Improve Your Memory: Improving your memory is not something that you should take lightly. In younger years, many people relegate memory problems until an older age. But the best medicine is always preventative—so working on improving your memory today will help ensure that your memory is strengthened with age.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
When Should You Start Working on Your Memory?
If you’re already exhibiting signs of cognitive decline, this is a sharp wake-up call that it’s time to start supporting your brain health. That being said, whether or not you are aware that your brain needs support, it’s never too soon to start. Although studies used to think cognitive decline begins around age 60, a newer ten-year-long suggests it may begin around age 45 1.
Working on cognitive wellness and natural ways to improve your memory will serve you well into old age, and in fact, those with only mild cognitive decline show better and quicker results than those with severe decline 2. Building new neural pathways takes time, so doing the daily habits to support your memory today will help you in the long run, no matter where your brain health is currently at.
Improve Your Memory: Signs of Cognitive Decline
Signs of cognitive decline are often very subtle as they develop. The early stages of cognitive decline are known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). At its worst, MCI can, in time, develop into full-blown neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, so it’s essential to keep an eye out for the early signs 3.
The signs of cognitive decline vary from person to person but include: 3
- Memory decline: forgetting things you used to remember easily, like appointments, recent events, or conversations.
- Skill ability decline: losing the ability to make sound decisions, judge the time or sequence of steps needed to complete a complex task or visual perception.
Top Ways to Naturally Improve Your Memory
Luckily, there are many natural ways to prevent cognitive decline and even improve your memory with age.
1. Learn New Things
One of the best ways to promote long-term and short-term memory is to keep learning new skills. This is because learning new things helps cultivate neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections. Neuroplasticity is developed when the brain is forced to adapt to new challenges that you repeatedly do until they create a brand new connection (called a neural pathway) 4.
The best skills to improve your memory are the ones that require you to concentrate, engage fully, and engage mentally. Hand-eye coordination and motor skills that challenge you are also excellent for developing cognitive abilities.
Some activities include: 5
- Learning a new instrument
- Learning a new language
- Building something (woodworking, sculpting)
- Playing a board or card game that cultivates skill (poker, backgammon, chess)
- Learning a new sport
Exercise is a fantastic tool to not only prevent cognitive decline but also to improve your cognitive capacity and memory. Studies show that exercise can help protect memory both short and long-term 6. Exercise helps promote cognitive abilities by:
- Boosting circulation and oxygen
- Increasing neuroplasticity
- Lowering inflammation
- Reducing the likelihood of developing common co-factors of cognitive decline like diabetes or cardiovascular disease
- Increasing your stress resilience
- Releasing endorphins
Although exercises like high-intensity interval training yield the best results overall, the most significant factor with exercise is consistency 7. With age, low-impact activities like walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga may be more suited.
3. Cut Out Sugar
Sugar is connected to a wide range of inflammatory diseases 8. Studies show that a high-sugar diet can lead to poor memory and reduced brain volume, particularly in the brain area that stores short-term memory 9.
Although glucose is a primary fuel source for brain function, consuming it in excess, as we do in modern times, has been linked to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s 10. But, unfortunately, not all sugar is created equal, and the worst offenders are highly processed sugars and artificial sweeteners.
4. Eat Brain Foods
In general, an anti-inflammatory diet is recommended for brain health. This includes avoiding refined sugar and vegetable oils and focusing on a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet. Some things to have are:
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce inflammation and prevent cognitive decline. Although many studies highlight the benefits of a fish oil supplement, we advise getting your fatty fish oils from whole fish. Isolated fish oil is at high risk of being oxidized and rancid 11-13.
- Healthy fats: other than Omega 3 fatty acids, fats in general (the good kind!) support brain function. They include animal fat like tallow and butter, olive oil, avocadoes, and coconut oil 14.
- High-antioxidant foods, like blueberries, broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, citrus fruits, cacao (dark chocolate), turmeric, and herbs 15.
Loneliness is scientifically associated with decreased brain capacity 16. For example, one study followed over 8,000 men and women over 65 for 22 years. The results found that loneliness at baseline predicted accelerated cognitive decline over 12 years independent of baseline socio-demographic factors, social network, health conditions, and depression 16.
You can cultivate a strong sense of community in many ways by connecting with neighbors, family, co-workers or joining a group with whom you can regularly engage, like a religious group or church, a volunteer organization, fitness center, or sports team.
6. Sleep Quality
Sleep plays a vital role in various health factors with cognitive health, including memory, focus, and the capacity to solve problems 17. Studies demonstrate that your memory is consolidated during deep stages of sleep, so although the quantity of sleep matters, it’s all about the quality when it comes to cognitive health.
Ways to promote sleep quality include: 18
- Limiting exposure to artificial light 2+ hours before bed (especially staring right into screens)
- If using lights after dark, wear blue light blocking glasses
- Have a regular sleep and wake time
- Expose your eyes to daylight as soon as you wake up, and get enough sun exposure throughout the day
- Avoid vigorous exercise or large meals 3+ hours before bed
- Reduce or cut out caffeine, especially anytime after 12 noon
Improve Your Memory: Summary
Cognitive decline has often been seen as a problem of old age, but research suggests that it starts around age 45. Preventing and even reversing memory loss and cognitive decline relating issues can be done using natural lifestyle changes. The top ways to naturally improve mental health include learning new things, exercising, cutting out sugar, building community, and improving sleep quality.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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2 Kinsella, Glynda J et al. “Strategies for improving memory: a randomized trial of memory groups for older people, including those with mild cognitive impairment.” Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD vol. 49,1 (2016): 31-43. doi:10.3233/JAD-150378.
3 “Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).” Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/related_conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment.
4 Fuchs, Eberhard, and Gabriele Flügge. “Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research.” Neural Plasticity, vol. 2014, 2014, pp. 1–10., https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/541870.
5 Hertzog, Christopher, et al. “Enrichment Effects on Adult Cognitive Development.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 9, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–65., https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01034.x.
6 Most, Steven B et al. “Evidence for improved memory from 5 minutes of immediate, post-encoding exercise among women.” Cognitive research: principles and implications vol. 2,1 (2017): 33. doi:10.1186/s41235-017-0068-1.
7 Silva, Narlon C. Boa Sorte, et al. “The Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training on Cognition and Blood Pressure in Older Adults With Hypertension and Subjective Cognitive Decline: Results From the Heart & Mind Study.” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, vol. 13, 2021, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2021.643809.
8 Della Corte, Karen W et al. “Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies.” Nutrients vol. 10,5 606. 12 May. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10050606
9 Beilharz, J E et al. “Short-term exposure to a diet high in fat and sugar, or liquid sugar, selectively impairs hippocampal-dependent memory, with differential impacts on inflammation.” Behavioural brain research vol. 306 (2016): 1-7. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2016.03.018
10 Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease in the community.
Pase MP, Himali JJ, Jacques PF, DeCarli C, Satizabal CL, Aparicio H, Vasan RS, Beiser AS, Seshadri S. Alzheimers Dement. 2017 Sep; 13(9):955-964.
11 Swanson, Danielle et al. “Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 3,1 (2012): 1-7. doi:10.3945/an.111.000893.
12 Bevan-Jones, W Richard et al. “Neuroimaging of Inflammation in Memory and Related Other Disorders (NIMROD) study protocol: a deep phenotyping cohort study of the role of brain inflammation in dementia, depression and other neurological illnesses.” BMJ open vol. 7,1 e013187. 7 Jan. 2017, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013187.
13 Cameron-Smith, David et al. “Fishing for answers: is oxidation of fish oil supplements a problem?.” Journal of nutritional science vol. 4 e36. 23 Nov. 2015, doi:10.1017/jns.2015.26.
14 Meco, Antonio Di, and Domenico Praticò. “Early‐Life Exposure to High‐Fat Diet Influences Brain Health in Aging Mice.” Aging Cell, vol. 18, no. 6, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.13040.
15 “How Do Antioxidants Lend Themselves to Brain Health?” Alzheimers.net, https://www.alzheimers.net/antioxidants-lend-themselves-to-brain-health.
16 Donovan, Nancy J et al. “Loneliness, depression and cognitive function in older U.S. adults.” International journal of geriatric psychiatry vol. 32,5 (2017): 564-573. doi:10.1002/gps.4495
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18 Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep. Scribner, 2017.