Four Ways Backed by Science
By Jasmine Aguayo
When we can’t retain new information, our memory acquisition center, the hippocampus, is to blame. This structure is responsible for processing declarative and episodic memory, while also playing a role in recognition. Stress, inflammation, and disease can play a big role in how well our brain functions, especially impacting our ability to recall. If you are ready to fight forgetfulness, read below to learn about new habits that may prevent memory deterioration.
Multiple studies have shown that sleeping 60-90 minutes can help us to retain more information and improves our ability to continue learning more. Napping recharges the hippocampus by promoting memory consolidation, and immediate recall. [Milner, et al.]
Even though a short rest may seem insignificant, doing so can give our brains an energy boost by restoring homeostasis. A week of sleep deprivation can result in a significant alteration in metabolic and endocrine function [Sharma & Kavuru, 2010]. Research found that students who napped the day before performed better than those who didn’t [Milner, et al.].
The Melodic Pacifier
Stress can severely impact cognitive function. [McEwen, et al.] When it impairs our memory, it can affect our performance at work and school, as well as our social life. There are plenty of ways to reduce stress, but not all of them work to improve your brain’s performance like music does. Music is often less effective than it can be due to when it’s used. It must be listened to before or during a stressful situation for the best results. We will not reap the same benefits if we turn to our favorite melodies for solace after we are filled with anxiety. It’s a preventative not curative. [Thoma, et al.]
Music therapy primarily impacts the autonomic nervous system but also has been found to decrease cortisol levels. One incredible study used classical music to great effect. Pachabel’s Canon in D enormously impacted the physical response of 87 undergraduates. In response to subjective anxiety with music playing, individuals experienced a decrease in heart rate and systolic blood pressure. [Knight, et al.]
Although more studies must be made to understand why non-lyrical music works best, any music that does not contain words, no matter what genre, promotes better brain function and elicits positive emotional responses.
Eat Less Junk
Nutritious food fuels our whole body, including our brain. But the science behind individual foods specifically improving our memory is inconclusive.
What we do know for certain are the bad choices; ones which reduce our cognitive function. Research has incriminating evidence against diets high in refined sugar and fat. Rats who were fed a high sugar and fat diet performed poorly when doing a spatial learning task. There was a significant reduction in the function of their hippocampus. It was concluded that “Diet-related changes were specific for the hippocampus consequent to its role in memory formation.” [Molteni, et al.]
The next time you are hungry, think twice before choosing to buy a greasy burger and fries with a large soda. Treating yourself once in a while isn’t harmful, but reaching for them every day will cause chronic brain fog. The effects in this study weren’t gradual either. Rats developed trouble learning after only two months on the diet!
When we grow older, our hippocampus reduces in size. As it deteriorates, so too does our ability to remember things. This shrinkage; however, is not seen in those who are very physically active. In fact, there is substantial evidence that our brain volume increases when we exercise moderately for one year. The areas of the brain affected include, but are not limited to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex [Erickson, et al.]. Additionally, when we exercise regularly, our stress is reduced and we sleep better!
“Just how much exercise?” you may ask...
Walking briskly for 1 hour, twice a week demonstrated improvement in one study. [Erickson, et al.] But you should aim for 30 minutes a day of any heart-pumping activity for best results.
Besides walking, other sound choices include:
Chores (IE: mopping, sweeping)
Gardening (IE: raking, shoveling)
Our brain is one of the most important organs in our body. Without the ability to think clearly and recall information, our quality of life reduces. With a few minor alterations to your routine, you can improve the wellness of your body and mind on so many levels. By napping, listening to more instrumental music, choosing healthier foods, and exercising a few times a week, you can give ourselves the self care you deserve.
Offer your hippocampus some extra love, and it will repay you in the future with a life full of memories.
Erickson, Kirk I et al. “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 108,7 (2011): 3017-22. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015950108
Gómez-Pinilla, Fernando. “Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function.” Nature reviews. Neuroscience vol. 9,7 (2008): 568-78. doi:10.1038/nrn2421
Hötting, Kirsten, et al. “The Effects of Acute Physical Exercise on Memory, Peripheral BDNF, and Cortisol in Young Adults.” Neural Plasticity, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2016,
Knight WE, Rickard NS (2001) Relaxing music prevents stress-induced increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy males and females. J Music Ther 38: 254-272. PubMed: 11796077.
McEwen, Bruce S, and Robert M Sapolsky. “Stress and Cognitive Function.” Current Opinion in Neurobiology, Elsevier Current Trends, 11 Feb. 2002.
Milner, C. E., & Cote, K. A. (2009). Benefits of napping in healthy adults: Impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of Sleep Research, 18, 272–281. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x
Molteni R, Barnard JR, Ying Z, Roberts CK, Gomez-Pinilla F. A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience. 2002;112:803–814.
Studte, S., Bridger, E., & Mecklinger, A. (2015). Nap sleep preserves associative but not item memory performance. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 120, 84–93. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2015.02.012
Thoma, Myriam V et al. “The effect of music on the human stress response.” PloS one vol. 8,8 e70156. 5 Aug. 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070156