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Top 7 Science-Based Suggestions for Improving and Protecting Memory

Screen size has been linked with cognitive performance among children

Screen size has been linked with cognitive performance among children

Whether you are young or old, memory plays a vital role not only in excelling in academic and professional lives, but also in living a quality life. Even at a younger age, we may fail to reach our full potential, both in terms of memory capacity and brain power, if we do not adopt appropriate strategies and tools. Findings from the latest scientific research discussed next will help you become better at memorising and utilising your brain power effectively.

1. High-Intensity Exercises

Researchers have recognised that short yet high-intensity exercises such as rapid cycling can help a person protect against age-related cognitive decline, as seen in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The underlying mechanism, as suggested through this study, is the production of a protein during such exercises that helps protect the brain cells and thereby protects against impending memory loss.

2. Getting Adequate Sleep

New research evidence also points to the importance of having adequate sleep in the night, particularly for older people. Insomnia, or lack of sleep in the night, has been recognised to increase the risk of developing memory and intellectual problems like what is seen in dementia. Thus, if you are experiencing poor sleep in old age, it is time to seek professional help in getting good quality sleep.

A study conducted on rats showed that a diet of processed foods had negative effects on cognitive function

A study conducted on rats showed that a diet of processed foods had negative effects on cognitive function

3. Avoidance of Processed Foods

Many of us tend to like foods with added sugar, salt, and oils, packed in some form and made available as a quick snack. These foods are referred to as processed foods, and a group of researchers from Ohio State University have recognised that such foods, when consumed regularly, could cause an inflammatory response that may damage the brain cells.

However, the study, in this case, was done on rats and consisted of a feed rich in highly processed foods given for four weeks. While this has not yet been investigated extensively on the human brain, the evidence supporting the harmful effects of processed foods may be enough to believe that it may also have a destructive effect on our brain cells as well.

4. Need for Clean Air

For decades, we have been talking about how air pollution can affect our health. However, not until recently that researchers became aware of how air pollution may affect the growth of a child.

According to new research by scholars from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, prenatal exposure to air pollution can lead to poor inhibitory control in children and gives rise to poor academic performances during the adolescent period. In the absence of inhibitory control, the child's attention, behaviour, emotions and thoughts may appear out of control, influencing their ability to learn, resolve problems and react accordingly.

Higher prenatal PAH exposure and lower childhood inhibitory control were associated with worse spelling, passage comprehension, and math in adolescence.

— From "Environmental Research," linked above

5. Smart Use of Smart Devices

A recent study also suggests that the use of smart devices such as smartphones may be useful in improving memory skills - against popular belief. When smart devices are used to store important information, it tends to free up memory, which people can use to process and store other information. This study suggests the positive effect of external memory as offered through smart devices in improving cognitive ability.

However, another study also suggests that in order to improve memory, particularly visual memory, a large screen would be more effective than a smaller screen. In other words, the quality of education and learning may be better when large screens are used as against using small screen devices such as smartphones.

Playing video games have shown to enhance responsiveness and cognitive processing power - facilitating better performance in cognitive tests

Playing video games have shown to enhance responsiveness and cognitive processing power - facilitating better performance in cognitive tests

Similarly, a recent study also recognised that playing video games may improve the performance of children in cognitive skills tests. The underlying mechanism, as explained by the researchers, is the quick impulsive reactions and the use of working memory during video game play. In this study, children who performed better in cognitive tests played video games for more than three hours per day, an hour or two more than the recommendations in paediatric guidelines.

However, it may be too early to allow children to play video games indefinitely, as its impact may be far-reaching.

Reading may help kids be better at arithmetic

Reading may help kids be better at arithmetic

6. Development of Reading Skills to be Better at Math

Another recent study has explained how reading skills contribute to better performance in math. This indicated to the researchers that reading, writing and arithmetic may be linked with one another and perhaps could be handled by the same and overlapping regions in the brain. This would mean that improving in one task, reading in this instance, would improve the brain power to process an unrelated task, such as doing arithmetic.

7. Having a Sense of Purpose in Life

Florida State researchers have also recognised in a study that when one possesses a sense of purpose in life, learners are more likely to memorise their experience better and easier than when such purpose does not exist.

This means that brain health would be contributed to by a ‘sense of purpose in life’, which has already been recognised as having a positive effect on the health and well-being of a person.

Participants with a greater sense of purpose reported memories that were more phenomenologically rich (e.g., more vivid, coherent, accessible), whereas cognitive function was primarily related to greater perceived accessibility of the memory but not to most other aspects of phenomenology.

— From "Memory," linked above

Take Home

The science around memory and brain power has been evolving at a rapid pace in recent times. The findings presented herein are a narrow list of memory enhancement and brain protective approaches.

While the evidence base behind these findings is strong, its impact on each of us may be different. Therefore, when we try different methods to enhance memory and brain power, the evidence must be matched with individual characteristics and environments for such approaches to be most effective.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2023 Pandula Siribaddana