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15 Memory Exercises Proven to Keep Your Brain Sharp

Simple ways to ward off dementia, prevent cognitive decline, and improve your brainpower—in just one day.

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Draw a map

Research shows that building a mental map is a serious brain-booster. Cab drivers in London, for example, are required to memorize 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks in order to qualify for a license. But new geography skills aren’t the only perk; neurologists at the University of London found that these cabbies have significantly larger hippocampi, or regions of the brain that store and organize memories.

Memory exercise: Draw a map—of your neighborhood, your commute, or another familiar area—completely from memory. Then, repeat this exercise each time you visit a new place or take a different route home. Don’t miss these other 50 secrets your brain wishes you knew.

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Quiz yourself

Forget fancy computer games; paper and pen is the tried-and-true method for improving your memory, experts say.

Memory exercise: Try making and memorizing a list of grocery items, tasks to complete, etc. Then, see how many items you can recall after one or two hours. The longer (and more complicated) the list, the tougher the workout for your brain. Check out more weird brain exercises that make you smarter.

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Practice simple math problems

Did you think you could bid math farewell after graduating high school? Think again. According to experts, an addition or subtraction problem a day can keep cognitive decline away.

Memory exercise: Solve a few simple math problems in your head each morning—no pencil, paper, or calculator allowed. To up the ante, try to walk or cook at the same time. You can do these genius brain-boosters before work, too.

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Test your taste buds

Cooking is a win-win for your brain. Both making and eating a meal activates the brain regions associated with smell, touch, sight, and taste. Plus, using your senses can also improve your recall. In one study, adults who looked at a series of images were more likely to remember those with a fragrance than the ones without.

Memory exercise: As you chew, take a moment to distinguish the taste of individual ingredients in the dish, all the way down to the faintest herbs and spices. Serve some of these brain-healthy foods on your plate for an extra intelligence boost.

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Tell a story

Storytelling is a great mental stimulant, helping you focus on important details, associate emotion with your memories, and recall important life events with ease later on. It has been used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, too.

Memory exercise: Before you go to sleep at night, replay the day’s events in your head. Try to recall the details from each moment, starting from the minute you woke up to when you climbed into bed. Here are more quick brain exercises you can do right now.

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Take a class

To keep your noggin in tip-top shape, it’s important to keep learning—no matter your age. Experts believe that continuing to learn throughout your life can prevent mental aging and boost your memory.

Memory exercise: Whether it is cooking or calculus, enroll in a class that will teach you something new. Trust us, your brain will thank you.

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Play a new sport

Getting your heart pumping can also keep your brain bumping. Athletic activities that stimulate your mind and body, such as yoga, golf, or tennis, have been linked to improved brain function and energy levels.

Memory exercise: Sign up to learn a sport you have never played before, and study up on the rules and procedures. If you can’t make it to a gym, log on to these free brain games you have never tried.

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Challenge your fine-motor skills

Like learning a sport or enrolling in a new class, mastering an activity that requires considerable hand-eye coordination can keep your brain active and healthy.

Memory exercise: Pick up a new hobby that requires you to use your hands, such as knitting, painting, or assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Even better, chew gum while you do it; one study found that chewing gum while completing a task could improve concentration and memory.

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Memorize phone numbers

Even a short brain-training session can make a big difference for your memory. By challenging your brain with memorization puzzles, experts believe you can protect your brain cells and strengthen the connections between them.

Memory exercise: Impress your friends by memorizing their phone numbers. Ashraf Al, MD, recommends dividing each 10-digit number into three sections; for example, 801 555 8372 is much easier to remember than 8015558372.

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Create a mnemonic phrase

Making a mnemonic device is one foolproof way to store an important rule, fact, or to-do list in your memory bank. Some are acronyms, such as RICE, (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation), a first-aid treatment for injuries. Others come in the form of sentences, like “spring forward, fall back,” a reminder to reset your clock twice a year.

Memory exercise: The next time you need to memorize something in a hurry, come up with a clever acronym or sentence for it. Need some inspiration? These mnemonic phrases will help you remember 14 basic facts.

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Learn a foreign language

Studies show that learning something new and complex over a long period of time can protect an aging brain. Not only are listening and hearing exercises great mental stimulants, but learning a new language can also reduce your risk for cognitive decline.

Memory exercise: Enroll in a foreign language course at your local college or online. If you’re strapped for time, Rosetta Stone or Duolingo will allow you to learn at your own pace.

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Increase your processing speed

Quick on your feet, or slow to the punch? If your answer is the latter, your brain might be in trouble. Learning to react and process things at a fast pace can ward off dementia, according to research published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Memory exercise: Try PQRST, a five-step method for processing lengthy written information quickly. The acronym stands for: Preview or skim the material, ask Questions about the document’s main points, Reread it, Study the answers to your questions, and Test yourself.

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Repeat it out loud

Saying information out loud can increase your chances of remembering it later, research says. In a study published in the journal Memory, subjects who read written information out loud showed a five to 15 percent boost in retention.

Memory exercise: To remember something you have just done, heard, or read, repeat it out loud; doing so will nail the memory down in your mind. Here are more habits of people with impressive memory.

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Conserve your mental energy

Don’t waste valuable brainpower trying to remember where you put your keys or the time of your next doctor’s appointment. By removing unnecessary distractions, you can focus your energy on new information you actually want to remember, instead.

Memory exercise: Keep a calendar or planner, and designate a space for items you often lose.

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Use visual cues

Last but certainly not least, there’s no harm in the occasional string around your finger to jog your memory.

Memory exercise: Place Post-It notes on your computer keyboard, desk, or fridge to serve as reminders throughout the day. You can wear a bracelet or put an alarm on your phone, too. And if all else fails, find out how to train your brain like a memory champion.

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