It’s pretty amazing that the same brain that stores our favorite moments, our loved ones’ names and faces and the tastes of our best-liked foods can also make room for cocktail chatter, PowerPoint presentations and whatever your boss’ dog’s name is. Keeping memory sharp is key for life. Recent studies have shed light on some surprisingly simple ways for ramping up your recall.
Hit the drawing board
If you were one of those students who was more likely to doodle in the margins of your notebooks than write words in them, you may have been onto something. Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario asked participants to look at a list of simple words and either make drawings inspired by them or write them down repeatedly. Those who chose the drawing route remembered about twice as many words as those who wrote them down.
“What we think is happening is you are bringing online a set of diverse networks or brain regions, which helps build a strong memory for that one item,” said Jeff Wammes, a doctoral candidate in cognitive neuroscience and one of the study’s authors. “Drawing requires you to see a word, then bring to mind visual imagery of what that thing looks like, then generate some characteristics of it, then translate that mental image to paper using coordinated action.”
Roll out the yoga mat
According to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, yoga may be an effective memory booster, with the added benefit of making you feel better.
In the study, 25 people older than 55 were assigned to weekly, hourlong classes in Kundalini yoga, which involves breathing, meditation and chanting, or memory enhancement exercises such as mnemonics. Both groups were also given 15 to 20 minutes of homework a night.
The results: Both groups showed statistically similar improvement in verbal memory, but the yoga group also showed an improvement in visual-spatial memory (where you left your keys, for example) as well as in signs of depression and anxiety.
We’ve long known that exercise works out your brain as well as your body. But it turns out that slipping off your shoes — or at least paying attention to where you put your feet — may improve your memory.
In a study published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, researchers at the University of North Florida tested the working memory — that is, memory that goes beyond rote memorization and requires you to connect disparate pieces of knowledge — of 72 participants before and after a run. Some ran with their shoes on while others were told to remove them. A subset of participants had further instructions to hit tiny targets spaced throughout the track, effectively forcing them to pay careful attention to where their soles struck.
The researchers found that barefoot runners who were told to hit these targets showed a roughly 16 percent improvement in working memory. This brain boost was not present in their shod peers nor in those who were barefoot but not asked to tap the targets.
In a 2008 study in the journal Psychological Science, researchers at the University of Michigan found that people who stepped outside into a natural or parklike environment showed improvement across a host of cognitive functions — including memory — compared with those who were stuck in a city. The researchers theorized that this effect comes from the attention required to navigate an urban environment in a safe manner (you’ll want to watch out for passing cars, for example), which makes it difficult for your brain to relax and replenish.