Whether you’re hoping to boost your mental skills or sharpen your mind, these tips can help you build a strong memory.

Memory plays a role in just about every stage of life. From taking our first step as a toddler to reminiscing on a porch swing when we’re older, memory is what drives us forward. It’s what connects us.

So, it’s no wonder people search for ways to improve their memory.

A strong memory can be an asset whether you’re a student looking for better study habits, a professional interested in improving their skills, or a retiree wanting to stay sharp as you age.

Luckily, there are ways you can strengthen your memory, both short and long term.

We exercise to strengthen our muscles, but we don’t realize how much exercise also benefits our minds.

Research has shown that engaging in a regular workout routine can help decrease the likelihood of mental decline with age while improving the learning and memory that takes place in the hippocampus.

The good news is you don’t have to be working toward a competition-worthy body to experience these memory-improvement benefits. You just have to commit to moderate exercise daily to beef up that brain muscle of yours.

At the end of every day, one of the best things you can do for your own memory is to go to bed at a consistent time and enjoy a decent night’s rest.

Research into the benefits of sleep on memory began nearly a century ago. There are remaining questions surrounding the role of sleep and memory processing, but researchers agree on one thing: A healthy sleep routine is an important part of offline memory consolidation.

In other words, if you want to keep your memory strong, your brain needs time to rest, wade through the day’s memories, keep what’s important, and reset.

There are plenty of reasons to start your day with a cup of coffee, but memory improvement probably isn’t one you’ve considered before.

However, researchers found that coffee first thing in the morning improved explicit memory – the intentional retention of facts and concepts – for college-aged adults. This effect was seen only in the morning and wore off by the afternoon.

While this effect doesn’t extend throughout the day, it does offer an easy and enjoyable way to give your memory a kick-start every morning. And for those of us who aren’t exactly morning people, that can be an especially beneficial result.

If you’re not a coffee drinker, consider reaching for your favorite caffeinated tea or juice drink to give you that early morning boost.

After your morning coffee, consider making yourself a bowl of yogurt, heaping with blueberries and dark chocolate shavings.

Blueberries and dark chocolate are both high in flavonoids – plant metabolites that have been found to reduce memory impairment and improve memory retention.

Other foods high in flavonoids include:

  • red cabbage
  • onions
  • kale
  • green tea
  • red wine
  • oranges
  • soybeans

If you think that you learn better with a piece of gum in your mouth, you’re not wrong.

Researchers found that the repetitive nature of chewing gum, combined with the sensory experience that doing so produced, could help improve cognitive function while a person was chewing. This includes the memories they retain.

This effect, however, was seen only when the individual was engaged with an uninteresting task.

If chewing helps you focus, consider grabbing your favorite piece of gum when starting a task. An increased focus will increase attention, and focus translates easily into an improved memory.

There are countless memorization tools people can learn and commit to when it comes to studying and memorizing facts and concepts, in particular.

Some of these tools – like repetition and chunking – have research to support their efficacy, while others may be based more on unscientific evidence.

The key is taking the time to discover the tools that work best for you. You might find you memorize best when engaging all the senses, playing music, and sniffing a familiar scent. Or, mnemonic devices – such as acronyms, rhymes, songs, or poems – might be your best bet for committing certain facts to memory.

The goal is to build your own toolbox of memorization tools and to know what to reach for when you need it.

It might seem like keeping the brain active and busy would be the best way to keep it strong, allowing your memory to operate at peak condition continually. But the truth is that every muscle needs time to rest and heal, and the brain is no exception.

This might explain why research has found improved mental performance and memory for those who regularly practice mindfulness meditation.

Setting aside time each day to breathe deeply and focus on the here and now can help strengthen your memory for later.

Like other muscles in the body, the brain can be trained. Cognitive training is often used by psychiatrists, speech therapists, psychologists, neuropsychologists, and other therapists to help improve and build cognitive skills.

The goal of cognitive training is to improve:

  • attention
  • memory
  • perception
  • learning
  • overall functioning
  • judgment

Research has found that participating in a daily cognitive training program can improve neuropsychological performance, including short-term and working memory. Participants in this particular study engaged in cognitive training exercises similar to those found on Lumosity.com.

Training tasks were presented in game-like formats and included the following tasks:

  • working memory
  • divided attention
  • fluid reasoning
  • speed of processing
  • response inhibition

Focused brain and cognition training that include these types of tasks could have the potential to produce similar results.

Our minds and bodies are powerful machines capable of all kinds of incredible feats. But to function optimally, they must be taken care of. This is as true for memory function as it is for heart health.

You can’t expect your memory to reach its full potential if you aren’t doing your part to keep your mind as strong as it can be.

The good news is it doesn’t take much to incorporate these memory tips into your daily routine. And when you do, you might be surprised to find out exactly how much your mind truly can retain.