Exercise Your Brain for Optimal Memory Training

Your memory is central to studying and learning. After all, the knowledge you gain in your classes is only useful if you are only able to recall it when you are working in your field. However, many of us indulge in habits that are detrimental to our memory.

As you embark on your college career, now is a good time to start exercising your brain and forming good memory habits. Not only will this help you do better in your studies, but it will improve your overall memory and brain health for the future.

First, it’s important to understand how memory works. Research shows there are three stages of memory – encoding, storage, and retrieval. There are two types of memory storage – short-term and long-term. When you store information in your short-term memory, you can recall it easily and quickly within a limited time frame, which is great for information you will use soon after learning it. However, your short-term memory has a limited capacity and duration. That’s why, when it comes to learning, it’s important to study in a way that will implant information into your long-term memory.

Exercising your brain can help it be more receptive to storing the information you learn in both short- and long-term memory. Below are tips for strengthening your brain and making memorization and learning easier.

9 tips for improving your memory and recall

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#1: Break down long items into smaller pieces
Your short-term memory can only hold a limited amount of information at a time. Therefore, when faced with a complex piece of information,it can help to break it down into small portions. By leveraging this chunking technique, you can make each individual item carry more useful information.

For example, when memorizing a phone number, it’s easier to remember it in three pieces (555-123-4567) than in one large group of numbers (5551234567). Your short-term memory can store the small groups of numbers long enough for you to write them down. If you need to keep the number in your long-term memory, it is easier to encode several small chunks of information as opposed to one big piece of information.

#2: Play games that focus on handling information quickly and correctly
As we’ve come to understand more about how memory and the human brain works, we’ve also developed games and activities that are specifically designed to help you train your memory. You can access games online, in print form, and even through video game systems. Naturally, these games shouldn’t be used to put off your studying, but they can be a fun and relaxing way to relieve stress and take a break while exercising different parts of your brain.

#3: Stimulate your mind in various ways throughout the day
Learning and memory is most often associated with reading or listening, but in reality all five human senses play an important role in how we receive and interpret information about the world. Regularly giving your brain a variety of sensory stimuli will help keep it agile, which aids working memory. So stop and smell the flowers, try unfamiliar foods, or listen to a different type of music than you usually do.

#4: Keep a handle on your stress levels
Using the information provided in the previous chapter, be aware of how stressed you are, and take steps to relieve stress when it becomes overwhelming. And take steps to address them Stress is literally toxic to memory; the chemicals your body produces under stress interfere directly with the process of transferring information from short-term to long-term memory. Minimizing your stress levels slows the release of these stress chemicals, and helps protect your brain.

#5: Practice active listening during class
When you are actively listening, you are engaging all of your senses and participating fully in the lecture or discussion, rather than passively letting information wash over you. This makes it easier to remember information because you have other sensory data to help you encode it in your brain.

During lectures, instead of trying to write down everything the instructor says verbatim, write summaries of the teacher’s concepts, ideas, and facts, along with connections you make from your reading or homework assignments. The summary and synthesis process engages your memory on a deeper level, and will help store the information in your long-term memory.

One effective association technique is to include a small personal note in your notebook for each class; something as insignificant as noting the weather, what you had for lunch, or what tie the instructor wore can spark a fuller recall of the entire lecture.

#6: Use various review techniques when studying your notes
Don’t just read the text or your notes silently to yourself – try reading them aloud. Consider rewriting them by hand if you usually use a laptop or tablet to take notes, or vice versa. If you are given sample exam questions, write out sample outlines or answers by hand while studying. These methods provide you with both repetition and variety; remembering the subject in connection with different acts will create more associations that will enhance your ability to recall information.

#7: Make meaningful use of flash cards
Prepare flash cards on the subject you want to memorize, with the name (word, picture, concept) on one side and the answer on the other. Just writing them out is good practice, but don’t stop there. After shuffling them, go through them and quiz yourself. Put cards that you get wrong in stack A, and the ones you get right in stack B. Review stack A every day, moving the cards you get right to stack B. Review stack B every week, putting the ones you get wrong in stack A. This is a powerful tool when you need to learn factual information, like vocabulary terms, foreign languages, and historical events and dates.

#8: Study regularly and often, for shorter periods
Studying frequently will help you build long-term memories you can easily recall, as well as give you a positive, regular habit that builds your work ethic. Regular repetition is a fundamental building block of learning, more than just the sheer number of hours you spend studying. Of course, you will need to study enough to cover the material in the class, but research indicates you’ll get more out of an hour a day over the course of a week than you would from five hours of intensive study.

#9: Keep your brain fueled
Despite only weighing a few pounds, your brain uses about 20 percent of your body’s energy, which means thinking is hard work. Eat regularly, and try to focus on protein and vegetables; fish, green leafy vegetables, and pinto and kidney beans are especially beneficial. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, lentils, and brown rice will give you sustained energy as well. While you shouldn’t over-indulge, studies indicate that a little caffeine (especially coffee and green tea) can help your long-term brain health, too.