Memory Exercises:
Keep your Memory Fit!

Memory exercises often seem to be reserved to students, when they learn by heart their multiplication tables, or to stage actors when they memorize their lines. However, the time we need those exercises the most is when our memory is starting to decline. What can we do to keep our memory fit?

Research says...

A few years ago, a group of scientists from several universities, including Harvard, Yale, Duke and Brandeis, assessed the mental fitness of 1,192 seniors aged 70 to 80. This study, performed between 1988 and 1991, revealed four important factors that contribute to keeping your brain and memory fit:

- Level of physical activity: physical fitness is directly related to mental fitness.

- Lung function: if you breathe better, your brain cells are more oxygenated and they perform better.

- Level of education: the more you ask your brain to retain information, the better it will do.

- Feeling of control over your life: feeling happy, connected and in control goes a long way in having a healthy memory.

In another fascinating study carried out in Scotland, 460 men and women were given IQ tests at age 11, and were assessed again using the same tests nearly 70 years later, at age 79. At that time, they were also tested for physical fitness. The researchers found that physical robustness was directly related to memory. If two people have the same IQ at 11, the fitter person at 79 will be also be more mentally fit. Furthermore, people with more education tended to be healthier and had higher scores on memory and thinking tests.

What does this tell us? That memory exercises should equally target body, mind and soul!

Memory exercises for the Body

Based on the various studies, everyone seems to agree that physical exercise directly influences our memory. If you are reluctant to do it, be aware that you don’t necessarily need to have hi-tech equipment, wear fancy or tight apparel, join a select club, or buy an expensive membership in order to exercise.

What you need is to have fun. If you don’t have fun, you will stop doing it.

Just be creative. Anything that makes you move is okay!

In addition to improving your memory, physical exercise brings highly appreciated benefits:

· It perks up your health, including heart, blood pressure, lung capacity, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments, etc.

· It keeps your weight under control.

· It increases your energy level.

· It improves your mood.

Tai Chi - A great way to relax and improve your memory

Breathing techniques as memory exercises

Since our lung function is also instrumental in keeping our memory in good shape, I am presenting here a few breathing techniques to develop your lung capacity. Choose a couple of them and practice them as memory exercises on a regular basis.

· The 3 deep breaths: every time I start a hypnosis session, directly or through a recording, I ask my patients to “take a nice deep breath with me”; then a second and a third one. This method is one of the best ways to start relaxing. Try it for yourself.

· Tense and relax: if you want to involve the whole body, inhale, tense your whole body, and exhale while relaxing the body. Do it three times.

· One in, three out: this quick technique consists of inhaling once slowly through your nose, then exhaling quickly three times thought your mouth.

· Triangle breathing: the triangle breathing, also explained in my article Meditation Tips, is as follows: inhale for a count of 7, hold your breath for a count of 7, and breathe out for a count of 7. You can increase or decrease the count, but make sure all three parts are of the same duration.

· Listen to your breath: if you want to rapidly still your mind, listen to your breath. Calmly say “eeeeee” on the inhale, and “aaaaa” on the exhale.

· Sighing and yawning: even if it seems simplistic, sighing and yawning are great ways to breathe deeply and to relax. Do it right now!

Memory exercises for the Mind

Research suggests that you can boost your memory by exercising it daily. But first, let’s consider a few techniques that will make remembering easier. Of course, you have to put in the effort at the time your store the information in your memory. For an explanation of what happens when we “don’t remember,” read Age and memory loss.

Memorizing lines

Taking an acting class is a fantastic method to flex your memory muscles, whatever your age.

A few years ago, my parents were recruited by friends in a local theater group. They had never acted before but decided to give it a try. My mother always had a great ability to retain information, which my father didn’t have. Since they had the two leading roles of the play, they put a lot of effort into memorizing their part.

After rehearsing for a few months, my Dad once found himself reciting an entire poem of about 70 verses he had learned by heart more than 20 years previously. He realized his effort to memorize his lines had actually unlocked his memory and it was easier to remember things.

As part of your memory exercises, get into the habit of memorizing a few lines per day. It may be a saying, some famous last words, part of a poem, the lyrics of a song or anything that interests you. The more interested you are, the easier it will stick to your mind!

Memory exercises for Names... and matching Faces!

When you first meet people, ask for details about their first or last name. Beside making them feel important - they will like you more! – those details will help you connect this information with other data you already have in your mind.

You can also link the person to a friend with the same name. If the name is complicated or foreign to you, cut it into unforgettable chunks. For instance, my Polish friend Czerwinki became Cherry-Whisky, while my Armenian friend Davidkhanian turned into David-Canyon. And they were the ones who suggested those mnemonics!

To remember faces, invent some images related to their features so the two are linked. For instance, if a woman is named Taylor, maybe she is wearing smart clothes that look tailor-made, or she looks like Liz Taylor, or she reminds you of your tailor!

Memory exercises for Lists

In this situation, you already know the names but you are trying to remember them in order. You can use an “acrostic”, i.e. a phrase or sentence that uses the first letter of each word as a reminder. Let’s say you want to memorize the order of the planets that gravitate around the Sun. If you remember:
My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas
Each initial letter will help you recall:
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

What about HOMES for the five Great Lakes of North America? The five letters stand for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

Be creative and make up your own!

Memory exercises for Numbers

We are inundated with phone numbers, ID numbers, area codes, passwords, etc. The secret is to chunk them into smaller-size items so they are easier to commit to memory. No matter how silly your system is, it is the result that counts. I once memorize club member 586421 by taking 60 as my reference point: first, I removed 2 from 60 to get 58; then I added 4 to 60, and obtained 64; and finally I thought that at age 21, you don’t want to think of 60. Sounds strange? Well, it has been years but I never forgot!

Memory exercises for the Soul

According to studies at the universities of Massachusetts, Western Ontario, Maharishi International, Harvard and Maryland, people – including seniors - who meditate for three months experience dramatic improvements in their psychological well-being, compared to their non-meditative peers.

Someone once said that prayer is when you talk to God, and meditation is when God talks to you. Meditation appears to increase the activity of the brain’s pineal gland, the source of melatonin, an antioxidant hormone that regulates sleep and may slow down the aging process.

So why not try meditating to feed your soul. If you need a bit of help with meditation, reading Meditation Tips would be a good start.

Another way to exercise your soul is to read something inspirational each day. Feeding your soul with empowering material will continuously expand and free up your potential, and keep you moving forward.

A few years ago, I wrote “When the Going Gets Tough,” a collection of inspiring thoughts dedicated to Pete, my boyfriend at the time. I am now making this e-book available to you, hoping you will be inspired by at least some of the quotes. Download your free PDF copy of When the Going Gets Tough. Please note that you will need Adobe Reader in order to open the file.

Memory Exercises to Practice Regularly

To make the best out of your memory, check how you see the world by taking the quick "Auditory-Visual-Kinesthetic test." It will help you determine whether you prefer remembering things by seeing them, hearing them or feeling them.

Memory is like a muscle. By practicing some of the following exercises once a day, you can make sure your memory stays active and flexible!

The Game of Kim

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s novel “Kim”, this game consists of gazing at a tray filled with objects for a minute or two, then withdrawing them from sight and naming as many objects as possible.

In the book, when Kim asks how it is done, the answer comes as “By doing it many times over, till it is done perfectly for it is worth doing.”

To practice visual memory exercises such as this one, click here to view a document presenting 20 icons for you to memorize and to recall later. You will need Adobe Reader to view this file.

You can also practice a similar visual technique with a photo.

Recalling an Event

Choose an eventful day of your life and remember 10 to 20 details about it. It can be a personal event, such as your first day at school or your wedding, or a famous day, like what you were doing on 9/11 or when you heard the news that Princess Diana had died. Where were you living? Where were you at that specific time? Who was with you? Who were your friends? What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Answering Questions

Try answering the following questions:
What have you eaten during the last 24 hours?
How much money have you spent today, yesterday, and the previous day?
What did you buy?
What clothes were wearing the last 10 people you have seen since yesterday?
What conversations have you had with them?

You can add as many questions – and answers – as you want!

For additional ways to exercise your memory, read Memory Games: The fun way to exercise your mind!

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