Keys to Memory

How to work this muscle to enhance our lives and age well.
Published November 19, 2017

They say memory is a muscle, so how can we train our memories to work better for us? We asked around for some tips, and here’s what we found.

Dr. Matilde Parente, a California-based physician and author, says getting some good shuteye is key to improving our memory.

“Getting adequate and restorative sleep is one of, if not the most important things that aids memory, especially as we age,” she says.

Parente notes that many people underappreciate the value of adequate, restorative sleep – which means at least seven hours, though eight is ideal. Quality sleep, she explains, is “sleep that is uninterrupted most nights and is bookended by bedtime and awakening times that the sleeper chooses and finds natural and refreshing. The brain and central nervous system require this time of lengthy, uninterrupted sleep to form and cement [or] consolidate memory, particularly recent memory.”

New York Times bestselling author Dr. John Medina offers further insight into the aging brain and memory in his newly released book, Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp. Medina’s tips include:

  1. Be a friend to others, and let others be a friend to you – vibrant, healthy social groups help boost your cognitive abilities as you age.
  2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude – having optimism about your own aging can have measurable and positive effects on your brain.
  3. Mindfulness not only soothes but improves – you can reduce stress and improve cognition by practising mindfulness, which consists of contemplative exercises that focus your brain on what’s happening in the present moment, as opposed to the past or the future.
  4. Remember, it’s never too late to learn, or to teach – learning a demanding skill is the most scientifically proven method to reduce age-related memory decline, according to Medina.
  5. Never retire, and be sure to reminisce – Those who retire from a job have been shown to be at a greater risk for physical and mental disabilities, Medina writes. And if you like getting nostalgic about the good old days, keep on doing that! According to Medina, people who regularly experience nostalgic stimuli are psychologically healthier than people who don’t.