So you are looking to turbocharge your brain power. Glad you are here.
I guess you have been worried about forgetting whether you placed milk on the stove, where you left your phone or even whether you locked the safe.
Well, not to worry!
What I am about to share with you are scientifically proven ways to improve your brain power and fire up your brain.
And I am not going to be talking about Sudoku…. :-p
Does Memory Really Matter?
Having a good memory is fundamental to survival. It allows us to adapt to different situations and handle anything that comes our way.
There are 3 main components to memory which I have listed in the box below.
Our Memory – How It Is Created
Before we dive into how to improve your memory, let us first take a look at how memories are created.
It all boils down to nerves.
Our brain is constantly working. Even when we think that we are not thinking anything, we are actually thinking about not thinking anything (make sense??).
The tiniest structure in our brain is a cell called a neuron. These neurons are joined to one another at a junction called a synapse.
The synapse must have a strong connection to make sure that the brain functions normally.
If the strength of the connections vary, then the function of these synapses changes.
In other words, there has to be synaptic plasticity.
Plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change as and when new information is fed to it. The changes which occur at the synapses of the nerves is called synaptic plasticity.
Synaptic plasticity could be either long term or short term.
Stronger connections refer to long term plasticity. This type of plasticity is responsible for the storage of information and creation of memories.
When memories are being created, a bundle of neurons are activated. These may be old bundles that already existed (if you are recalling an old memory), or new bundles that are being formed (if you are creating a new memory).
I hope this is making sense so far?
Basically, if the connections between the neurons in the brain are stronger, the memories created are better.
Let me explain a little further.
Let us say you are a 5 year old. If I were to ask you to imagine a car, you would probably imagine one that you saw in a book or one in your favorite cartoon.
Fast forward 30 years.
If I asked you to picture a car, you would likely picture the one in your drive.
Why did you not picture the one you did when you were 5 years old?
This is because the nerve bundles that were created as a child were not repeatedly stimulated during your growth.
However, the ones that are created as an adult are stimulated regularly. Experiences affect them greatly.
So, if you see your car everyday, chances are you are stimulating the same nerve bundle, making the connections stronger.
Recalling a memory involves re-activating nerve bundles that are probably inactive or less active.
Where are memories stored?
Memories are stored in different parts of the brain. For example, short term memory is stored in the front of the brain (called prefrontal cortex). Short term memory is also called working memory.
Movement memory (like serving in tennis or playing the piano) relies on nerve connections created in the cerebellum (lower back of the brain) or basal ganglia of the brain.
Emotional memories are stored in the amygdala of the brain.
A large part of memory strengthening occurs when you sleep.
Within the brain, there is a part called the hippocampus. Let us consider this as a machine that creates new neurons.
When a memory is created, new neurons bundle together and are shipped across to the cortex of the brain where they are stored.
When you sleep, this ‘shipping’ process occurs.
If you don’t sleep, you affect this process and hence your memories.
This is why you need a good sleep every night!
Ways To Turbocharge Your Brain Power
Okay, time to get to main part of the article.
If you are looking to boost your memory and turbocharge your brain power, then here are some tips for you.
1. Exercise Regularly
I don’t need to tell you how important exercise is to keep yourself healthy. It gets the heart pumping, blood flowing and all the vital organs in top shape.
And that includes the brain.
Clinical studies have found that we lose between 15 – 25% of our brain tissue between the ages of 30 to 90 years.
As we get older, our brains get smaller.
In animal studies, it has been found that regular exercise
- Increases the levels of the memory chemical serotonin
- Increases new blood vessel formation (leading to better blood supply
- Increases the formation of new neuron connections
What about exercise and memory loss in older people?
In a study that looked at brain function in people over the age of 55 years, MRI imaging found that there was an improvement in brain function in those who exercised regularly compared to those who did not.
So, if you are getting old and worried about your memory, then it’s time to take up regular exercise.
What type of exercise works best to turbocharge the brain?
I normally tell my patients that any exercise is good exercise.
Stay active and on your feet whenever you can. Avoid prolonged sitting.
Take a brisk walk everyday for at least 45 minutes.
2. Take Fish Oil Supplements
This might be a tough one for vegetarians though some don’t mind taking fish oil supplements for brain health.
Fish oil contains a large quantity of Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. DHA is an omega 3 fatty acid that has a number of benefits in improving memory and ‘brain power’.
The human brain contains 60% fat. Of this, one quarter is composed of DHA. DHA is needed to keep the neurons in the brain firing in a healthy manner so that they function normally.
DHA is particularly concentrated in areas of the brain that are responsible for storing our memories. As we get older, our requirement for DHA increases.
If we are short of DHA, then we place ourselves at risk of memory loss as we get older.
Regularly topping up your DHA levels through oral supplementation can help improve your memory. In fact, clinical studies have found that taking 1 gram of DHA regularly in the form of supplements for at least 6 months can make a big difference.
As we get older, we begin to lose our episodic memory. This is a type of memory that is related to certain events that we have personally experienced through our lifetime.
Studies have found that children who breast feed end up smarter than children who are not breast fed. This is because breast milk contains good quantities of DHA which can improve brain health.
There has been a ton of research conducted looking at omega 3 fatty acids derived from non-vegetarian sources and memory. However, there is limited evidence for omega – 3 supplements from a vegetarian source.
This is because vegetarian sources of omega 3 fatty acids contain ALA, or alpha linolenic acid. This needs to be converted to DHA in the body to exert it’s beneficial effects on the brain. However, the human body is not able to make this conversion effectively.
So if you are looking to turbocharge your brain power, then start taking at least 1 gram of fish oil based omega 3 supplements regularly. Some experts recommend Krill oil. It can be taken even during pregnancy.
3. Keep Your Gut Flora Healthy
Ever heard of probiotics? These are good bacteria that keeps your gut healthy.
Turns out these healthy gut bacteria can actually enhance your memory power.
In a study looking at 52 men and women with Alzheimer’s disease given probiotics in milk (or just plain milk), it was found that those who had probiotics had a better memory score on testing.
So now you may wonder – how is it that bacteria that improve gut health improve memory? How are the bowel and brain connected?
Other than the brain telling you when the bowels need to be emptied, there appears to be a special connection between the bowel and the mind.
It is called the microbiota-gut-brain axis.
While there are some complex functions that this axis fulfills, it appears that there is a link between having good bacteria and staying mentally sharp.
You could get natural probiotics through yogurt (curds), kefir grains and certain other fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut). However, the probiotic content in pasteurized cow’s milk yogurt is very little. Goat’s milk has better content.
Supplements are readily available these days over the counter (such as Yakult etc).
4. Stay Mentally Active
It has been found that the longer you work, the longer your brain stays active.
Early retirement has been linked to memory loss.
In fact, with early retirement, it is possible to lose 38% more memory than you would have done if you were still working. The type of memory lost is ‘verbal’ memory, which related to memory for words and items.
Reading has also been found to turbocharge your brain power. When it comes to children, turn off the television or mobile phone from time to time and give them a book instead.
You will be boosting their memory and improving their ability to remember things fast.
Here are some simple ways to keep your memory sharp by staying mentally active.
5. Enjoy Your Favourite Music
Ever heard your favourite music and felt the hair on your arms stand up?
Music can evoke a series of emotions; many of these are attached to a memory.
You may have heard that the music composed by Mozart, if heard by women who are pregnant, may improve the brain power of the developing fetus?
Not just that – research has also shown that children who learn music do a lot better academically than those who do not.
The potential of music and its effect extends beyond just memory. Learning a new language seems to be easier if music is used as a medium.
In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, music therapy seems to have a beneficial effect on memory.
What type of music is the best?
It is not really sure which music is the best. Classical music (orchestral) seems to be the one studied. Not sure how heavy metal music impacts the mind though!
One study found that college students listening to Indian Raga Bhupali had better memory scores compared to those listening to pop music.
Whatever the effect, we all know that music that we love can relax us tremendously. Turns out it can also boost your brain power. Make sure you listen to your favourite tunes when you can.
6. Sleep Well
Looking to wake up one morning and shout ‘Eureka!’? Then you better make sure you sleep well.
I have already talked about how a good nights sleep helps you consolidate your memory and build stronger nerve connections.
Some scientists believe that we recollect and remember new information that we obtained just before going to sleep the best.
In one particular research paper, it was suggested that ‘sleep facilitates abstraction of gist information as well as integration across multiple memories, insight into hidden solutions, and even the ability to make creative connections between distantly related ideas and concepts‘.
So how much sleep is good sleep for memory?
Various studies recommend 8 hours of sleep a night for adequate memory consolidation. Even short naps of 1 – 2 hours in the afternoon can help.
Memory retention can also improve after a 6 minute power nap!
Keeping a short delay between the time you sleep from the time you learn new information is also believed to improve memory consolidation.
Research has shown that if you sleep within 3 hours of learning something new, you will retain it better and remember it longer. However, if you sleep 10 hours or more later, then your likelihood of remembering new information reduces.
Make sure you never miss out on your sleep. It is as important as breathing!
7. Enjoy A Cup Of Coffee
Our morning cup of coffee (and the ones we have after) can be memory boosters, suggests research from John’s Hopkins University, USA.
I have previously written how coffee shops can increase and enhance productivity for those looking to work more efficiently.
In the paper published, it was found that drinking coffee could increase memory consolidation for at least 24 hours after it has been consumed.
However, it must be noted that the study was conducted with 200 mg of caffeine, a major component of coffee. Subjects were given these tablets 5 minutes after they were shown certain images and asked to remember them.
On comparing with subjects who were not given the tablets, it was found that those taking caffeine had better recollection of these images the following day. These subjects even recognized slight changes in the new images that were shown as well.
So what is 200 mg of caffeine in real life? Well, it’s one cup of strong coffee.
Does age matter?
You may be surprised to hear that in young adults, a ‘memory slump’ is seen in the mornings while in older adults it is seen in the afternoon.
What this means is that the minds of young people (college students etc.) are less alert and unable to retain and recall much information in the mornings. It seems to be better in the afternoon (personally, I don’t feel that way!!!).
In older adults, memory retention is better in the morning and less in the afternoon.
In 2 different studies looking at these ‘slumps’, it was found that drinking a single cup of coffee around 15 minutes beforehand can improve memory retention and recall.
Clearly, a cup of coffee does more than just make you feel good!
8. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has come under fire recently, with the American Heart Association suggesting that it is bad for the heart.
But when it comes to the brain, it might be a different story.
Clinical studies have shown that a type of fatty acids called medium chain triglycerides (MCT) can boost memory and turbocharge the brain.
While coconut oil contains saturated fats, it also contains 60% in weight of caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid. These are MCTs.
While there is no concrete proof that coconut oil can boost memory, it is still believed to be useful in the management of Alzheimer’s disease.
The recommended intake is around 2 to 3 tablespoons per day. However, you must use pure virgin coconut oil that is cold pressed and free from machine processing.
Memory loss can be a worrying this. In the long run, it can affect quality of life. The steps above will help keep you mentally sharp and turbocharge your brain power!