We have all had moments when it was hard to recall some detail — like where you last left your car keys or struggling to remember that line, you know, from that movie, how did it go?
Healthy people at any age can experience memory loss or memory distortion, and some of these memory flaws become more pronounced with age. Becoming forgetful and taking more time to process information are common cognitive changes associated with aging, more common in those over the age of 40. (1)
A strong memory depends on the health and wellbeing of your brain. Whether you’re a student studying for final exams, a working professional with various responsibilities demanding your attention, or a senior looking to stay mentally sharp, there are lots of natural ways that you can improve your memory and concentration.
Foods that improve memory and concentration
Just like there is no magic pill to improve concentration, there is no single food that can ensure a sharp mind as you age. The most important strategy is to follow a healthy diet, one that includes lots of vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains.
That being said, certain foods are rich in healthful nutrients that support brain health. (2) Including these foods into a healthy diet on a regular basis can improve your brain health, which in turn can translate into improved memory and concentration.
Did you know? The best foods for your brain are the same ones that help to protect your heart and blood vessels.
1. Oily fish
Oily/fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats with many health benefits for adults and children. Omega-3 fats may help lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. In infants, omega-3 fats help with brain, nerve and eye development. (3) Aim to eat fatty fish at least twice a week, opting for varieties that are low in mercury, such as salmon, cod, canned light tuna, and pollock. If fish isn’t your thing, choose plant-based sources of omega-3’s such as ground flaxseeds, avocados, and walnuts. You can also talk to a healthcare professional about taking omega-3 supplements.
Berries are rich in flavonoids, natural pigments that give these fruits their brilliant hues. Flavonoids are best known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits and may help boost memory and concentration by helping to stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. (4) In 2012, researchers at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week experienced slower mental decline. The association was equivalent to up to two-and-a-half years of delayed aging. (5)
3. Green leafy vegetables
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, arugula, collards, and broccoli are rich in nutrients like lutein, vitamin K, nitrate, folate, alpha-tocopherol, and beta-carotene. Research suggests that these nutrients are positively associated with brain health. A report published in 2018 in the Journal of Neurology found that a diet containing approximately one serving of green leafy vegetables per day was associated with a slower age-related cognitive decline. (6)
4. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts are rich in a variety of nutrients that are important for brain health and optimal cognitive performance. These include healthy fats, proteins, and antioxidants. Nuts also contain essential vitamins including several B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium, selenium, manganese, and copper. Eating nuts on a regular basis helps to strengthen brain waves associated with learning, healing, memory, and cognition. (7) So the next time your stomach starts rumbling, go nuts! It might be one of the smartest snacks you ever eat.
5. Tea and coffee
The caffeine in your morning cup of joe might offer more than just a short-term boost in your concentration. Caffeine helps block a substance in the brain called adenosine, which can make a person feel sleepy. (8) Beyond boosting alertness, a 2018 study suggests that caffeine may also help to increase the brain’s ability to process information. (9) Now, this is not a free pass to drink all the coffee you want, the USFDA recommends that adults should limit their caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg per day.
Lifestyle practices that improve memory and concentration
Eating the right foods is just half the battle when it comes to natural ways to improve your memory and concentration. To experience the effectiveness of these natural concentration boosters, you must also adopt a few simple and healthy behaviors.
1. Give your brain a workout
Just like a muscle, memory requires you to “use it or lose it”! The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. The best activities for your brain are those that are novel and challenging. (10) Think of something you’ve always wanted to try, like learning to speak another language, play the piano or dance the tango. Even activities as simple as driving home via a different route or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand can help you improve your memory, just as long as they keep you challenged and engaged.
2. Don’t skimp on exercise
Exercise is important for overall physical and mental health. Breaking a sweat through physical exercise can help your brain stay sharp. It increases delivery of blood and oxygen to your brain, reduces stress hormones and boosts the effects of helpful brain chemicals. Perhaps most importantly, exercise can help improve the growth and development of neurons (cells within the nervous system that transmit information to other nerve cells, muscle, or gland cells), leading to improved memory in people of all ages, from children to older adults. (11) Even a quick exercise break at work can help you get past that mid-afternoon slump. A short walk or even a few jumping jacks can be enough to hit the reset button.
3. Get your sleep
Lack of sleep is associated with poor memory. Research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, a process where short-term memories are strengthened and transformed into long-term memories. This is the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep. There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you need just to get by, and the optimal amount of sleep to keep your brain functioning at its best. Most adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Even skimping on a few hours makes a difference! Memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised. (12)
4. Manage your stress
Even a little stress can be a great motivator. Just ask that student who’s left a big paper to the day before its due! A lot of stress, however, can greatly impair cognitive function. Too much stress can inhibit the way we form and retrieve memories and can affect how our memory works. (13) To stay sharp and focused, it’s important to take steps every day to lower your stress levels. Meditation is a soothing and relaxing way to reduce stress and help you concentrate.
5. Be a social butterfly
Having a rich social life comes with many health benefits. A rich social network can help reduce stress, combat depression, enhance intellectual stimulation and provides support. Studies show that those with the most social interaction experience the slowest rate of memory decline. (14) So make a point to see friends more often, or reach out over the phone. And if there’s no human around, don’t overlook the value of a pet!
The bottom line
There are many natural ways that you can improve your memory and concentration. Whether through brain-boosting foods or a few lifestyle practices, try adding a few of these tips into your daily routine in order to boost your brain health and keep your memory and concentration in peak condition.
If you are a practitioner, consider signing up to Fullscript. If you are a patient, talk to your healthcare practitioner about Fullscript!