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How To Improve Your Memory In Six Easy Steps

Go take a nap.

31/05/2017 8:50 PM AEST | Updated 31/05/2017 8:50 PM AEST

Remember a world before smart phones, when you actually knew dozens of numbers off by heart and would physically dial them into a handset to make a phone call?

Chances are you now outsource that knowledge to your contacts list and rarely, if ever, take the time to learn a number by rote.

While this may be convenient on a day-to-day basis, the fact of the matter is technology is changing the way we remember, and not always for the better. And in a society which is showing to have an increase in neurological diseases that affect memory, such as dementia and Alzheimers Disease; you might want to start consciously working toward improving your memory sooner rather than later.

The good news? It's totally possible. Here's how.

1. Rethink the way you view your memory

"I think many people tend to think of memory as a filing cabinet in which we store all our personal records, whereas it's actually much more constructive than that," Associate Professor in Psychology, Muireann Irish, tells HuffPost Australia.

"You have to work at memory, it's not a passive process. You have to pay attention to information. It's not good enough to read a page and assume the information will stick, or that it's been subconsciously filed away. You need to prepare and rehearse."

Which brings us to...

2. Repeat, repeat, repeat

We've all been in that situation where you are introduced to someone at a party, only to forget their name moments afterward. Turns out it's not enough just to hear the name -- it requires some work on your part, too.

"Simple repetition can be really helpful," University of Melbourne's Dr Tamsyn Van Rheenen tells HuffPost Australia. "So when you meet someone new and hear their name, try to repeat it a few times in conversation to help it move to long term memory."

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Technology is affecting the way we remember.

3. Test yourself

"Testing is key. Meaningfully test yourself to see if you actually know the information. In this regard it's almost like mimicking students who are studying -- they're not just reading and recognising material, they are then putting that material away and making sure they can recall it.

"This is an active based method, meaning it doesn't just rely on reading and being passive."

So if we return to the example of remembering phone numbers, Irish suggests challenging yourself to physically key the numbers into your phone rather than just going into your contacts.

"Key in the numbers each time. Test yourself. This means you're associating the number to the person as well as actively entering the numbers, so that's two aspects of memory that would be taxed, in a way."

4. Socialise

Bet you weren't expecting this one, were you? But the fact is, technology such as Facebook has changed the way we interact with each other, and this in turn has impacted our memory.

pixelfit via Getty Images
Say it in person, rather than Facebook.

"Every time we upload experiences to Facebook, we are documenting things," Irish says. "So we're actually moving towards a scenario where these digital tools are replacing the social act of memory.

"Back in the day, you would physically call around to someone's house and catch up and reminisce. You would talk through recent events with others, and that's actually a really important social process. Now we are more likely to defer to the internet rather than ringing a friend, and that has led to a real shift in how we remember things."

5. Exercise

"There are a number of studies which have shown regular exercise of moderate intensity -- so things like walking or jogging, or even resistance work -- is associated with an increase in the brain structure called the Hippocampus, which is one of the key memory structures in the brain," Irish says.

Henrik Sorensen via Getty Images
Regular exercise boasts a number of health benefits, including boosting your memory.

"Further to that, exercise promotes neurogenesis, which literally means the birth of new brain cells. This actually suggests there is a link that exercise might facilitate neuroplasticity."

Adds Van Rheenan: "There is increasing evidence to show that healthy lifestyles, as well as engagement in intellectually enriching activities such as reading, create resilience against the negative effects of the ageing brain on thinking skills.

"So for example, in two people with dementia of the same age, the one who has participated in a greater number of intellectually stimulating activities, had a healthier lifestyle and engaged in more physical exercise is likely to show less cognitive decline (including memory loss) than the other, even if they both have the same level of brain deterioration."

6. Sleep (and yes, that includes naps)

"Sleep is really important for memory integrity. It's when our memories are consolidated, solidified and transferred to long term memory," Irish says.

It has been suggested it might be beneficial to take power naps after you are trying to learn something. Muireann Irish

"If we're not sleeping well we're actually not consolidating well. Everyone knows what it's like after long haul flying -- your memory is affected.

"Taking it even further, it has been suggested it might be beneficial to take power naps after you are trying to learn something. So take a nap after a heavy study session. There is evidence to suggest a short power nap can have a facilitative affect on their learning."

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