10 (Surprising) Memory Improvement Tips

Healthy Seniors

There are sev­er­al brain fit­ness top­ics where we still see a large dis­con­nect between research and pop­u­lar knowl­edge, and a major one is the rela­tion­ship between mem­o­ry and stress. Car­o­line and I col­lab­o­rat­ed on this post to bring you some con­text and tips.

Our soci­ety has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with phys­i­cal, imme­di­ate­ly life-threat­en­ing crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and ill­ness­es that gnaw away at us slow­ly, that stress us out and that, believe it or not, end up hurt­ing our mem­o­ry and brain.

Dr. Robert Sapol­sky, in an inter­view about his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, points out that humans unique­ly “can get stressed sim­ply with thought, turn­ing on the same stress response as does the zebra.” But, the zebra releas­es the stress hor­mones through life-pre­serv­ing action, while we usu­al­ly just keep mud­dling along, get­ting more anx­ious by the moment.

What is the rela­tion­ship between stress and mem­o­ry? We all know chron­ic stress is bad for our heart, our weight, and our mood, but how about our mem­o­ry? Inter­est­ing­ly, acute stress can help us focus and remem­ber things more vivid­ly. Chron­ic stress, on the oth­er hand, reduce our abil­i­ty to focus and can specif­i­cal­ly dam­age cells in the hip­pocam­pus, a brain struc­ture crit­i­cal to encod­ing short term memory.

When is stress chron­ic? When one feels out of con­trol. Irri­ta­ble, anx­ious. While every indi­vid­ual varies in their response the type and quan­ti­ty of stress, there are some things we can do to feel more in con­trol of your envi­ron­ment. This sense of empow­er­ment can low­er stress, and as a result, help memory.

What are the best defens­es against chron­ic stress, that will help our mind and mem­o­ry remain healthy for life?

1- Exer­cise strength­ens the body and can reduce the expe­ri­ence of stress, depres­sion, and anx­i­ety. Doing some­thing car­dio­vas­cu­lar at least twice a week is the minimum.

2- Relax­ation through med­i­ta­tion, tai chi, yoga, or oth­er tech­niques to slow res­pi­ra­tion, slow metab­o­lism, and release mus­cle ten­sion. Sim­ply invest­ing 10 min­utes per day can make a difference.

3- Biofeed­back pro­grams and games that pro­vide real-time infor­ma­tion and track­ing, allow­ing one to learn effec­tive tech­niques for reduc­ing stress levels.Freeze-Framer Review

4- Appre­ci­a­tion. Make sure you appre­ci­ate the good things you have and have done, and your sup­port group around you.

5- A good social net­work of friends, fam­i­ly, and even pets help fos­ter trust, sup­port, and relaxation.

6- This may be obvious…except that we may not do it pre­cise­ly when we need it the most: Use a cal­en­dar to sched­ule impor­tant things. Give items a date and a priority.

7- This one too: Make a list of things that need to be done. Even if it’s a long list. It is reward­ing to cross off items as you com­plete them.

8- Pri­or­i­tize. Ask your­self how impor­tant some­thing tru­ly is to you. Maybe you’re stress­ing over some­thing that you are bet­ter off just let­ting go. Do you real­ly need to remem­ber 25 new names from that par­ty? Focus on the 5 you want to see again.

9- Get enough sleep so that you can recharge your batteries.

10- There is no sol­id evi­dence that Ginko Bilo­ba helps. Of course, the place­bo effect does, so if you are already tak­ing it, you think it helps you, and you can afford it, well, just skip this point (which you will prob­a­bly do, any­way). But please ask your doc­tor if you are tak­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs; there may be interactions.

These are not mag­i­cal cures, but habits that you can devel­op with prac­tice to improve your mem­o­ry and qual­i­ty of life.

OK, my turn to prac­tice #9.


  1. Anja Merret on September 26, 2007 at 8:13

    Sol­id advice. We need to look after our brains and stress can be very damaging.

  2. Alvaro on September 26, 2007 at 8:19

    Anja, glad you find it help­ful. Thanks for stop­ping by

  3. Sreenivas Kathera on September 27, 2007 at 1:32

    Appears quite sim­ple. But the ‘sim­ple’ things are what we over­look most often. ‘Keep to the basics’ — Great Advice.

  4. Alvaro on September 27, 2007 at 9:38

    Thank you for the kind words, Sreenivas

  5. Mark on October 3, 2007 at 7:25

    Does any­one know of any good (inex­pen­sive) biofeed­back program/machines? I’d love to do more with biofeed­back, but the costs often seem prohibitive.

  6. Alvaro on October 3, 2007 at 9:16

    Hel­lo Mark, the best yet inex­pen­sive biofeed­back pro­grams we have found are the emWave ones: hand­held ($199) and PC-based ($280).

  7. Gordon on October 4, 2007 at 10:16

    The GSR2 at $75.00 is the most suc­cess­ful and longest run­ning relaxation/stress reduc­tion biofeed­back sys­tem avail­able. Over 500,00 sold in 110 coun­tries. Used in hos­pi­tals, clin­ics and pri­vate users.

  8. Alvaro on October 4, 2007 at 6:07

    Hel­lo Gor­don, thanks for that tip. Can you link to spe­cif­ic clin­i­cal tri­als where that prod­uct has been shown to have ben­e­fits? there are hun­dreds of biofeed­back devices, very few we are aware of with clear evi­dence behind. 


  9. Bruce on January 29, 2008 at 10:53

  10. chaitanya on August 20, 2008 at 4:09

    thanks.They are real­ly sim­ple and helpful

  11. Gary on December 4, 2008 at 1:39

    Sleep.. That’s the tough­est one for me. But when I don’t get enough, I can­not func­tion as well that’s for sure.

    Relax­ation.. That’s anoth­er toughie.

    I will try to work on these.

    Thanks for the post!

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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