How To Improve Your Memory: Short- & Long-Term Habits For Staying Sharp
With all of the distractions and chaos of modern life, it's easy for your train of thought to derail or forget your grocery list as soon as you enter the store. To be honest, my memory just isn't as sharp as it was when I was regularly studying vocab flashcards in high school. And sometimes, when I walk into the kitchen, I forget why I was going in there in the first place (btw, the doorway effect1 is real).
Of course, it's all a function of modern life, but it's incredibly annoying, to say the least. It's one thing when you can't remember to buy oat milk but another when you're trying to recall the specifics of that magical second date with your now-spouse.
Memory is kind of everything, and we can be doing more to appreciate it, nurture the memories we have, and optimize our brains to better remember in the future. If you're interested in nourishing your brain and seeing just how well it can perform, we have the tips for you with both short-term memory strategies and long-term brain health tips that will keep your brain thriving and you remembering for years to come.
How much control do we have over our memory?
So what's the deal? Is our memory entirely under our control, or can we blame our parents for gifting us a poor or stellar hippocampal physiology?
Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., shares that we have more control over our memories and ability to remember than we realize. She points to memory athletes, who train for the national and world memory championships, to identify the potential power of our brains and memory. If you're interested in learning more about the processes and training of memory athletes, she recommends the book Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer, about a journalist's yearlong journey in prepping for a memory competition and engaging in the mental exercises of the world's top memory athletes. (Plus, reading is a great mental exercise in itself.)
How to improve memory.
You can support your body and brain by treating them well. Taking care of your brain allows for improved cognitive performance and robust memory. And taking care of your brain is much like taking care of the rest of your body, good nutrition, good sleep, and lots of water. Let's take a look at the top tips to improve your memory and support your brain health today and for decades to come:
Limit your alcohol intake.
Studies indicate that people who consume one to seven alcoholic drinks per week3 have smaller brains than nondrinkers and that generally the more someone drinks the smaller their brain becomes. That's your cue to head to the store to stock up on functional beverages like the amazing list of adaptogenic and nonalcoholic drinks that are all the rage these days.
Take a brain-supporting supplement.
A targeted brain-supporting supplement is a perfect (dare we say, smart) addition to any cognitive health and memory routine, whether you're 25 or 75. Try a supplement like mbg brain guard+ that utilizes citicoline, resveratrol, and kanna, a powerful and premium trio of full-potency nootropics clinically shown to support neurotransmitter production, attentional focus, processing speed, memory, and cognitive performance.*
Cognizin® is a clinically researched form of citicoline that is a brain nutrient that promotes neuronal structure and function (i.e., all those neurons firing to stay sharp).* In a randomized controlled trial4, this evidence-based form of citicoline in a 500-milligram daily dose yielded significant, positive improvements in episodic and overall memory after 12 weeks of supplementation in healthy adults ages 50 to 85.*
Also backed by clinical trials, the polyphenolic phytonutrient resveratrol has been shown to support word recall. At 150 milligrams taken daily, resveratrol has been demonstrated in clinical research to improve cerebrovascular responsiveness to cognitive stimuli, verbal memory, and overall cognitive performance.* In addition, a systematic review notes that resveratrol improves spatial memory and memory acquisition and has a significant effect on delayed recognition, a type of memory.*
The Indigenous South African botanical kanna (Sceletium tortuosum), known for its mood-balancing impact and impressive ability to promote cognitive flexibility, is also known for its memory boost.* A clinical trial of 50 milligrams of Zembrin® kanna found that during memory tests, participants experienced statistically significant increases in alpha2 waves, which research has established are involved in memory function.*
Get enough sleep.
We all know that quality sleep is essential for a myriad of reasons, and supporting your memory is just one of them. "Your brain is very good at remembering a thousand details, and most of them are not really critical for your life," neurologist and cognitive health researcher Scott Small, M.D., once explained in an episode of the mbg podcast.
When you're sleeping, the brain goes to work to clear out those less important details to make space for more valuable information. If you think your sleep has been subpar lately, check out these things that might be messing with it.
Be more mindful.
"We remember what we pay attention to," says Tara Swart, M.D., Ph.D., neuroscientist. "Attention is a powerful tool to cultivate through mindfulness to remember what we need to." Additionally, meditation and other mindfulness practices have been shown to increase overall brainpower. By keeping your hippocampus healthy, meditation improves learning and memory.
Eat brain food.
Omega-3 fatty acids are famous for supporting healthy brain function, and most of us don't get enough of them. DHA, a specific and well-researched type of omega-3 concentrated in marine sources, improves your working memory.* Try incorporating more fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, or sustainably sourced fish oil supplements like mbg's omega-3 potency+ into your routine. Other nutritional supplements that support the brain include vitamin D3, vitamin C, and rosemary.
Strengthen your memory.
As Suzuki mentioned, you'd be amazed by how we can train our memories. Next time you can't remember the name of that actor in the movie you are watching, don't look it up. Research5 suggests that our access to information limits our memory recall abilities. Try running through the alphabet (a trick my grandparents used to use to remember a name, pre-internet) before grabbing your phone to Google it.
Short-term memory improvement exercises and tips.
The best mental athletes in the world use tips like these, shares Suzuki. Let's take a look at how you can learn from the memory experts and apply these top-notch tips to your life:
- Repeat it: If you are struggling to remember something or want to make sure something sticks, repeat it.
- Make it new: "Novelty naturally attracts our attention, and because forming a strong memory requires good attention, novel items tend to be remembered better," shares Suzuki.
- Attach it to something you already know: The hippocampus allows us to form and retain new long-term memories. Suzuki thinks of this structure as an association machine. "It works by associating the who, what, where, and when of a memory together to form an episode," she says. The trick with this one is to relate a new piece of information to something you already know.
- Make it funny: Emotions are essential when it comes to memories. Suzuki shares that the infusion of emotional resonance makes memories stronger. That's why you can remember the happiest and saddest moments of your life so well. This trick also works with humor. So next time you need to remember something, turn it into something funny, and it will be easier to remember.
- Use a memory technique like loci: Loci, or the memory palace, is a memory recall technique. This technique teaches you to use a familiar spatial location from your memory, like your childhood home to place specific things you need to remember. For example, try placing your grocery list around the house you grew up in, like oat milk in the kitchen, bread on the dining room table, etc. "This uses the awesome associative functions of the hippocampus and the fact that the hippocampus is particularly good at spatial/topographic memories," says Suzuki. "So by associating this new list of information with a very well-known spatial layout, you can link those new items to that well-known memory and learn them faster and remember them longer."
Improving your memory means taking good care of yourself overall. It consists of all of those healthy habits you already know. Good food, enough sleep, enough water, mindfulness, and some smart supplementation can help you remember the things you want to remember.* But if you want to go that extra step to improve your memory or maybe have suddenly become interested in becoming a mental athlete, these tips are a go-to for mastering the art of remembering.
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.