8 Surprising Ways To Improve Your Memory

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Everyone suffers from memory lapses from time to time. We all misplace our keys, forget about appointments and lose the remote from time to time.

But as we age, these bouts of short-term memory loss can become more frequent. It's not quite clear to experts why this happens, but it likely has to do in part to the fact that aging causes areas of the brain crucial to memory to deteriorate. 

One such area, the hippocampus, loses about five percent of its cells each decade after you turn forty.

Drinking, smoking and your genetic makeup can also affect the rate at which your memory declines.

The good news is memory loss doesn't have to be permanent. Memory decline can be slowed or reversed by frequent mental and physical stimulation. 

But what specifically can you do to stimulate your brain? As you might have guessed, living a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating a healthy diet and avoiding excessive drug and alcohol use will lesson memory decline

But there are a few, more surprising things you can do to boost your brainpower. Here are a few of them:

1. Organize your living or working space

Cluttered desk, cluttered mind. The old saying is true.

According to Dr. Cynthia R. Green, clearing your workspace of non-essential items, keeping up on your paper filing and organizing your desk can help improve memory.

The same is true of your living space. Finding your lost keys in a clean house is a lot easier than finding them in a cluttered one.

2. Eat Spicy Foods

Cilantro and cumin -- two spices commonly found in Mexican and Indian foods -- both showed an ability to boost memory in recent studies.

The cumin study was especially interesting. Researchers trained rats to avoid a mild electric shock by jumping on a pole, then gave them a mild dose of a memory-inhibiting drug. Rats that ate diets supplemented with cumin recalled the pole-jumping trick more than twice as quickly as those that did not.

3. Doodle your way through phone calls or presentations

It may seem counter-intuitive, but doodling during a call or presentation can actually help you remember it better. One study showed people who doodled while listening to a phone call performed nearly 29% better on a surprise memory quiz than those who did not.

If you're doodling, you're probably not distracting yourself by daydreaming, which may explain this effect.

4. Do yoga

Similarly, clearing your mind of distracting thoughts by doing yoga may also help your memory.

In one study, memory test scores for a group of people that did 20 minutes of yoga before the test were "significantly superior" to those for groups that ran on a treadmill or did no exercise beforehand.

5. Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night

A 2012 study published in Nurses' Health Study showed women who got seven hours of sleep performed better on memory tests than women who got five or less.

In an interview with WebMD, lead study author Elizabeth Devore said not getting a proper night's rest tested at the same level of women "about two years [their senior]." This sleeping too little (or too much) effectively ages your memory two whole years!

6. Take naps

If you don't get enough sleep (or even if you do), taking a nap may be able provide the spark of brainpower you need.

Tons of research (nicely summarized by a Harvard researcher here) has gone into the link between napping and memory with largely positive results. Naps as short as six minutes can provide a significant memory boost.

7. Mow the lawn

Lots of people love the smell of freshly-cut grass, but did you know that smell can actually help improve your memory?

Researchers claim the smell released by certain plants (including grass) directly affects areas of the brain that control memory and emotions. Researchers felt so strong about their findings they development of a perfume that smells just like freshly-cut grass. No, we're not kidding.

8. Play video games

You might tell your children or grandchildren video games are rotting their brains, but if you're over 60, they might actually have the opposite effect on your brain.

In a 2013 study published in Nature, seniors who were taught how to play a video game performed better on memory-based tests both in and out of the game. When the same group of seniors were tested six months later -- a time period during which they did not play video games -- they retained the boost in brainpower.

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Topics: Healthy Living