Exercising our bodies to grow stronger might be something we intentionally practice, but how many of us devote a daily practice to make our brains and memory grow stronger?
It takes intention, physical adjustments and lifestyle changes. And thankfully you don’t have to devote hours in pursuit of better remembering birthdays, names and tasks on your mental to-do list. Here, six ways you can improve your memory in just a few minutes a day:
1. CORRECT YOUR POSTURE
Slouching at your desk does more than strain your neck or shoulders, it also affects how you recall that task your boss mentioned to you in the meeting yesterday. As noted in a previous Fast Company article, researchers at San Francisco State University discovered that standing or sitting up straight and tilting your chin upwards makes it easier to recall memories, because it boosts blood and oxygen flow to the brain by up to 40%.
To fix your posture, take a note from ballet teachers everywhere and imagine a string pulling from your core and out through the top of your head. Pull your ears away from the top of your shoulders and bring your gaze forward. This helps align your spine and reset how you hold your weight.
2. MAKE TIME FOR LAUGHTER
Here’s your excuse for prioritizing an episode of your favorite comedy after work– as noted in this same Fast Company article, laughing for 20 minutes can boost memory. Researchers at Loma Linda University tested two groups of adults, showing one group a 20-minute funny video while the other group waited quietly. Afterwards, participants were given memory tests and those who had laughed scored better.
The cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in the laughing group were significantly lower, which affected how they performed on the tests. That extra endorphin-rush from laughing lowers your blood pressure and boosts your mood, which all together results in better memory.
3. PRACTICE MEDITATION
In an interview with Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Michael Grothaus inquired about how long one has to meditate before it impacts memory performance.
“You can take 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes—whatever you do it has a big impact,” said Dr. Small. Rather than devoting hours to serene meditation, he noted that what really matters is to focus on yourself and tune out the noise around you.
New to meditation? Dr. Small has a suggested practice. Begin by sitting quietly in a chair and closing your eyes. Take a deep breath, let it out, and continue to breathe deeply and slowly. While breathing, focus on groups of your muscles. Start with your forehead, then move to your shoulders, the chest, and so on, and then relax those muscles as you travel through your body.
“Our minds are constantly chattering,” said Dr. Small. “What this exercise is doing is training your neurocircuits to focus attention, to relax, to let go; you’re teaching your mind to let go of the mental chatter. That way you have better mental focus and attention.”
4. GET A BETTER MORNING ROUTINE
There’s a reason why forgetting to do one step in your morning routine can throw off the rest of your day. In the same interview with Grothaus, Dr. Small explained that routines and habits also boost memory. So if you need to get better at remembering to take your vitamins, pair them with your daily coffee. If you need to remember taking the trash out, put the dog leash near the garbage and then bring the trash outside each time you take your dog for your evening stroll. The more entwined habits are with your routines, the harder they are to forget.
5. EAT BETTER FOODS, PARTICULARLY BERRIES.
Small told Grothaus that one reason our memory fails is because free radicals wear down our DNA and cellular structure, resulting in oxidation of the brain. Like a rusted bicycle in the rain, he said that “similar kinds of chemical processes go on in the brain.” Eating antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, can help.
Particularly, eat antioxidant-rich berries. A study from the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School found that adding blueberries for twelve weeks to one’s normal diet improved performance on spatial working memory tasks. It’s an easy– and delicious– way to keep your brain functioning its best.
6. DRAW YOUR TO-DO LIST
As explored by Fast Company‘s Mark Wilson, new research from the University of Waterloo found that drawing rather than writing notes makes our memory perform just as well as someone decades younger. You don’t have to be good at drawing for it work either, as artistic ability had no effect on how well it worked for the study participants.
So if you need to remember your grocery list– which is filled with lots of berries, right?– try drawing it and perhaps you won’t need the list to remind you at all.