Yes, it’s the time to make New Year’s Resolutions yet again. Some of the most popular resolutions are to eat less, exercise more, start volunteering, or get a new job.
But we say the first step towards keeping your resolutions is remembering them. Why not vow to sharpen your memory in 2013?
There’s actually a wealth of research on what works when it comes to giving your brain a workout. Here are some simple steps you can take to strengthen your memory every day.
Change your font
Making text slightly harder to read is actually good for the brain, according to one study. You can do this by changing the font on your computer, adding bold or italics, or moving a page away from your face so the text appears smaller. In fact, there are any number of ways to achieve the effect, says study co-author Daniel Oppenheimer, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Princeton University. But don’t make the task too difficult, cautions Oppenheimer. “That would be detrimental rather than helpful,” he says.
Learn ballroom dancing
Learning something new–be it a new language or taking a cooking class–is generally good for your brain. But learning formal couples dancing, it turns out, is especially good. “Not only is it physical, it’s learned dance moves,” says Dawn Buse, PhD, a health psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “You have to think as you go, change and be flexible. If you stretch the body at the same time, it’s a bonus.”
Many stroke survivors who suffer paralysis have to learn how to use the previously non-dominant side of their body for everyday tasks like writing. This helps create new neural networks. But even non-stroke survivors can benefit from the practice. “Brush your teeth with your left hand, buckle your belt with your left hand, eat cereal,” says Buse. “These novel activities are stimulating novel parts of the brain.”
There’s a way to never cram again and still remember what you learned. Researchers have determined that people who break their study time into chunks actually learn better than those who study for hours at a time. “Spacing out your learning and allowing time for forgetting to occur in between study sessions can promote your ability to remember information and promote your ability to learn concepts,” says researcher Haley Vlach, PhD, assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Write by hand
Foregoing the keyboard for pen and paper may actually be better for the brain, according to a study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. People are better at remembering the orientation of a new character if they write the characters by hand rather than type them on a computer keyboard, the study found. And research in children has shown that writing with pen and paper activates more regions of the brain than simply tapping a keyboard.
Play a computer game
Don’t write off computer keyboards entirely. In one study, adolescent girls who regularly played the computer game Tetris had changes in parts of the brain involved in critical thinking, reasoning, language, and processing, among others. The game requires players to manipulate shapes as they fall so as to create an ordered row of tiles. And while Tetris may be 25 years old, it’s still available on all types of gadgets, including the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Turns out distracting noises do more than just drive you crazy. In fact, quite the opposite. A study by University of Amsterdam researchers found that people who were exposed to pesky background noise (the sound of random words) solved more anagrams than those who didn’t have the distraction. And anagrams themselves–forming new words with the letters of an existing word–are good for stimulating the brain. You can find ways to tease your brain at GamesForYourBrain.com.
Emerging evidence shows that people who routinely meditate can produce physical changes in the brain, thought to be the result of new synaptic networks being formed, says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. This increases not only attentiveness but also self-awareness and empathy. Bonus: It costs nothing and can be done anywhere, at any time.
Read out loud
Reading a book or the newspaper out loud stimulates different parts of the brain than reading silently to yourself, says Buse. “That’s the key to all this, keeping different parts of the brain healthy and active and keeping blood flowing through them rather than breaking down connections,” she says. It’s good for public safety too. Airline pilots remember their check lists better if they read them out loud, even without someone else in the cockpit.