Look in on any college classroom or lecture hall and you’ll see students diligently tapping away on laptops and tablets as they take notes on the day’s lecture (and of course not messaging friends or surfing the web). Conventional wisdom says this is far more efficient and effective than the “olden days” of notebook and pen. Makes sense right? We type faster than we write, so it must be better.
Wrong. It turns out that good old fashioned writing it down leads to higher retention and better test performance. In 2014, researchers found that although students were able to take more notes on a laptop, they performed worse on conceptual questions than those that took notes longhand. Why? The act of writing requires you to process the information first to ascertain the key points before writing them down, which then reinforces the information. Typing, especially for fast typists, leads to transcription rather than processing and skips the important step that reinforces the information.
To retain more information from a training session or work meeting, you’ll soon realize the pen is mightier than the keyboard. But what about improving brain health and memory in general? Most of us today are swimming in a sea of information and we struggle to focus and retain knowledge. We can’t run around all day taking notes, so here are some lifestyle tips that will give your brain a boost:
Your mother told you breakfast was the most important meal of the day and, as usual, she was right, especially when it comes to memory and focus. So eat breakfast, and no, coffee is not breakfast (but don’t despair – more on coffee shortly.) Make it even more effective by incorporating foods known for boosting brain health such as walnuts, blueberries, avocados, tomatoes, fish and whole grains. You could add in extras too, like white label supplements to help give you a boost, but don’t restrict yourself either. Eat what you want – even chocolate! Go ahead, have that dark chocolate croissant you know you want.
Dehydration can cause brain fog and impact long-term memory. Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day and eat hydrating foods like watermelon, cucumbers, lettuce and celery.
And it’s not just water, caffeine and red wine are also good for your memory. Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine enhances memory and reduces forgetting for up to 24 hours after you drink it. Red wine can help prevent age-related memory issues. Keep in mind that’s from one glass a day – going overboard has the opposite effect. (Remember those college parties? Maybe not.)
Adding relaxation and joy to your life is good for your brain. Stress raises cortisol levels, which negatively impacts memory and learning, so reduce stress to clear your mind and sharpen your focus.
Laughter has been proven to lower stress and cortisol levels and improve short-term memory. Spend time with friends who make you laugh, watch a funny movie or go see some stand-up comedy.
Singing, even if you don’t sound like Adele, can reinforce knowledge and even help learn a new language. Simply listening to music is beneficial because it reduces stress, while also stimulating large areas of your brain, and classical music has been shown to help memory and learning. Spotify even has a playlist section filled with music to help stimulate brain activity, increase concentration and calm the mind.
Start moving. Not everyone equates exercise with being “merry” (although we all have that friend who does, and admit it, you kind of hate them) but regular exercise increases brain function. Harvard Health Publications reports that “regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.” You don’t have to run marathons; you can dance, ride a bike, go swimming, or chase your kids around and sharpen your brain at the same time.
If you’ve been feeling a little foggy and overwhelmed lately, you can start clearing your brain as soon as tomorrow morning. Make breakfast, drink coffee, plug in your headset and take the dog for a walk. Bring a water bottle to work and take the stairs. And at the end of another long day, relax with a nice glass of red wine or some tasty dark chocolate. Adopting a holistic “eat, drink and be merry” approach to improving brain health will help you stay sharp today, ward off age-related memory issues tomorrow, improve your learning power – and added bonus – bring more joy into your life.