What Are Memory Improvement Techniques and How Do They Work?Memory is an active system of structures and processes involved in encoding, storing, and subsequent retrieval of information. Without memory, we would not be able to learn anything. The ability to learn and memorize what we have learned is the key element to our survival.
The first element in the memory process is encoding the information by getting it into the memory system. The second element is storing the information in the brain, and the last element is the retrieval which is getting the information back out. A strong and healthy memory relays primarily on a healthy and vital brain. There are various techniques that can be used to improve the memory and mental performance, among which is a healthy diet and exercise, reading, and brain boosting games. Throughout history, human evolution shows a strong correlation between the physical health and the psychological well-being. “A healthy mind in a healthy body” is a mantra that became the foundation of early civilization and still is manifested on this present day. A good healthy diet is an important factor in obtaining and maintaining a healthy body and brain. Whereas a poor diet has a negative impact and can lead to many health issues such as obesity, heart problems, increased levels of blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as diabetes.
All of which affect the health of the brain: “Elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol could impair neural function by increasing oxidative or influencing membrane function” (Foster, 2006, p.159). The abundance of sugar makes memory less effective and reduces the ability to learn.
Foods that are high in fructose slow down the brain and reduce its ability to concentrate, learn, or remember information. The excess sugar destroys the neural connections. Therefore, a brain boosting diet that contains fish, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, olives, walnuts, and blue berries helps maintain brain health and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Physical exercise is another key element in maintaining a healthy mind and body. Exercising on a daily basis especially practicing aerobics, improves blood flow and enhances the memory, by stimulating chemical changes in the brain to make thinking, learning, sleep, and mood better. Godman (2014) states, “Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t” (para. 6). Therefore, regular exercise along with a healthy diet increase the health of both body and brain. Another important factor is water. The brain is approximately 80% water, a little as 2% loss of fluid in the brain reduces concentration, and leads to the failure of short term memory and other cognitive abilities. The brain is like a hard drive; the space is limited.
Human brain has a great ability to change and to adapt even at an old age, this ability is simply known as neuroplasticity. The brain can easily form new neural pathways with the help of the right stimulus, and change preexisting connections, as well as adapt in different ways: “Better memory function is maintained in individuals who undertake intellectually engaging tasks throughout their lifespan” (Foster, 2006, pp. 161-162). And what better way to enhance the function of the brain than reading. Reading trains the brain by activating multiple areas that are not used at other times.
While reading blood rushes to areas of the brain that are responsible for concentration and cognition, this form of exercise is a great brain workout, it helps in the process of learning and memorizing new vocabulary. While reading, it is preferable to underline new words thus creating a mental image in the brain to represent each key word and makes it easy to remember it. People who read more have rich vocabulary. Better memory function is maintained in individuals who undertake intellectually engaging tasks across their lifespan. Moreover, a low educational level is a risk factor for the emergence of cognitive deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease.
Staying physically and mentally active turns out to be among the best prescriptions for maintaining a healthy brain and a resilient memory. Brain boosting activities such as meditation, jigsaw puzzles, and the game of chess help sharpen both short and long term memory. Meditation is known to reduce stress and anxiety, it has a significant role in improving both physical and mental health and well-being: “research suggests that even short periods of meditation can change brain structure and function and lead to improvements in cognitive function” (Newberg et al., 2014, p. 112). Lower rates of stress increase positive emotions which contribute in the improvement of psychological status.
Moreover, people who have been practicing meditation on a regular basis have shown significant improvement on cognitive performance, and that a consistent practice promotes positive, and long lasting changes in cognition and overall mental well-being: “Researchers found that meditation training increased mindfulness, enhanced working memory capacity, and reduced switch costs in the attention task. In addition, mindfulness training reduced anxiety, negative affect, and depression.” (Newberg et al.
2014, p. 118). Jigsaw puzzles are a great tool for training short-term memory. The brain has to sort out a series of shapes and colors, in order to create a visual image.
The more pieces to sort through, the more work the brain has to perform. This is a quiet rewarding game; putting a piece in the right place has been proven to stimulate the production of dopamine, which helps with concentration. This type of puzzle game is important to enhance memory retrieval: “the raw material of memory is a set of stored fragments (incomplete bundles of features). Memory retrieval is an iterative process involving interactions between memory fragments and a coherent jigsaw, called the Current Memory, which is assembled from the memory fragments” (Smith, 2000, pp.
245-246). Memory retrieval requires revisiting the nerve pathways that were formed by the brain when encoding the information or memory, the strength of these pathways determines how fast the memory can be recalled. Another great way to improve the memory is a good game of chess.
It is one of the most intellectually challenging games known to man. Most amateur participants usually rely on short term memory to study the board and plan their next move, whereas more experienced players have established well planned strategies to their long-term memory, thus altering the exercise of retaining information for the long run. This also allows them to perform remarkably well in any recall task: “In recent studies, we found that temporal series generated from an empirical and chronologically ordered chess database does exhibit long-range memory effects” (Schaigorodsky et al, 2016, p.2). Chess is an easy game to learn and it is good for all ages, most importantly it is good for the memory. Memory gives us the ability to learn and remember past experiences such as learned facts, skills, habits, and impressions.
Studying human memory has been a topic of philosophy and science for centuries. Forgetting is a common event that occurs to most people, it can happen for multiple reasons. Failure to recall and retrieve information from long-term memory is surprisingly common, and no matter how well the memory is functioning, there are always few things that can be done to enhance and sharpen it. there are many ways in which memory can be improved: reading, meditating, healthy diet and exercise, playing chess and puzzles, these are among the best techniques to help sharpen the memory. In addition, relating new information to things already known can help, and keeping stress in check goes along way as well.