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Nicole Abendroth

Maintain Your Memory

Everyone's memory changes with age. Here's how to revitalize yours.

It happens to all of us, no matter what our age. Maybe you can't recall your new neighbor's last name. Or where you parked. Or where you put your keys or phone. That sort of mild forgetfulness is normal. But you don't have to live with it. It might not be possible to have perfect recall, but there are ways to sharpen your memory.

How memory works

Memory is a powerful force. It helps preserve the good old days: Vacations. Sporting events. Moments with loved ones who've since grown up or passed away. And it turns out memory is just as much science as it is sentiment.

When you experience something, your brain takes it in, or encodes it. From there, your brain decides how long to store that information. That's where short-term versus long-term memory comes in. For example, the words you've read so far in this article are part of your short-term memory. And of course, we hope you'll take away tips that will stay in your long-term memory too. It all depends how your brain will retrieve your stored memories later on.

That's where it can get a bit complicated. Memories aren't reliable. They fade and can change over time. Part of that is just how our brains work. But as we age, our ability to encode, store, and retrieve information weakens. And while some of that inevitable, there are ways to help keep your memory firing at its fullest potential.

How to keep your memory sharp

Here are four ways you can help your memory stay in great shape at any age:

  1. Get moving
    Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain. That can help keep your memory sharp. The generally accepted standard is to get at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, which can include exercises like walking, yoga, or jogging.
  2. Flex your mental muscles
    Mental activity also plays an important role in retaining your memory. Do a puzzle. Read a book. Play a musical instrument. Those types of pursuits will help your brain wire — or rewire — the nerve connections that help you concentrate, learn new skills, and retain memories.
  3. Keep organized
    Clutter can be more than a source of stress. It can also make it difficult to think clearly — and remember accurately. Jot down tasks and appointments in a planner or a virtual calendar. Keep important items like your phone, wallet, keys, and eyeglasses in a drawer or other designated place. Those small changes can tidy up your space, and your thoughts.
  4. Reminisce
    There are probably certain names, people, and places you remember vividly — regardless of how much time has gone by. That's because you're more likely to recall information that's significant to you. If you repeat a scene in your mind or revisit a memory often enough, your brain has a better chance of accurately storing and retrieving the information. So organize your family photos and write down and share those cherished stories and memories with family and friends.

Nicole Abendroth is a De Pere, Wisconsin-based freelance writer.