Health Chips: Boosting the brain

Oct. 4, 2012, 5:39 p.m. | By Urvi Banerjee | 11 years, 8 months ago

HealthChips is a weekly blog focusing on healthy living and wellness. Come back next Thursday for the next edition of HealthChips.

With the first quarter half way over, you're probably scrambling to keep good grades up and raise the ones that are a little low. This requires long hours studying and with that, plenty of memorization. Here are some tips to help improve your memory in the short and long run and make times like these a little less stressful.

Choose whole-wheat bread over white bread to give your memory a boost. Photo courtesy of

Short-term tip #1: Take it slow
We've all been in the situation: it's Thursday afternoon and there are four tests the next day. Rather than frantically repeating statements over and over again, allow some time to pass in between readings. First identified by psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in his 1885 book "Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology," the spacing method allows more effective memorization because the brain retains different contextual information with each presentation. This leads to identifying more retrieval cues with the same information, improving recall.

Short-term tip #2: ‘Member the Mnemonic
It may sound cliché, but using clues when memorizing really does help you better retain information through association. "Several research studies have described the effects of training students with memory problems how to use mnemonic strategies independently," according to Dr. Margo Mastropieri and Dr. Thomas Scruggs, professors at Purdue University. Mnemonic devices include associating information with visual images, using acronyms and acrostic sentences (where the first letter of each word represents the initial of what you want to remember), and chunking (breaking long lists of information, such as numbers, into more manageable chunks).

Long-term tip #1: Give your brain a feast
The right diet can make a big difference in your memory. In a University of Toronto study, participants who consumed complex carbohydrates such as barley or potatoes performed better on both short-term and long-term memory tests than those who ate only foods containing simple carbohydrates. This is because brain activity runs primarily on glucose and complex carbohydrates contain longer chains of the molecule, causing it to take longer to break down. To get adequate amounts daily and improve your memory overtime, try eating whole-grain cereal, bread and pasta. Make sure to also eat foods rich in antioxidants as they boost blood flow to areas of the brain regulating memory. Try berries, beans, potatoes and even dark chocolate to fill your diet with these little wonders.

Long-term tip #2: Don't opt out of fun
We all know that laughter is the best medicine; this holds true for your memory as well. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University Medical School found in a 2010 study that making students laugh during class instruction led to an increase in test scores. If your classes lack the necessary amusement, try to laugh as much as you can outside of school and make sure to spend time with friends. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2008, increased social activity led to a slower rate of memory decline for the elderly. So make time for fun and lighten up, and your memory will sharpen as well.

So whether you're worried about tests or simply trying to keep your brain sharp, there's plenty you can do to improve your memory. Use the spacing method and mnemonic devices to better retain information and a daily diet rich in complex carbohydrates and antioxidants for a healthier brain in the long run. But most importantly, remember to have fun; that's what makes life worth remembering after all.

Tags: brain grades Health Chips memory

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