Is it possible to improve your memory? If you’ve ever found yourself forgetting where you left your keys or blanking out information on important subjects then you have probably wished that your memory was a bit better.
A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of your brain. Whether you’re a student studying for final exams, a working professional interested in doing all you can to stay mentally sharp, or a senior looking to preserve and enhance your grey matter as you age, there are lots you can do to improve your memory and mental performance. The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change – even into old age. This ability is known as neuroplasticity. With the right stimulation, the brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react in ever-changing ways.
The brain’s incredible ability to reshape itself shows when it comes to learning and memory. You can harness the natural power of neuroplasticity to increase your cognitive abilities, enhance your ability to learn new information, and improve your memory at any age. By the time you’ve reached adulthood, your brain has developed millions of neural pathways that help you process and recall information quickly, solve familiar problems, and execute habitual tasks with a minimum of mental effort. But if you always stick to these well-worn paths, you aren’t giving your brain the stimulation it needs to keep growing and developing. You have to shake things up from time to time!
Memory, like muscular strength, requires you to “use it or lose it.” The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. But not all activities are equal. The best brain exercises break your routine and challenge you to use and develop new brain pathways.
Four key elements of a good brain-boosting activity
- It teaches you something new. No matter how intellectually demanding the activity, if it’s something you’re already good at, it’s not a good brain exercise. The activity needs to be something unfamiliar and out of your comfort zone. To strengthen the brain, you need to keep learning and developing new skills.
- It’s challenging. The best brain-boosting activities demand your full and close attention. It’s not enough that you found the activity challenging at one point. It must still be something that requires mental effort.
- It’s a skill you can build on. Look for activities that allow you to start at an easy level and work your way up as your skills improve —always pushing the envelope so you continue to stretch your capabilities. When a previously difficult level starts to feel comfortable, that means it’s time to tackle the next level of performance.
- It’s rewarding. Rewards support the brain’s learning process. The more interested and engaged you are in the activity, the more likely you’ll continue doing it and the greater the benefits you’ll experience. So choose activities that, while challenging, are still enjoyable and satisfying.
Think of something new you’ve always wanted to try, like learning how to play the guitar, make pottery, juggle, play chess, speak French, dance the tango, sailing or master your golf swing. Any of these activities can help you improve your memory, so long as they keep you challenged and engaged.
While mental exercise is important for brain health, that doesn’t mean you never need to break a sweat. Physical exercise helps your brain stay sharp. It increases oxygen to your brain and reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Exercise also enhances the effects of helpful brain chemicals and reduces stress hormones. Perhaps most importantly, exercise plays an important role in neuroplasticity by boosting growth factors and stimulating new neuronal connections.
Brain-boosting exercise tips
- Aerobic exercise is particularly good for the brain, so choose activities that keep your blood pumping. In general, anything that is good for your heart is great for your brain.
- Exercising in the morning before you start your day makes a big difference. In addition to clearing out the cobwebs, it also primes you for learning throughout the day.
- Physical activities that require hand-eye coordination or complex motor skills are particularly beneficial for brain building.
- Exercise breaks can help you get past mental fatigue and afternoon slumps. Even a short walk or a few jumping jacks can be enough to reboot your brain.
Good night sleep is also important for your memory. There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on and the amount you need to function at your best. The truth is that over 95% of adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep every night to avoid sleep deprivation. Even skimping on a few hours makes a difference! Memory, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised.
But sleep is critical to learning and memory in an even more fundamental way. Research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, with the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep.
A life full of friends and fun comes with cognitive benefits. Relationships stimulate our brains—in fact, interacting with others may provide the best kind of brain exercise. Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system is vital not only to emotional health but also to brain health. In one recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, for example, researchers found that people with the most active social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline.
Stress is one of the brain’s worst enemies. Over time, chronic stress destroys brain cells and damages the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. Studies have also linked stress to memory loss.
The scientific evidence for the mental health benefits of meditation continues to pile up. Studies show that meditation helps improve many different types of conditions, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Meditation also can improve focus, concentration, creativity, memory, and learning and reasoning skills.
Meditation works its “magic” by changing the actual brain. Brain images show that regular meditators have more activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with feelings of joy and equanimity. Meditation also increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex and encourages more connections between brain cells—all of which increases mental sharpness and memory ability.
You’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine, and that is true for the brain and the memory, as well as the body. Unlike emotional responses, which are limited to specific areas of the brain, laughter engages multiple regions across the whole brain. Furthermore, listening to jokes and working out punch lines activates areas of the brain vital to learning and creativity.
Just as the body needs fuel, so does the brain. You probably already know that a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, “healthy” fats (such as olive oil, nuts, fish) and lean protein will provide lots of health benefits and can also improve memory. For brain health, though, it’s not just what you eat—it’s also what you don‘t eat.
It’s not just dementia or Alzheimer’s disease that causes memory loss. There are many diseases, mental health disorders, and medications that can interfere with memory.
Emotional difficulties can take just as heavy a toll on the brain as physical problems. Mental sluggishness, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness are common symptoms of depression. The memory issues can be particularly bad in older people who are depressed-so much so that it is sometimes mistaken for dementia. The good news is that when the depression is treated, memory should return to normal.
You can’t remember something if you never learned it, and you can’t learn something—that is, encode it into your brain—if you don’t pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intense focus to process a piece of information into your memory. If you’re easily distracted, pick a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells, and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better.
Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s a new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Practice explaining the ideas to someone else in your own words.
Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. This “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than cramming, especially for retaining what you’ve learned.
Mnemonics (the initial “m” is silent) are clues of any kind that help us remember something, usually by helping us associate the information we want to remember with a visual image, a sentence, or a word.
So how does all of this correlate to sailing? Sailing is a sport in which you have to use your brain as well as your body. Here are some of the benefits of sailing which can help your memory improve:
Mental wellness: Being out on the water puts you in a good mood not just because of the calmness of the water but because of the salty air. The saltiness of the sea air is composed of charged ions that aid in the body’s oxygen absorption, which in turn balances serotonin levels. The more balanced your body’s serotonin levels are, the happier you’re going to be.
Lowering stress levels: The swooshing and splashing of water, the rhythmic movement of the boat and the sound of the wind in the sails can all affect brainwave patterns. This relaxes and soothes a busy and highly stressed-out mind.
Increasing agility: The various tasks associated with sailing also help improve your flexibility and agility. Activities, like pulling lines and moving around and keeping yourself stable on a moving boat, can significantly improve your hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
Improving concentration: Because many people today are chronic multi-taskers, they should develop a deep sense of concentration. With the ultimate goal of staying safe while on board, sailing enhances a person’s ability to focus even with multiple tasks at hand.
Improving communication skills: To effectively control a boat, the captain and his crew must act as a unified unit. To do this they need to learn how to communicate effectively, especially through non-verbal means. Everyone onboard has a crucial role to play to keep the ship afloat.
Spatial awareness: Sailing requires the participant to be aware of the dimension of the boat along with the space required for the manoeuvring of the boat. By sailing, you can have an increased understanding of how much space something requires; this skill translates to skills required on land as well such as driving.
Organisational skills: Being on a ship requires that everything is kept in “shipshape.” After being exposed to this mentality, other aspects of your life begin to reflect this standard. You will become more organised in your personal life, which will boost motivation to eat healthier, exercise more and increase your quality of life.
Sailors Use Science, Maths & Engineering: Sailing is more than just who can be the strongest, you have to be a scientist, mathematician and engineer as well. You have to be able to read the wind, clouds and weather patterns to determine what side of the racecourse you will be sailing on. You have to calculate your moves and angles to the wind to make sure you are not sailing too far away from your next mark or intended destination. And you have to be able to put your boat together and perform simple maintenance tasks to keep your boat in good sailing condition. We talked about mnemonics before so here are some of the mnemonic devices we use while sailing. We use them for terms, procedures, and rules that need to be memorized. Many of these are critical to safety, and over the years boaters have invented various little mnemonics to help them navigate the complexities. The most fundamental navigation lights are the running lights required on all boats over 5 meters. The basic running lights are white to the stern of the boat, red to port, and green to starboard. The colored lights are visible from forward of the boat as well as the sides. The three running lights may be mounted in some ways, separately or combined, high or low, but must always be masked so that you see the appropriate color from each direction.
There are several useful mnemonics related to the color of the running lights. First, remember that port wine is red, so the red running light is on the left side of the boat. Second, you see stars in good weather, which is when you like to go out on the water, so green for go equals starboard. Third, stoplights (traffic signals) in most places show red when you should stop, green when you should go. The running lights and the right-of-way rules are arranged so that if you see another boat’s port (red) running light and there is no other rule to tell you what to do, you should give way (“stop”), while if you see green, you should maintain course and speed (“go”). Red means stop, green means go.
In addition to the three-colored running lights used by all boats, a powerboat must show a white masthead lightvisible from the front. This light must be mounted higher than the running lights. Depending on your angle relative to the powerboat, the masthead light might or might not appear to be in line with the visible running light, but it will always be higher. (From the stern, only the stern light is visible, regardless of the type of propulsion. This is because you aren’t going to collide with a faster boat that’s ahead of you, and if you’re the faster one, you have to give way regardless of propulsion method. To summarize, if you see, you’re looking at the port side of a sailboat. Similarly, shows the starboard side of a sailing machine. means you’re seeing somebody’s stern, but you don’t know whether it’s power or sail. indicates the port side of a power vessel (note that the two lights won’t necessarily be lined up as shown here). Finally, means you’re seeing the starboard side of a powerboat.
Mast lights are shown in addition to running lights to identify vessels more precisely than simply “I’m a boat.” If a boat has no mast light at all, it’s a sailboat. Other, more complex mast light combinations indicate the operational status of the boat. They are usually, though not always, shown all-around:
Red over Red
This boat is dead
(or “Captain’s in bed” or “Captain’s in the head,” or “Captain’s dead”). Two red lights in a vertical line indicate a vessel “not under command.” In other words, when you see this combination, don’t expect them to do anything to avoid you, regardless of what the right-of-way rules say. You should show these lights any time there is a circumstance, such as an engine or steering failure, that prevents you from complying with the rules of the road.
Red over Green
(or “sailing is keen”). Note that this is the less-used of the two sailboat lighting combinations. Most sailboats identify themselves by the lack of a white masthead light visible to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam. Don’t assume that lack of red-over-green means it’s under power!
Red over White
Fishing boat lights
If the fishing gear extends over 150 meters (492 feet) from the boat, an all-around white light must indicate the direction.
Green over White
Note that this is different from the general fishing lights.
White over White
Short tug/tow in sight
A short tow is under 200 meters (656 feet).
White over White over White
Long tug/tow in sight
A long tow is over 200 meters (656 feet).
Red over Red over Red
Rudder Rubbing Rocks
This refers to a vessel constrained by her draft. It applies only under international rules.
White over Red
A pilot boat, waiting for “customers,” displays this combination so that boats needing a pilot will be able to find it. Pilot boats also display this combination when waiting to pick up a pilot who is finished with a customer.
Red over White over Red
Red When Restricted
A vessel showing this combination is restricted in its ability to maneuver. Stay away! Examples include vessels servicing navigation marks, cables, pipelines; vessels dredging, surveying, or carrying out underwater operations (such as dive boats); any vessel engaged in servicing, replenishing, or transferring cargo or persons; or any vessel launching or recovering aircraft.
Boats can also show stern lights to help identify them. These are only visible when you are behind the boat. Some stern light combinations include:
Yellow over Yellow
A pushy inland fellow
This refers to the stern lights of a tug pushing a barge, under the inland rules only. Improved by Rod McFadden.
Yellow over White
My towline is tight
This refers to the stern lights of a tug towing astern.
When the wind is at your back, the low is on your left. A formula for finding the centre of a weather system. This works only for the Northern Hemisphere; in the South, it’s reversed. Combined with a feeling for the direction weather moves, you can use this to make forecasts.
Red sky at morning,
Sailors take warning.
Red sky at night,
One of many classics. I learned this when I was a kid. I don’t recall the mechanisms that make it true, but colorful dawn means bad weather, while a colourful sunset means that tomorrow will probably be great sailing. Here’s to red sunsets!