A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of your brain.
Whether you’re a student studying for final exams, a working professional interested in doing all you can to stay mentally sharp, or a senior looking to preserve and enhance your grey matter as you age, there’s lots you can do to improve your memory and mental performance
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when it comes to the brain, scientists have discovered that this old adage simply isn’t true. The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change—even into old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways.
The brain’s incredible ability to reshape itself holds true when it comes to learning and memory. You can harness the natural power of neuroplasticity to increase your cognitive abilities, enhance your ability to learn new information, and improve your memory at any age.
Give your brain a workout
By the time you’ve reached adulthood, your brain has developed millions of neural pathways that help you process and recall information quickly, solve familiar problems, and execute habitual tasks with a minimum of mental effort. But if you always stick to these well-worn paths, you aren’t giving your brain the stimulation it needs to keep growing and developing. You have to shake things up from time to time!
Memory, like muscular strength, requires you to “use it or lose it.” The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. But not all activities are equal. The best brain exercises break your routine and challenge you to use and develop new brain pathways.
Four key elements of a good brain-boosting activity
- It teaches you something new. No matter how intellectually demanding the activity, if it’s something you’re already good at, it’s not a good brain exercise. The activity needs to be something that’s unfamiliar and out of your comfort zone. To strengthen the brain, you need to keep learning and developing new skills.
- It’s challenging. The best brain-boosting activities demand your full and close attention. It’s not enough that you found the activity challenging at one point. It must still be something that requires mental effort. For example, learning to play a challenging new piece of music counts. Playing a difficult piece you’ve already memorized does not.
- It’s a skill you can build on. Look for activities that allow you to start at an easy level and work your way up as your skills improve —always pushing the envelope so you continue to stretch your capabilities. When a previously difficult level starts to feel comfortable, that means it’s time to tackle the next level of performance.
- It’s rewarding. Rewards support the brain’s learning process. The more interested and engaged you are in the activity, the more likely you’ll continue doing it and the greater the benefits you’ll experience. So choose activities that, while challenging, are still enjoyable and satisfying.
Think of something new you’ve always wanted to try, like learning how to play the guitar, make pottery, juggle, play chess, speak French, dance the tango, or master your golf swing. Any of these activities can help you improve your memory, so long as they keep you challenged and engaged.
What about brain-training programs?
There are countless brain-training apps and online programs that promise to boost memory, problem-solving skills, attention, and even IQ with daily practice. But do they really work? Increasingly, the evidence says no. While these brain-training programs may lead to short-term improvements in whatever task or specific game you’ve been practicing, they don’t appear to strengthen or improve overall intelligence, memory, or other cognitive abilities.