If you have trouble in remembering in date of ‘Boston Tea Party’ or the atomic number of the noble gases or the decimal value of Pi, you are not the only one. Hundreds of students suffer from poor memory and less than desirable cognitive functions. However, a research study at UCLA in 2006 has shown that there are scientific ways to improve brain functions through simple lifestyle changes.
Improving cognitive functions
There is popular myth that we humans only use 10 percent of our brain while the remainder is underutilized or unutilized. The myth has been attributed to several scientists like Albert Einstein and is perpetuated in American popular media, including films and literature. However, recent researches have shown that almost the whole of brain is active almost all the time. Our memory falters because of the way we memorize things. Memory is the way we encode, store and retrieve information. The better we do it, the better it functions. Here is a list of 21 things you can do if you want to improve your memory:
1. Understand how memory works:
A lot of people think that memory is another term for mugging up. However, it is actually a precise process that involves three stages namely,
- encoding or registration of information
- storing or creating a permanent record of the information
- retrieving or recalling of the information when needed.
Understanding this step-by-step process can help in improving our memory. We can be careful about how each step works and thereby improve our cognitive functions. Even animals can be taught tricks with the help of scientific ways of memorizing.
2. Use your senses:
Different senses have different neurological functions. Of the five senses,ophthalmoception(sight) and audioception(hearing) are the two mostly used senses when it comes to learning. Our advice is that it will be better if you read, write and memorize while learning new things.This will help you retain information more quickly and effectively.
3. Use mnemonic devices:
Mnemonic devices are simple memory tricks that can help you remember a large number of things. For instance, if you want to remember the names of the planets in the solar system you can simply remember the phrase: My Violent Evil Monster Just Scared Us Nuts. In this phrase each of the words stands for one particular planet. They are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Such simple mnemonic devices therefore help us to remember a number of things which require mugging up.
4. Using neural associations:
The brain functions by forming large number of neural associations. Try to remember something by associating it with something more familiar. You can use this while remembering new words, historical events or even geometry theorems.
5. Try breaking up:
Try to familiarize your brain to a new piece of information by breaking up a bigger piece into different smaller pieces. Try to remember the spellings of different words by breaking them up in several parts. For example break up the word ‘assassination’ by breaking it up into ass-ass-i-nation.
6. Play memory games:
Memory games like remembering names of famous personalities in a chain order helps to improve memory. So try playing certain card games like matching cards etc. Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are made to play card games in order to help them improve their memory functions. Try to incorporate memory games in your Friday night gatherings. They could both be fun and useful.
7. Try to visualize:
Seeing is one of the most powerful of all the senses. Experts suggest that children who are taught through the use of visual methods are able to retain information better than those who simply memorize. As such try to visualize what you learn. Abstract concepts can made easier through the use of ophthalmoception.
8. Prioritize what you learn:
We remember what we need to and forget what we do not need. Memory is divided into short-term memory and long-term memory. Some information is transformed into long-term when they leave a deep impact on the mind. So try to prioritize your reading list. If history, chemistry and biology needs more attention, try to give them that or better cognitive results.
9. Eat healthy:
There are certain foods which are heath foods and are proven to significantly improve brain functions. Some of the important super foods which improve memory functions are tomatoes, blueberries, oily fish, pumpkin seeds, vitamin supplements, sage and broccoli. They are not only packed with essential nutrients, their memory boosting properties are legendary too.
10. Do not do drugs and alcohol:
Drugs and alcohol have a detrimental effect on our brain cells. Since we are all born with a finite number of brain cells, it is best not to kill them. Memory loss and memory based disorders are often related to drug problem and alcohol abuse.
11. Exercise regularly:
Cardio-vascular activities like running, jogging, swimming, cycling etc not only improve heart and lungs, they are shown to have a significant impact on cognitive functions as well. They increase the neuro-transmitter levels in brain, improve oxygen supply and augment neurogenesis in the hippocampus (part of the brain that is involved in memory formation and storage).
12. Read more:
Brain is one of the most vital organs of your body. If you use it well and keep it active, it will remain healthy for a long period of time. Reading novels, books, newspapers etc. will help you to digest and retain information. Remembering characters, plots and events can be fun, informative and healthy for your brain.
13. Connect memory with emotions:
German researchers have found out that emotions and other external triggers like odor can have a significant impact on memory. A group of patients were able to recall information better when they were connected with an associative emotion, picture or a smell. This is because the same set of neurons is connected with recalling information and registering it. As such trying to connect a piece of information with some happy emotions can help in memorizing.
14. Sleep well to remember:
Sleeping helps in recalling. During sleep our body goes through a three step process: acquisition, consolidation and recall. During sleep the neural connections are strengthened. Thus, next time when you feel snoozing, don’t feel shy. A light nap will rejuvenate you and you will wake up much more refreshed than before.
15. Try out memory exercises:
Memory optimization exercises have been developed by several scientists. Some of them are:
Spacing effect: An exercise where a piece of information is learnt and then studied once again after a long period of time, instead of learning it again and again over a short period of time.
Zeigarnik effect: An exercise where people are made to learn incomplete things rather than complete things. It is based on the understanding that people tend to remember incomplete things better than complete things.
Method of loci: An interesting mnemonic device practiced since the time of ancient Greeks and Romans which uses visuals to remember.
16. Stay organized:
Staying organized can help you to remember better. You will be able to stay focused by distinguishing between what is important and what is unimportant. Organize your academic life by following a time table and schedule of daily activities. Use simple things like ‘post-it’ to write down the list of things to do. This can be easily consulted before starting the day.
17. Avoid Stress:
Stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine are released when the human body undergoes stressful situation. This has a negative impact on memory. People tend to forget things when they are under stress. Try to avoid unnecessary stress before examinations.
18: Stop multitasking:
Research shows that multitasking is not at all helpful since it actually takes 8 seconds to register a new piece of information. Trying to learn several things at once will eventually slow you down and might hamper your ability to memorize multiple things at once. Thus, the best way is to learn is to take one task at a time.
19. Learn a new skill:
Skills which require concentration, attention and other neurological functions are good ways to improve brain function. Building toy models, photography, gardening, playing musical instruments and games such as chess helps in cognitive development. So pick up a hobby if you don’t have one.
20. Embrace the sun:
Activated vitamin D receptors increases nerve functions. Further the metabolic pathways for vitamin D lie in the hippocampus and cerebellum. These areas are also responsible for memory. Sunshine is the most potent source of vitamin D. Thus, enjoy a little bit of sunshine every day to improve your memory.
21. Watch what you eat:
While this may seem a bit odd but avoiding unhealthy food can actually improve brain function. Our gut has a certain kind of bacterium which transmits information to your brain through the vagus nerve (a cranial nerve that runs from your brain to your enteric system.) In short, your gut health can help to improve your brain function.
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