skills sharp with such games as Nintendo’s Brain Age (brainage.com) and the Smartbrain CDRom System (smartbrain.net), both of which include helpful math activities," says Deborah E. Barnes, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies how aging brains work. "If you want to improve your memory, you can use mnemonics, a technique by which you associate what you want to remember with verbal or visual cues (such as using "roygbiv" to remember the order of the colors of the rainbow)."

Next: Give Your Mind a Workout With These Brain-Boosting Reads

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