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Health & Balance

Improve Your Memory

Tips to boost your memory and keep it strong for years to come.
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Repeat yourself. Locking the door, taking your vitamins, unplugging the iron — there's a reason they're called mindless tasks. To help get a routine activity lodged in your brain, say it out loud as you do it ("I'm popping my multi"), advises Cynthia Green, Ph.D., president of Memory Arts LLC, a company that provides memory fitness training. The same trick — repeating aloud "I'm getting the scissors" — fends off distraction as you head into the kitchen for them. Memory experts also advise that you repeat a person's name as you're introduced ("Hi, Alice") and again as you finish your conversation ("Nice talking with you, Alice"), but if that feels forced, just repeat the name to yourself as you walk away.

Bite off bigger pieces. Since your brain can process only so much information at a time, try chunking bits together. By repeating a phone number as "thirty-eight, twenty-seven" instead of "3, 8, 2, 7," you only have to remember two numbers, not four, Dr. Small points out. If you need to buy ground beef, milk, lettuce, cereal, and buns, you might think "dinner" (burgers, buns, lettuce) and "breakfast" (cereal and milk).

Give words more meaning. When you're introduced — let's say to Sally — you can make up a rhyme ("Sally in the alley") or connect the name to a song ("Mustang Sally"). Some people swear by devices like mnemonics. One New York City dog owner never leaves for the morning walk without her three b's (bags, biscuits, ball) and two t's (telephone, tissues).

Create unlikely connections. Jennifer Rapaport, a mother of three in Somerville, MA, switches her watch to the other wrist when she needs to remember something. The oddity of not finding the watch where it should be triggers her recall.

Stop trying so hard. You're watching an old movie on TV and can't think of the lead actor's name. "What is it?" you fret. "Why can't I remember?" Then an hour later, as you're peeling carrots, "Clark Gable" pops into your head. "Anxiety distracts us, making it even harder to remember," says Dr. Small. De-stressing — taking deep breaths, thinking of something pleasant — can break the cycle.

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