By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
Remember the days when you were trying to memorize information before a big exam? I sure do. Yet no matter how much I had to study, I always (fortunately) seemed to remember what I needed. But as I grow older, I’ve started to notice my memory may start to slip. Things that come quickly to me now may take a bit longer to recall as I age. Because of this, I had to find a memory improvement technique that worked.
There’s a study that I certainly haven’t forgotten that talks about exercise as a memory improvement technique. Yes, one of my (and maybe your) favorite things—exercise and fitness—has been linked to an improvement of memory when you’re multitasking.
Multitasking sometimes gets a bad rap. Some people argue that trying to do multiple things at the same time is wasted energy. Some researchers postulate that the mind and brain were not designed for multitasking, even if you think you can seamlessly chat with a friend on the phone while responding to email.
But did you know that other research suggests that physical and mental multitasking might actually boost your mind?
In 2018, researchers at UCLA found that exercise might temporarily give your brain just enough of a jolt to create new memories. In a 55-person study of people with mild memory impairments, half the group rode stationary bikes for one hour while receiving in-person memory training.
The results? The people in the “simultaneous” group scored higher than the control group “on tests measuring how well they could recognize, remember, and retrieve words and geometric figures.” Researchers involved in the study speculated that there might be a future in combining physical fitness with mental training in order to boost mental agility.
So what’s the story? Isn’t multitasking supposed to make you less efficient and productive?
Well, according to Associate Professor Lori Altmann at the University of Florida, there’s a few factors that might contribute to the success of those who multitask. Back in 2015, University of Florida researchers conducted a study similar to the one carried out at UCLA. Researchers involved with the University of Florida study believe there might be an instance of brain arousal when a person starts to anticipate having to complete a tough cognitive task.
Exercise, they argue, increases activity in areas of the brain that impact movement, which in turn sparks the release of neurotransmitters related to speed and brain efficiency. Altogether, the mental and physical arousal seemingly boosts performance in cognitive and motor tasks.
Interested in optimizing your memory and speeding up your brain? The foods you eat can go a long way to keeping your mind agile and sharp. Diet plays a large role in brain health. The right foods will improve blood flow to your head. The following trio of foods also makes for good general mood boosting foods.
Walnuts are well-known food to boost heart health, but this snack might enhance cognitive function, as well. They make a great midday pick-me-up instead of a sugary treat, or they can be added to salad or oatmeal for a tasty crunch.
Darker berries, like blackberries and cherries, are chock full of anthocyanins and flavonoids that may help improve memory. Berries can easily be enjoyed fresh, but the same mind-boosting benefits can also be found after eating frozen or dried blackberries or cherries.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential building block of a diet optimized for brain health. It’s thought that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is particularly effective at enhancing memory. Opt to include fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or herring into your diet to enjoy some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Even with a great diet and exercise, your brain isn’t going to be able to function at its peak and remember what you’d like if your mental health is not optimized. A mind and emotions in a healthy place will give you a sense of confidence and help your brain perform at it’s best, even in high-stress situations.
Here’s a quick and easy list of mental health exercises you can do right now to promote balance and focus for your mind.
Aim to stand up and stretch out your arms and legs every half hour while working. Moving reduces tension in your mind and breaks up what could be a long day. Even better, get in a good morning workout to prime your mind and body for the rest of the day.
Just taking a minute or two to close your eyes or focus on an object can be a powerful way to relax your mind and allow thoughts to move through your head. Even simple acts of meditation have been shown to have large impacts on mental health and well-being.
Music’s a simple way to immediately change your mood and perspective. If you’re trying to get your brain pumped, turn to an upbeat song. Or if you’re trying to relax, some smooth jazz or piano usually slows down your mind. Stay away from new songs that might mess with your focus.
Yes! Laughing is a powerful way to boost your mood and transform your mindset. Even faking a smile or laugh is going to have a positive influence on your mindset and reduce stress levels.
There are many herbal tea benefits, but enjoying a warm cup during the day can be a calming ritual that helps your mind de-stress and unplug from a busy day.
If you’re on the hunt for the best techniques to improve your memory, the answer is pretty simple. Sleep. A vast majority of research affirms proper sleep improves memory and insight.
Why does sleep make such a big difference? Your mind needs time asleep to consolidate memories after you learn something new. It also needs enough sleep before learning to properly form a new memory. That’s why a well-timed nap in the day can drastically improve your memory.
Aim for 60–90 minute naps to best enhance your mind’s ability to learn and solidify new memories.
Some people think that multitasking is a waste of time. But researchers, as they examine the link between physical exercise and mental agility, argue that blending cognitive tasks with exercise might even prompt people to exercise in a more vigorous manner.
While research into multitasking and exercise is still ongoing, there’s plenty you can do right now to help optimize your memory and boost your brainpower. Eating the right foods and getting proper sleep each night goes a long way toward ensuring your brain functions properly.