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Upgrade Your Memory

Do passwords and your PIN constantly slip your mind? Do you have trouble remembering the names of the other moms at the playground, or recalling the name of that Bangles song that you listened to 2,000 times in 1986? Fortunately, there are a number of easy ways to enhance your memory.

Learn how to remember. “All memory is based on reminders,” says Harry Lorayne, memory expert, author and creator of the Memory Power Package. “We all see something and think of something that reminds us of [the new thing]. And anything you can visualize makes it easier to remember.”

If you’re constantly forgetting names, Lorayne has five rules to help you remember:

1. When you’re first introduced, make sure you hear the person’s name.

2. Try to spell the name in your head. If you’re not sure, ask.

3. Make a remark about the name, like, “Oh, I went to high school with someone who had that last name.”

4. Use the name during your conversation.

5. Say the name again when you say goodbye.

Get enough vitamin D. Researchers at the University of Exeter in Great Britain recently confirmed what other studies have found. Namely, that there is a strong connection between low levels of vitamin D and the development of cognitive problems such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

To get enough vitamin D, include foods rich in the nutrient, like wild salmon, fortified milk, dairy, eggs and fortified cereals, in your diet,” says Leslie Dantchik, nutritionist and contributor to The 7-Day Slim Down: Drop Twice the Weight in Half the Time With the Vitamin D Diet.

You can get also vitamin D from sunlight, but “you don't have to soak up the rays baking at the beach to attain your D,” she says. “All you need is about 15 minutes of sun exposure—less if you’re fair-skinned—then apply at least an SPF 30 to protect skin from sun damage.”

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Get moving. Regular physical activity is as important for the memory as it is for the heart (and the waistline). “Physical activity is a key factor for maintaining cognitive function,” says Lynda Anderson, branch chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Aging Program. A 2011 study by the Mayo Clinic researchers found that any activity that raised the heart rate—including everything from working out at the gym, to walking, to raking leaves—may reduce the risk of dementia and help preserve cognitive abilities.

Eat more food rich in omega-3. People who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may significantly lower their risk of developing age-related memory problems, a new study by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found. They discovered that the more omega-3 fatty acids study participants consumed, the lower the levels of beta-amyloid in their blood (beta-amyloid is a protein suspected of being responsible for the destruction of brain cells that’s a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease).

Consuming just one gram of omega-3 per day (equal to approximately 2 ounces of salmon or a handful of walnuts) decreased beta-amyloid levels 20 to 30 percent. Other omega-3 rich foods include tuna, herring, mackerel, kale, flaxseed, soybeans and tofu.

B strong. People with diets rich in the B vitamins had higher scores on mental tests and were less likely to have the brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease than people with diets low in them, according to a study published in Neurology.

“Numerous other studies have found a link between increased consumption of B vitamins and memory improvement,” says Dantchik. Of the nine types of Vitamin B, Vitamin B12 is particularly important. Increase your intake by including dairy foods, meat, clams, oysters, salmon, poultry and eggs in your diet, says Dantchik.

“Other crucial B vitamins include folic acid (found in whole grains, spinach, peas, beans, fortified breakfast cereals and oatmeal) and B6 (found in potatoes, bananas, beef, fortified cereals, whole grains, nuts, beans, pork, chicken and fish),” she adds.

Get a good night’s sleep. Getting more sleep may also improve your memory, researchers at Michigan State University found. “There is substantial evidence that during sleep, your brain is processing information without your awareness," says Kimberly Fenn, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State and the lead researcher of the 2012 study. “This ability may contribute to memory in a waking state.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between seven and nine hours a night.

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Make new friends, and/or keep the old. A 2011 study in the Journals of Gerontology that looked at people between the ages of 35 and 85 found a strong link between high levels of social engagement and a strong memory. Maintaining friendships and an active social life are key to preserving cognitive function, says Anderson. “Those people who stay engaged and have a strong social network tend to do better as they get older,” Anderson says.

Go green. Green tea’s cardiovascular benefits are well known, but it turns out it may also be good for your memory. Researchers at Third Military Medical University in China found that EGCG (epigallocatechin-3 gallate), a powerful antioxidant abundant in green tea, can also improve cognitive function by enhancing the production of neuron cells. Though the research was conducted on mice, researchers believe that drinking green tea every day can deliver similar benefits. Aim for one to four cups a day, advises Dantchik.

Chill out. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your health, causing everything from cardiovascular disease to depression, and new research shows that it can also lead to impaired memory.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences found that chronic stress disrupts the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls mental functions including working memory and decision-making. If you’re under chronic stress (stress that goes on for a prolonged period over which you have no control), look for healthy ways to deal, including exercise, adequate sleep and relaxation techniques, such as meditation.

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Indulge in some chocolate (guilt-free). Need one more reason to love chocolate? It may also help improve your memory. Researchers at the Salk Institute found that mice that were fed epicatechin, a chemical found in cocoa, experienced improved blood flow to their brain, especially when combined with exercise; they performed better on a memory test than mice not fed epicatechin and mice fed epicatechin who didn’t exercise.

To reap maximum health benefits, go for dark chocolate, says Dantchik. “Go for one with at least a 70 percent cocoa content. But remember a little bit goes a long way, so don’t indulge in more than 1 ounce a few times a week, as it’s also high in fat and calories.”

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