How to Improve Memory: The Scientific Approach

How to Improve Memory: The Scientific Approach

  • This article covers several science-backed ways to improve your memory and get rid of brain fog. The good news is that most of them are lifestyle-based, and you can start them today for free.
  • Exercise is one of the best ways to improve memory, especially if you do a workout that boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
  • Dual N-back training, a special type of brain training you can do for free online, improves working memory and also raises IQ.
  • Supplements like forskolin and bacopa improve memory as well.

Memory is a valuable part of high performance. Improving your memory will help you learn faster, and getting rid of brain fog will make you more effective at work. Memory will even improve your social skills, especially if you’re prone to forgetting names or faces.

And, of course, taking care of your memory wards off cognitive decline as you age, keeping you mentally quick and independent well into the golden years of your life.

There are a few different ways to improve your memory and keep it strong. The good news is that the most powerful ones are lifestyle-based, and you can start them today for free. Download this printable checklist on the best ways to improve your memory

Science-backed ways to strengthen and improve memory

Exercise improves memory a lot

Man doing push-ups outside

Working out is one of the best ways to improve memory, as well as just about every other aspect of your body and brain.

Exercise of any type — strength training, endurance training, yoga, swimming, and so on — improves memory in healthy adults, young and old[1]. It decreases depression-related memory impairment, too (and it relieves the depression itself)[2].

Working out also helps stabilize neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s[3].

There are a couple reasons exercise is so good for your brain. The first is neuroplasticity: working out makes your brain adapt to new situations or information better and helps it recover from stress faster[4].

In rats, exercise specifically strengthens brain pathways in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that controls memory[5]. And considering how good exercise is for memory in humans, working out may do the same for you.

If you aren’t sure where to start with exercise, try the 30-Day Bulletproof Body Workout Plan. It comes with a meal plan, workouts, and a complete day-by-day schedule, and it’s free.

Dual N-back training permanently improves working memory (and raises IQ)

Dual N-back training is a particularly intense type of brain training that challenges your working memory (short-term memory), as well as your problem-solving skills.

It permanently improves working memory and fluid intelligence (your ability to problem solve, and a central part of IQ) after just a few sessions[6][7][8].

These results set it apart from other brain training techniques in a major way. Most brain training makes you better at brain training, but the benefits don’t apply to general ability in the rest of your life. Dual N-back training does — your memory and fluid intelligence become better overall, and the results seem to be permanent[9][10][11].

You can download software to do dual N-back training for free online. Check out this article for the details. You can also learn more about dual N-back training in Game Changers.

Memory-enhancing supplements

Most research on memory-improving supplements looks at people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and while a fair number of supplements help with dementia, they won’t necessarily enhance your memory if you’re in good cognitive shape.

That said, there are a couple supplements that work for healthy adults:

  • Bacopa monnieri is an herb that improves several aspects of cognition. Human trials have found that Bacopa enhances memory, attention, mood, and stress response[12]. Take 750 mg of Bacopa daily, with a fat source so you absorb it properly.
  • Artichoke extract and forskolin work together to improve learning and short-term memory. Forskolin increases cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a molecule that activates memory formation and learning pathways in your brain[13]. Artichoke extract inhibits PDE4, an enzyme that breaks down cAMP, which enhances forskolin’s benefits and boosts your learning and memory even more[14]. There haven’t been specific studies on this combination, but it’s popular with brain hackers; try it yourself and see if you feel a difference. You can get it in the right doses from Smart Mode.

Get your omega-3s

farm raised salmon vs wild salmon

Your brain has one of the densest concentrations of omega-3 fats in your body, so it’s no surprise that eating plenty of omega-3s improves memory and overall brain function.

Omega-3s seem to be particularly good at preventing or reversing cognitive decline. People with mild cognitive impairment (the precursor to dementia) saw significant improvements in memory when they took a daily fish oil supplement[15].

DHA and EPA, the two animal-based omega-3s, also improve memory in both healthy adults and people with dementia[16].

Aim for 1000-2000 mg of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids per day. Good sources of DHA and EPA include wild fatty fish (Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies) and grass-fed beef and lamb.

A lot of companies promote nuts, seeds, and other plants for their omega-3 content. The trouble is that you have to convert ALA (the plant version of omega-3s) into DHA and EPA, which your body struggles to do. You only end up using about six to ten percent of the omega-3s from plants[17]. The one exception is algae, which is a plant source of DHA. Other than that, stick to omega-3s from animals, fish oil, or krill oil.

Hack your sleep

Sleep is also essential for memory. Your brain does most of its repair and cellular cleanup during deep sleep. It also encodes memories from the previous day. Insufficient or low-quality sleep will hurt your memory a lot, while good sleep will enhance it.

A single night of sleep deprivation makes you the equivalent of legally drunk– your brain works as if you have a blood alcohol content of 0.05-0.10[18]. Missing out on sleep for a single night also causes beta-amyloid plaques (the plaques that build up and cause memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease) to accumulate in your brain[19].

On the other hand, consistent quality sleep improves both short-term and long-term memory, as well as overall cognitive function[20][21][22].

You often hear that you have to get eight hours of sleep a night, but quality is actually more important than quantity. Try these sleep hacks to maximize the amount of time you’re in deep, brain-restoring sleep each night. You’ll wake up feeling great, and your memory will be better, too.

With these habits and supplements, you can improve your memory and keep it strong your entire life. For more biohacks, you can also check out Head Strong; it contains dozens of tools that upgrade your mitochondria, the power plants of your cells, to activate untapped brain energy and enhance your overall cognition.

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