Remember when people used to tie a string around a finger as a reminder to remember something? Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to work too well. The string might help you recall that you meant to remember something, but sometimes you couldn’t remember what it was!
String might not be good for much, but there are other little tricks medical researchers have come up with (and investigated) that may help your memory function better. You’ll be very surprised at some of the things that can help you remember. . .
Give your memory a hand
According to researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey, you can use your right hand to improve your memory. They found that clenching your right hand into a fist when you encounter something you want to remember can help you form a stronger memory. Then, later when you want to recall the item, clenching your left fist may improve your ability to bring it back.
In this research, the scientists had a group of people clench their right fist for 90 seconds right before trying to memorize a list of 72 words. Later, the subjects of the study clenched their left fist when trying to recollect the words. Meanwhile other people in the study either did nothing with their hands or used different hand motions when memorizing.1
The researchers found that the folks who clenched their right fist when learning the list by heart and then tightened their left when reciting what they remembered were more accurate than anyone else.
“The findings suggest that some simple body movements – by temporarily changing the way the brain functions- can improve memory. Future research will examine whether hand clenching can also improve other forms of cognition, for example verbal or spatial abilities,” says Ruth Propper, lead scientist on the study.
Moving thoughts around
Another technique for helping memory, say scientists at the University of California Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory, is to engage in a short burst of moderate exercise when you are trying to hold on to a memory.
In this study, people aged 50 to 85 years viewed pictures of nature and animals before exercising on a stationary bike for six minutes at 70 percent of their maximum exercise capacity.
An hour later, they were given a surprise quiz on the pictures they had been shown. Compared to a group that did no exercise, the researchers discovered that exercise enhanced memory in a significant way in people who were healthy as well as in people who were cognitively impaired and had memory difficulties.2
Clearing the Mind
A final tip for improving how your mind works: Lose weight.
A study at Umea University in Sweden shows that in older, overweight women, weight loss can improve function in the parts of the brain that take part in forming and recalling memories.
These scientists put 20 overweight, postmenopausal women (average age 60) on a weight loss diet for six months. They each lost an average of 17 pounds. After their weight loss, the women performed better on memory tests. MRIs of their brains showed enhanced activity in brain regions linked to remembering.3
“The altered brain activity after weight loss suggests that the brain becomes more active while storing new memories and therefore needs fewer brain resources to recollect stored information,” says researcher Andreas Pettersson.
The takeaway message from these three studies is clear: What you do with the rest of your body has a huge influence on your brain and your ability to retrieve the memories stored in it.