How to improve memory and boost your brain

From brain training apps to antioxidant fruit and veg, we looked at some of the ways we might be able to help boost our brain health now and for years to come.

It happens to us all, whatever our age. We walk into a room then find we’ve forgotten what we went in for. Frustrating and embarrassing as this may be, it’s completely normal to be forgetful once in a while. That said, memory complaints do increase with age.

The good news is we are able to make new brain cells at any age, and research has shown that some simple steps can be effective in helping to improve memory in the immediate term, protect against age-related memory loss in the future, and reduce our risk of dementia.

First, we need to be aware that the brain is a muscle, and as with any muscle, we have to use it, or lose it. This is particularly relevant in our increasingly high-tech world, when being able to access all kinds of information at our fingertips means we aren’t putting our little grey cells to such good use.

Game plan: Do brain training games work?

With all this in mind, we might find ourselves reaching for a brain training game or app. But do they make us more mentally nimble, and are they any more effective than tried and trusted recommendations to eat a healthy diet, stay active and plug in to the real world around us? Despite many studies, experts are yet to reach a consensus.

For instance, one study published in Nature which looked at over 11,000 adults over six weeks, found that while participants improved in the cognitive tasks they’d been set, the effects didn’t transfer to tasks in which they hadn’t trained. Meanwhile, a study by the University of Cambridge which involved 42 patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) – a stage between normal age-related decline and dementia – suggested a game developed by the researchers themselves could help improve the memory of such patients.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, co-inventor of the game, said: ‘There’s increasing evidence that brain training can be beneficial for boosting cognition and brain health, but it needs to be based on sound research and developed with patients.’ The researchers hope to follow up with a large-scale study to determine how long the improvements last.

Brain food: Can diet improve memory?

Griddled broccoli and sugar snap salad with tahini dressing Liz Earle WellbeingIn the meantime, what else can we do to try to boost our brain today, and look after it for the future? We know that eating a nutritious diet helps. Brain ageing is associated with free radical action, and inflammation is linked to neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s. This is why fruit and vegetables – which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory – often appear on memory-boosting diet plans.

Think bold and brightly coloured: berries, black grapes, broccoli, carrots, peppers and tomatoes. Why not try this griddled broccoli with sugarsnaps and tahini to take a positive step to help keep your brain happy and healthy.

Work it out: How does exercise help our brains?

Exercise’s positive effect on memory and brain health is backed up by plenty of evidence. Not only does regular exercise lower our risk of normal age-related cognitive decline, but tests have shown we are more successful at committing information to memory after exercising.

This may come in handy if we are trying to learn something new. One study found that participants learned vocabulary 20% faster after intense physical exercise, and that this group retained new vocabulary better as long as eight months later!

Whatever our chosen method of giving our brains a work out, whether it’s a brain training app, dietary changes, or more physical exercise, the most important move to make is perhaps the simplest: stay actively engaged with life.

Many studies suggest that being actively engaged with life – cognitively, socially and through leisure activities – flexes our grey matter and decreases our risk of dementia. What better excuse could we need to do more of what we love and see more of who we love, than for a healthy, sharp brain?

Wellbeing Wisdom

  • We are able to make new brain cells at any age if we keep exercising our brain
  • Free radical action is linked to brain ageing, so eating bright fruit and vegetables with anti-inflammatory properties might help to boost your memory