It seems like every week a new study reveals some wacky way to boost your memory. For example, chewing gum and sipping cocoa (not at the same time) were recently linked to improved recall. Not surprisingly, the evidence backing these theories is a little thin. But there are plenty of carefully researched, science-backed methods to fire up your mind’s recall and retention. Here, 10 you should definitely try.
The less you sleep, the more your cognitive abilities—including your memory—will suffer, concludes a study from Finland. Some recent research from the University of Lübeck in Germany has also suggested that sleep is a time when your brain sorts and stores new memories. If you’re sleep-deprived, your brain won’t retain or recall information as well as it normally would. And no amount of catch-up sleep will bring back those lost memories, the German study authors say. (These 20 ways to sleep better every night can help.)
Piles of research have linked exercise to a stronger memory. One of the most recent studies came from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Among older women, aerobic exercise (running, swimming) significantly increased the volume of the brain’s hippocampus—the structure involved in verbal memory and learning. The more you move, the more oxygen- and nutrient-carrying blood flows to and nourishes your brain, the study authors say. Basically, if you want a healthy memory, you need to exercise.
3. Chat with friends
You probably don’t realize it, but having a conversation with another person requires your brain to complete several high-level processes at once. You have to follow what the person is saying, interpret the meaning of her words, and come up with an appropriate reply. All of that requires effort. And as a result, speaking with another person—even on the phone—is enough to boost your recall significantly, shows a study from the University of Michigan. Another study found daily social interaction helps fend off memory diseases like Alzheimer’s.
4. Seek out novel experiences
If you’re not challenging your brain with new places and information, your memory suffers, shows research from University College London. Familiar activities allow your noodle to laze into autopilot. But novelty—whether you’re exploring a new hiking trail or taking up Sudoku puzzles—can stimulate your brain and memory, the UK study (and plenty of others) shows.
5. Challenge your brain
One study from Scotland found people with jobs that require lots of high-level, complex brain processes (architects, for example) tend to have better memories later in life. But what if you don’t have one of those jobs? Dissecting the information you encounter in top-down, effortful ways can keep your memory sharp, indicates research from the University of Texas, Dallas. For example, after you watch a TV show, try to distill what you just saw into its parts. What was the point of the episode? What growth did the characters experience? Make your brain work, and you’ll keep your memory sharp.
Stress and everything that goes along with it (inflammation, poor sleep) have been shown to mess with your memory. Laughter not only counteracts stress, but also improves your short-term memory, shows a series of research efforts from Loma Linda University. Just 20 minutes of watching a funny video was enough to bolster short-term memory, the researchers discovered.
Multiple studies have linked various types of meditation to memory benefits. Why? Retaining and storing information requires focus. And meditation involves blocking out distractions and sharpening your attention in ways that bolster memory, suggests a study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. There’s even evidence that meditation improves cerebral blood flow—another memory boosting side effect. (Try these 3 quick meditations that anyone can do.)
8. Eat berries
Several studies have tied the consumption of berries—especially blueberries—to improved memory recall and retention. Berries are packed with flavonoids, which a UK study linked to improved vascular function. Because better blood flow is good for your brain, the flavonoids in berries could explain why the fruit boosts recall, the UK study authors speculate.
9. Get your vitamin D
The past few years have seen a big surge in research linking vitamin D to all sorts of health benefits. Several of those studies drew connections between the “sunshine vitamin” and both brain health and memory. One, from Oregon Health & Science University, linked higher vitamin D levels to improved verbal memory scores. Another study, this one from the UK, hinted that D may protect the brain from dementia.
Several recent experiments have found that mind wandering may allow your brain to better catalogue and store memories. One study in the journal Neuron suggested daydreaming actually helps improve your memory in ways similar to sleeping or napping. On the other hand, multitasking—that is, switching quickly from one task to another without a break—may actually harm your brain’s ability to recall information, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.