3 Surprisingly Easy Ways To Improve Your Memory Right Now

Some simple tricks for boosting your powers of recall.

Want to improve your memory? According to the latest research, here are three things that have been proven to increase scores on memory tests. The best part: These tips are surprisingly easy to incorporate into your day-to-day life.

Read aloud

According to research conducted at the University of Waterloo, people are more likely to remember what they read aloud. In a study, 95 participants were asked to either read a list of words silently, read the words out loud, listen to a recording of someone reading the words, or hear a recording of themselves saying the words. (All participants were recorded reading the list weeks in advance, without knowing why.)

Those who read aloud performed the best in a subsequent memory test, followed by those who heard the recording of themselves. Those who read the words out loud recalled about 15 percent more words than those who read silently.

One of the theories about why the strategy works is that when we’ve read something out loud, “it stands out from the background of things we didn’t read out loud,” says Colin MacLeod, a professor and chair of UW’s department of psychology who co-authored the study, which was published in late 2017. “We think, ‘I remember saying that aloud.’”

“A 15% advantage is pretty good, when you consider how easy it is to achieve,” says MacLeod. So if you can never remember where to find your keys, try saying where you’ve put them out loud as you set them down — no matter how weird that may feel.

Create a “memory palace”

Humans have evolved to recall things in certain locations – remember, before GPS, when you used landmarks to travel to a relative’s house? According to a study published last year in the journal Neuron, we’re more likely to remember things if we fix them in a certain place in our minds.

In the study, 17 participants were trained in an ancient technique known as “memory loci.” They were given memory tests six weeks later. Before the training, participants could only recall 26 words out of a list of 72, while after the training, they remembered 62 words — demonstrating that this age-old technique does work.

So how do you use the memory loci trick? The first step is to imagine a physical setting. Maybe it’s a café you frequent, maybe it’s your house, or maybe it’s a particular city street. “A mistake people make is they suddenly have to remember something, so on the spot they try to come up with a location – that doesn’t work so well,” explains Boris Konrad, a co-author of the study and a professional memory trainer in Germany.

Once you have your location, also known as your “memory palace,” you can imagine the words or concepts you are trying to remember in that setting. For example, if you’re trying to remember a grocery list, you could picture a pitcher of milk on your kitchen table, bread on your couch, cookies on your coffee table, and so on. “The technique especially gives an advantage when things have a specific order, like with a list or speech,” explains Konrad.

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Getting your heart rate up through exercise can improve your memory, according to researchers at McMaster University. After exercising for 20 minutes three times a week for a total of six weeks, previously non-exercising participants performed about 10% better on a memory test, explains Jennifer Heisz, lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor in kinesiology at McMaster.

In the study, participants cycled on stationary bikes, alternating between one minute of high-intensity spinning and one-minute low-intensity spinning. This kind of “interval training,” or alternating between bringing your heart rate very high and slowing down, seems to be the most effective exercise for improving memory function, according to Heisz. But even moderate, steady jogging can boost your memory – you’ll just have to go for longer. (A 30-minute jog would have about the same benefit as a 20-minute high-and-low intensity cardio workout).