French theologian Albert Schweitzer is credited for having said that “happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” And while that’s all well and good in regard to forgetting past transgressions, there are certainly many more parts of life that you should be happy to be able to recall—your child’s first steps, the password to your email account, your mom’s birthday, or even your first concert, just to name a few.
So rather than accepting that ignorance is bliss, living solely in the present, or subscribing to any other overused adage that makes you feel better about your failing memory, start taking steps to actively improve it.
Whether you are already having trouble remembering what you had for dinner last night or you just want to take some preventative steps to protect your memory before things start going downhill, here are 3 ways to improve your ability to create and access memories.
1. Make an active effort to pay attention.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but simply making an effort to take in the details of the world around you can help improve your ability to recall information. For example, it’s incredibly common to forget the name of a new acquaintance within seconds of hearing it for the first time, because your brain does not automatically commit new information to either short- or long-term memory.
It is believed that you can only store approximately seven pieces of information in your short-term memory for around 30 seconds at a time, and those items are not necessarily transferred to the long-term memory after that time has elapsed. To combat this, focus on the name (or whatever the information that you want to remember may be) for a few seconds, and then repeat it out loud if possible.
Another good exercise to promote the function of your brain is to do something—anything—new. This encourages the development and use of new neural pathways and keeps your brain on its toes, so to speak.
The brain does not exist in a vacuum, and you can’t focus on your brain alone if you want to improve its function. Regular exercise promotes the overall efficiency of your body as a whole and improves circulation, helping your brain resist the negative effects of aging. So in addition to crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other brain teasers, make an effort to go outside and get the blood flowing.
And that’s not the only positive effective of exercise on brain function. Since chronic stress actually contributes to the deterioration of the brain and its functioning, exercising has the added benefit of reducing the negative effects associated with that. Plus, you’ll be more likely to get a good night’s sleep if you exert yourself during the day, giving your brain time to consolidate memories.
3. Go ahead, have a drink.
If all of these mental (and physical) workouts have been overwhelming, feel free to relax with a glass or two of wine. While drinking in excess has detrimental effects on the creation of new memories, consuming alcoholic beverages in moderation has been shown to improve performance in tests of memory and cognition.
One caveat, however, is that going to bed with alcohol in your system affects the quality of your sleep. A drink late at night may make you fall asleep faster, but it will negatively affect the REM phase of your sleep, making you feel less rested in the morning. So a glass of wine with dinner is fine, but it’s probably best to avoid leaving the bottle on your bedside table.
Alex Francis is a Los Angeles-based writer with an interest in overall health and wellness. This article was written on behalf of Cebria, a natural supplement used to improve memory and concentration.
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