BRAIN

02 Aug 2018

124. HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR COGNITIVE SKILLS

Memory can deteriorate with age but, however old you are, there are things you can do to flex your mental muscle and improve your cognitive skills, including memory. Use it or lose it, as they say.

WATCH YOUR DIET

The food you eat can affect your brain health, including your ability to store memories. Aim for a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean protein, along with foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The polyphenols in green tea have also been found to protect against the free radicals that can damage brain cells. Perhaps even more important, though, is the avoidance of foods that are likely to increase your risk of dementia and impair concentration and memory. These include foods that are high in saturated fat, from sources such as red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, cream and ice cream.

EXERCISE

When the blood starts pumping it increases oxygen supplies to your brain, alleviates stress hormones and promotes neuroplasty by boosting growth and new connections in the brain. Regular exercise also reduces your risk of succumbing to conditions associated with memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Try exercising in the morning to set your brain up for the day, and taking short exercise breaks throughout the day to help pull you out of any energy slumps and keep you alert by relieving mental fatigue.

FOCUS

Apparently it takes about eight seconds to commit a piece of information to memory, so attempting to multitask could be preventing you from focusing on one thing long enough to really allow it to sink in. Practising regular mindfulness can help you train yourself to focus and avoid distraction, allowing you to increase your capacity for memorisation.

SLEEP TIGHT

There’s mounting evidence to show the importance of quality sleep on all manner of physical and mental processes and memory is no exception. Research suggests that sleep helps us to learn, because we need to be rested to focus our attention properly, and to consolidate memories by strengthening the neural connections that form them.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Just as muscle mass will start to waste away if not exercised regularly, the brain needs to be challenged with new, surprising, different information and tasks in order to avoid deterioration. That might mean learning a new skill or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. There are also numerous brain games available online or via apps designed specifically to sharpen a range of brain skills, and many of these focus on improving the memory. Brain hq, which also allows you to track and monitor your progress over time, is one of the most popular.

Aim to play brain games for at least 20 minutes a day, but with no more than about seven minutes on one specific task, as it’s during this initial period that most benefits are seen.

TRY MNEMONICS

Mnemonic devices are tools that help you remember things by helping to organise information into a format that’s easier to commit to memory. Acronyms, such as CAP (call a plumber), visualisations (imagine, for example, a tooth to remember your dental appointment), rhymes and chunking, where you break information up into smaller pieces, can all help.