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How to Improve Your Memory

Written by Paul Wolf

how to improve your memoryTake a new route to work or brush your teeth with the opposite hand, and you'll give your brain a workout. Stimulation is the key to mental fitness.


Taking the side streets to work is like step aerobics for the brain. Getting dressed with your eyes closed are the jumping jacks. Learning classical guitar is a lifetime membership to Gold's Gym.

Working your brain in new ways helps to preserve memory, according to a number of recent books and studies. This is because neural connections between brain cells disappear when they aren't needed. You build these synapses simply by doing different things.

Watch this video on how to improve your memory:

 

In The Memory Solution, Julian Whitaker, M.D., writes that memory decline is often attributed to aging when it shouldn't be. The real problem is understimulation and confining habits.

The pattern is all too familiar. Depression following the death of a spouse leads to withdrawal. Chronic illness leads to fewer excursions to new places. Retirement can mean a trip to the post office is the day's big event.

Like muscles that get soft and shrink if you stop working out, the brain needs stimulation to stay strong and healthy. "The brain is able to store an almost infinite amount of new information," writes Whitaker. "It just depends on how much you stimulate it."

In their book, Keep Your Brain Alive, Lawrence Katz, Ph.D., and Manning Rubin have developed a series of brain-pumping exercises called neurobics, designed to keep you mentally fit for life.

No pain, no gain? Hardly. Unexpected stimulation doesn't have to mean learning computer programming in your spare time. Novelty can be as simple as closing your eyes and smelling the roses.

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Want to Improve Your Memory? Forget Your Routine

Here are seven ways to give your brain a boost:

1. Shake up the automatic activities of the day.

According to Katz and Rubin, this can be done in many ways, including brushingbrain building and boosting memory from trying new things your teeth with the opposite hand; taking the side streets when you'd normally take the thoroughfare; or reorganizing your desk at work.

 

2. Retire to other work.

Whitaker warns against exchanging "the office for the couch." You can keep active by deferring retirement, mentoring others in the field, taking up challenging civic or environmental causes, traveling to exotic lands or stepping up your role with the grandkids.

 

3. Fill up your senses and trick them occasionally

The modern, industrialized world has made us put too much emphasis on sight and hearing, say Katz and Rubin. There was a time when smell and touch were crucial to gauging the freshness of food, or even the suitability of an overnight shelter. Memory is not just for sights and sounds, but for texture, smell and even emotions.

Explore an Indian or Asian market and get to know the spices and unfamiliar foods. Take in the fragrance of garam masala, the curry powder, and file it in your mind.

 

4. Find hobbies that use different parts of the brain.

You don't need a map of the cortex to guess what activities might fit the bill. Even if you have two left feet, ballroom dancing may be just the thing. Reading from short stories to Tolstoy is a great brain-building hobby.

 

5. Replace TV with other forms of stimulation.

Whitaker distinguishes passive activity and stimulating ones. Gardening, playing chess or redecorating the living room are inherently better than TV.

 

6. Create new associations

Instead of waking up to the smell of coffee, take a whiff of vanilla extract first thing. Do this daily until vanilla replaces coffee as the smell you associate with morning. It may sound off-the-wall, but Katz and Rubin say creating new associations, even arbitrary ones, are tantamount to brain-building.

 

7. Talk (and listen) to people you would normally ignore.

Every day is an opportunity to practice memory boosting. Ask the bus driver his name, start a conversation, recall his name on the next occasion. If he tells you his 13-year-old son is taking tuba lessons, make a note to ask him how the boy is progressing.

Boosting memory is not just about overthrowing old routines but creating new, more dynamic ones.

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Photographer: Carole Nickerson

 

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