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  • Writer's pictureStudent Wellbeing Service

From diet tweaks to a good night out:9 brain-training hacks to help improve memory well into old age


This year we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s energy kickstarter: 9 hacks for improving memory as you get older.

Hands up if you’ve ever found yourself completely forgetting why you walked into a room. Perhaps you’ve been about to introduce someone you’ve known for ages… only for their name to slip from your mind as you desperately grapple for it. Chatting with friends, it’s clear that many of us are experiencing some level of memory function decline, and yet, we’re still in our 30s and early 40s. Most of the time, we attribute it to tiredness, stress or simply having too much on our minds, but research shows that memory function really does start to decline while we are still young – in some cases, as young as our mid-20s.

That may seem terrifying, but you don’t have to wait until your memory gets really bad to start taking care of your grey matter, according to wellness expert Jay Riggs. “Keeping your brain sharp in your 30s is very important as a sharp, healthy brain has a positive impact on body and mind,” he tells Stylist. “Your brain health is a critical piece of your overall health as it keeps you focused but also helps you multitask and improve problem-solving skills.”

With this in mind, we asked the experts for their top tips to help keep your brain sharp and your memory in tip-top condition.

Make simple tweaks to your diet (they include drinking tea and wine)

Neuropsychologist Dr Rachel Taylor is evangelical about the beneficial effects of a healthy diet on the brain. “Diet and nutrition have a huge impact on our brain health,” she tells Stylist. Excessive quantities of sugar can be damaging to our overall health, and the brain isn’t immune to its effects. But, it is worth noting that the brain needs glucose to function and cutting carbs is a fast track to brain fog. The message here is moderation.

Riggs agrees: “Following a healthy diet will give your body and brain the energy it needs to stay awake and focused. This will give you the energy to concentrate on information, which can stimulate the brain and improve learning outcomes.

“A healthy diet can increase the levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that promotes long-term memory) and improve our learning, mood, attention and mental health.”

Think about eating plenty of leafy greens such as kale, spinach and broccoli, which are rich in brain-healthy nutrients, including vitamin K, along with plenty of good fats from flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts, oils or fish. And be sure yours is an iron-rich diet that includes plenty of vitamin D (the latter may need to be supplemented during the winter).

Research also shows that a diet rich in flavonols found in fruits, vegetables, tea and red wine can help to slow the rate of memory decline.

Play more games

No, we’re not talking about leaving your Tinder date hanging – this is about bringing back those old-school puzzles and board games. Studies show that keeping your brain active and agile by engaging in activities such as crossword puzzles, sudoku or word soups can slow the rate of memory decline, so it’s worth keeping up your Wordle streak.

Take more tech breaks

Researchers have found that keeping our brains active means reducing our reliance on technology. Digital amnesia, also known as the “Google effect”, happens because rather than storing information as memory in our brains, we know we can simply look it up – so the memory pathways in our brains don’t get strengthened. We’re simply not flexing those memory muscles, and we all know what happens to muscles when we don’t use them.

Get more organised (and buy that new planner!)

Riggs says: “Automatically, your brain organises the things that you have to remember. But one way to keep your brain sharp and boost your memory is to add some organisation to your life. That might mean following a daily routine, planning out your day and/or making to-do lists.”

Do more HIIT (or any activity that gets you sweating)

We’re all aware of the numerous physical benefits of an active lifestyle, but studies show that exercise is also great for your brain. “Exercising and increasing your heart rate, even by walking, increases the blood flow exposing the brain to more oxygen and nutrients and releasing beneficial proteins,” explains Riggs. “These nourishing proteins keep brain cells (also known as neurons) healthy and promote the growth of new neurons. Physical activity can also improve your cognitive health and memory by helping you think, learn and problem-solve.” High-intensity exercise in particular has been shown to produce significant memory improvement, so make sure you get your sweat on regularly.

Try to look on the bright side

Interestingly, research shows that a positive mindset can slow memory decline, so those endorphins from your workout that make you feel so great are a double-whammy of brain-boosting goodness.

"Research shows that a positive mindset can slow memory decline, so those endorphins from your workout are a double-whammy of brain-boosting goodness"

Prioritise sleep regularly…

“As you get older, your sleep patterns may change, but it’s very important you’re making sure you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours per night,” advises Riggs. “Sleep is vital for healthy brain function and without enough, you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain.” Put simply, it becomes harder to concentrate and respond quickly if you’re not getting enough shut-eye, so clean up your sleep hygiene and you might be surprised by how much difference it makes.

… but schedule in regular nights out

Yes, really. While those of us over the age of 30 might find the idea of the sofa and Netflix more appealing than a sticky dancefloor, research shows that staying sociable has brain benefits. “Keeping social is crucial to your brain health as socialising can stimulate attention and memory,” says Riggs. “Although it may just feel like you are laughing and talking, this is actually keeping your brain hard at work and this increase in mental activity pays off over time.”

Chill out

“Stop thinking too much stress in life is normal,” advises Dr Taylor. “Learn how to relax and regenerate your body, in particular the central nervous system.

“When we are relaxed our body and brain are working at their best. If you find it hard to switch off, start with short periods then lengthen this over time,” she says.

“Being in a stressed or anxious state causes the brain to determine that memory is not a necessary function, particularly when dealing with a fight, flight or freeze situation. This means that chronic stress can lead to substantial memory issues.”

Work on cutting out distractions

It’s easier said than done but if you can, stop getting distracted. “Stop allowing your attention to be highjacked by everyone and everything,” warns Dr Taylor. “Be discerning about what gets your focus and energy. Then your brain will be trained into remembering what is important to you.”

But if this all sounds like a lot, don’t panic. Research from UCLA shows that people who engaged in only one brain-boosting activity were 21% less likely to report memory issues, while those who practised three healthy behaviours were 75% less forgetful. So, if you only have the energy to make one change, it’s still well worth it.

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Best wishes, The Wellbeing Team

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