It is often said that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” However, when it comes to the brain, scientists are finding that just the opposite is true: the brain can adapt and change to new situations. The flexibility of the brain to change and adjust to changing situations holds true when it comes to improving memory.

Tip #1: Don’t Lose Exercise or Sleep

More than an old routine, exercise is necessary to help the mind retain information by preventing the body from facing illnesses such as diabetes (which drains memory). Also, sleep is vital to memory retention, since it is during the sleep cycle that the brain processes information and stores it in a safe place for future recall.

Tip #2: Understand the Material

Many students attempt to “cram” before an exam, to no avail. The best way to improve retention for tests and exams is to create examples and situations where you are required to apply the theoretical, textbook knowledge you have gained. Understanding the material involves getting the information, breaking it down a basic level, and using it to launch into more situations and examples. To apply information is the hallmark of understanding.

Tip #3: Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices are learning techniques that improve memory, and can be both verbal and visual. A good example of a mnemonic device is “ROY G. BIV,” where each letter in this mnemonic “name” represents the starting letter of a color of the rainbow: “Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet.” A student memorizing the Hebrew word “ka’rat” (meaning “to cut”) could use a mnemonic sentence: “I cut a karat,” (jewelry) and connect the Hebrew verb with its meaning (“to cut”). Mnemonic devices can go a long way in retaining material more efficiently, as opposed to cramming.

Tip #4: Relax (Don’t Stress)

Cramming oftentimes is a result of stress and nervousness. Just relax. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and after a few minutes, breathing should return to normal. This small breathing exercise will allow the brain to calm down and work properly. If the student has studied the material diligently, he or she should remain calm so as to allow the brain to operate normally. Tensing up before an exam only restricts the brain’s informational output and leads to massive panic attack.

Tip #5: Eat Brain-Boosting Food

It is true that “You are what you eat.” In the same way that the body needs fuel, so does the brain. As with the body, the keep to both physical and mental fitness is to eat healthy foods. One healthy food to digest is omega-3s such as fish (salmon, trout, sardines) as well as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans. Avoid foods loaded in saturated fat, such as red meats, whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream. Digestion of foods high in saturated fat could increase chances of dementia and alzheimers. Next, eat more fruits and vegetables, foods high in antioxidants such as spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, apricots, mangos, and watermelon.

Tip #6: Exercise the Brain Muscle

As with anything else, if the brain is not exercised, memory loss will occur. Try to find intellectually-stimulating games and puzzles to engage the mind.  Sit and work on crossword puzzles to work the mind’s vocabulary. Read the newspaper to remain engaged with the community’s events while exercising the brain at the same time. These mental exercises and more may seem daunting at first, but research shows that such exercises done now will shield the mind from memory loss later.

Improving memory takes time, but with the above tips, you can be well on your way to a sharper memory in no time.

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