Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Memory

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    Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Memory

    The human brain is like a library that stocks memories instead of books. In some ways, that

    makes the hippocampus, the part of the brain most involved in memory, the brain's librarian. Thehippocampus has the most responsibility in this cranial library, juggling the new releases of

    short-term memory while cataloging materials for the permanent collection of long-term

    memory. It's not the only part at work, however, in storing these chapters of our lives. Different

    kinds of memory are stored in different areas of the brain. With such a large system, the brain

    needs a system of encoding and retrieving memories, something a bit more complex than the

    local library's Dewey Decimal System.

    The brain has to be able to pull information at the drop of a hat, whether it's a fact on hold (such

    as a telephone number) or a dusty memory that's been sitting in storage for years (the memory of

    your first kiss). No one likes a library that loses books or shelves them in the wrong place. Yetsometimes we find ourselves with a very poor librarian on our hands, one that doesn't allow us to

    retrieve memories when we need them. Sometimes it's trivial, like when we tear apart our homes

    looking for glasses perched innocuously atop our heads, and sometimes these lapses in memories

    are more embarrassing, such as when we call a colleague "sport" because we simply can't

    remember his name.

    Whether you're a college student studying for an important test or an aging baby boomer

    concerned about forgetting a recent doctor's appointment, there are a few things everyone can do

    to optimize the storage and checkouts in our private libraries of memories. Alert the librarian and

    head to the next page for the first tip.

    10. Drink in Moderation

    Before you settle in to read this article, you may want to get yourself a glass of wine. Surprised

    that such debauchery begins our list of memory improvers? Well, hear us out. Memory and

    alcohol have an interest ing relationship.

    Stockbyte/Getty Images

    Cheers to your health!First off, you'll notice we didn't advocate bringing the entire bottle back

    with you. Too much drinking handicaps the memory, as anyone who's ever woken after a binge

    with a fuzzy recollection of the night before can attest. And one component of a DUI test shows

    how overconsumption of alcohol can immediately affect the brain: Even simple mental tasks like

    counting backward and reciting the alphabet can become tricky under the influence. Alcohol

    abuse will have a negative effect on the cells of the brain related to memory.

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    But as long as you're not pregnant and able to maintain control of how much you drink, there's

    evidence that light to moderate alcohol consumption can improve memory and cognition.

    Though more research needs to be done, some studies have found that moderate drinkers do

    better on certain tests of memory and cognition than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers [sources:

    Victoroff, Minerd]. There may be some long-term effects as well. A French study that followed

    almost 4,000 peop le over the age of 65 found that light drinkers, who consumed up to two

    glasses of wine a day, were 45 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than

    nondrinkers [source: Victoroff].

    But as we said, don't start tipping back beverages if you have certain risk factors, such as a

    family history of alcoholism. No one is recommending that teetotalers start drinking, either.

    Resveratrol, one of the flavonoids in red wine that's believed to have special benefits for blood

    vessels, is also in red grape juice.

    If you tend to drink when you're sad, head to the next page for some information on how your

    blues affect your brain.

    9. Seek Treatment for Depression

    Anything that causes major stress in life, including anxiety or anger, will eventually eat away at

    the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory. Chief among these stressors is major

    depression. Depression is often misidentified as a memory problem since one of the main

    symptoms of the condition is an inability to concentrate. If you can't concentrate on schoolwork

    or the information needed to complete a task on the job, then you may feel as if you're constantly

    forgetting things. As it is, you're not even able to concentrate long enough to learn them in the

    first place.

    altrendo images/Altrendo/Getty Images

    Can't concentrate at work? It may be depression.

    Depression causes an increase of cortisol levels in the bloodstream, which in turns elevates the

    amount of cortisol in the brain. With the help of brain imaging devices, doctors have been able to

    see how that increased cortisol diminishes certain brain areas, chief among them the

    hippocampus [source: Tan]. One study showed that people who had been depressed, even if it

    was years ago, had suffered a 12 to 15 percent loss in the hippocampus [source: Victoroff]. Since

    the hippocampus is the clearing center for short-term memory, prolonged depression demolishes

    the brain's ability to remember anything new.

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    Additionally, depression affects the types of things a person is able to remember. While

    everyone's brain is selective about which memories make it into long-term storage, people with

    depression seem only able to retain negative memories [source: Crook]. That means there's a

    neurologica l reason why a person with depression remains obsessed with the one time a loved

    one forgot a birthday or anniversary, even if it was remembered every other year.

    But happy memories needn't be lost forever to someone battling depression. Medications for

    depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been shown to jump-

    start the process of cell regeneration in the hippocampus [source: Tan].

    The next item on our list can help fight depression while it improves memory as well.

    8. Get Moving

    Ariel Skelley/Photographer's Choice RR/Getty Images

    A brisk walk can be the best exercise for your brain.If you've ever taken a break from work or

    studying to take a quick walk around the block, you may understand the rationale for this next

    tip. Exercise not only exercises the body, it exercises the brain as well.

    Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions that eventually wreak havoc on the

    brain, including stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Without regular exercise, plaque builds up in the

    arteries and blood vessels lose the ability to pump blood effectively. While you may know how

    plaque buildup leads to heart attacks, you may not think about the way your brain is gasping forbreath as well.

    The brain depends on energy received through a constant intake of oxygen and nutrients from the

    bloodstream, and when those nutrients don't arrive, the brain's ability to work is compromised.

    So to keep the blood moving to the brain, you're going to need to get up from your chair (after

    you finish reading this article, of course) and get the blood pumping. It doesn't matter what you

    do -- a brisk walk, a swim and even a dance move or two can all provide a good mental workout.

    Studies show that the more physically active a person is, the greater his or her cognitive

    performance [source: Victoroff].

    Keep a lookout on your brisk walk for interesting images -- you'll need them for the memory tip

    on the next page.

    7. Visualization and Association

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    A picture's worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, so turning a list of random words into

    images may help you remember the words better. Explaining this method works best by

    example, so let's say that you need to remember that a parent-teacher conference is taking place

    at three in the afternoon. Take a moment and think of a visual image for three -- let's say that you

    and your son just love reading the story of the "Three Little Pigs." Visualize those three little

    pigs. To remember what exactly you have to do at three, picture your son's teacher cavorting

    with the pigs out in a meadow. Sometimes, the more unique the image, the easier it will be to

    remember. Here's another example: say you place your eyeglasses on the kitchen table. When

    you do so, imagine your eyeglasses eating all the food on the table. Later, when you're

    wondering where your glasses are, your brain has this image in the bank.

    Insy Shah/Gulfimages/Getty Images

    Trying to remember to pick up butter before much more time flies by? Visualize butterflies!

    You can use visualization to remember an entire list of things if you associate the imagestogether. Say that you need to remember to take the following things to your SAT exam: a No. 2

    pencil, a calculator, your ID and a snack for the break. You can create a visualization that links

    all of the images together in a ridiculous story. Picture your pencil as a snake, curving itself into

    the number two. That snake just loves calculators, so it winds itself around the calculator, using

    its hissing tongue to press the buttons. When the snake pushes one of the calculator buttons, the

    calculator turns into a camera and snaps the snake's picture for an ID photo. All of this

    calculating and picture-taking has worn the snake out, so it wants a snack of pretzels.

    Sure, it sounds bizarre, but you can't deny that it also sounds fun. Visualization is at the root of

    many of the memory tips left to go on our list, so go ahead and practice by visualizing yourselfheading to the next page for another memory tip.

    6. Pay Attention

    Eight seconds is more than just a length of time that bull riders try to stay atop a bucking bronco,

    it's the amount of time you need to completely focus your attention upon something to

    effectively transfer it from short- to long-term memory [source: Crook]. No matter how

    wonderfully you can conjure up entertaining and useful visualizations for incoming information,

    the skill will be useless if you're not paying attention to what you need to remember in the firstplace.

    Purestock/Getty Images

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    If you pay attention when you meet someone, you have a better chance of remembering a new

    name.

    Sometimes we can't remember things because we never got the information into the memory

    bank to begin with. Like an absent-minded professor, we all have moments where we put down

    keys or an important book without noticing. Or we scribble phone numbers or one-wordreminders on Post-It notes, thinking that's all the information we'll need later. However, without

    paying attention to why you need the information and its value to you, that Post-It is useless.

    Try to stay in the present and really pay attention to the task at hand, whether it's learning new

    information for a job or meeting new people. Minimize distractions such as music, television or

    cell phones to focus fully. One way to stay mindful of even the smallest actions is to repeat aloud

    what you're doing; as you take off your eyeglasses, say aloud "I am putting my glasses on the

    kitchen counter." While talking to yourself may feel awkward, you'll be grateful to find your

    glasses easily later.

    When meeting new people, we can often be more obsessed with how we look and the impression

    we're making than truly paying attention to the other person. Simply staying focused will boost

    your ability to remember the names of new people. But we're not done with faces and names yet.

    Since that area is troublesome for so many people, the next tip is all about using some of these

    techniques to attend parties with ease.

    5. The Name Game

    This memory tip builds upon many of the tips we've learned so far. When you meet a newperson, it's important to pay attention to the name and the face. As soon as you learn the name,

    repeat it back to the person by saying, "Nice to meet you, so-and-so." It's not a cheap trick;

    researchers have found that people have a 30 percent better chance of remembering a name when

    they repeat it as soon as they learn it [source: Herold].

    David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

    Remember a blond girl with a lamb and you're well on your way to remembering Katie Lambert.

    Then it's time to put those visualization and association skills to work. Let's say you're meeting a

    person named Katie Lambert, who just happens to be this humble writer's editor. First, you want

    to repeat the name, but you also want to start looking for identifying features that will help you

    with the visualization and association. Check out the person's hair, nose, mouth, cheeks and eyes.

    Katie has chin-length blond hair, so you might take that feature and combine it with her last

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    name, Lambert. Suddenly you're picturing little lambs with blond hair frolicking about. You

    name one of those lambs Katie to help you with your image, but you also take the "kat" from her

    first name and imagine little cats running around as well.

    If you wanted another way to remember "Lambert," you could picture Katie on the "lam" with

    "Bert" from "Sesame Street." You could also use rhymes or a celebrity she resembles to make

    the association. If all else fails, you could just focus on how you would describe her later to a

    police sketch artist if you were to hear that a girl named Katie Lambert had committed a crime.

    Whatever it takes to remember her name and face together.

    But enough about a HowStuffWorks editor committing crimes! Let's head to the next page for

    another valuable memory tip.

    4. Chunking

    Maybe you have no problems remembering your grocery list or names and faces but you

    repeatedly stumble over your PIN number, Social Security Number or license plate number.

    Chunking may be just the memory method for you. You've used chunking if you've ever read off

    a phone number as three sets of numbers as opposed to one long 10-digit number. Chunking puts

    a large amount of information into more manageable chunks so that you have less to remember.

    Martin Barraud/Iconica/Getty Images

    Breaking information into smaller chunks makes it easier to manage.

    Let's tease out the phone number example even further. Say you use this phone number every

    day but can never remember it: 404-760-4729 (for the record, that's the main line at

    HowStuffWorks). First, the area code -- do you love golf? Picture hitting a golf ball twice; you

    might yell, "Fore! Oh! Fore!" Then let's say you have seven children and you were born in 1960.

    By great coincidence, your soccer jersey number was 47, and you'll never be able to forget that

    the Great Depression started in 1929. To remember how to call HowStuffWorks, you just need to

    think, "golf, kids, year born, soccer jersey, Great Depression." Make a fun story out of it: Golfing

    with the kids in the year I was born while wearing my soccer jersey was more fun than the Great

    Depression. You'll never forget how to call us again.

    OK, maybe that's not the handiest way to remember our phone number. The associations made

    with certain numbers will be different for every...