Whether you’re studying for exams, prepping for upcoming lab work, or getting ready for your first job, your memory is one of your most powerful tools for success. The ability to effectively store and recall information is, after all, an important part of every field you can work in. While everyone’s memory is a little different, your capacity for memory and retention is flexible and malleable. The human brain is constantly evolving to keep up with the demands of everyday life.1 This means that there are many natural ways to improve memory, retention, and retrieval. If you’re looking to learn how to improve your memory and retention, start with natural solutions. You might be surprised at how well they work!
Understanding Memory Recall and Retention
Your memory works through three primary channels that you may already be familiar with: short-term memory, long-term memory, and working memory. Your short-term memory has only a limited capacity – typically less than thirty seconds of “remembering time” – but gives your brain the opportunity to encode information in the much more powerful long-term memory.2 Of course, remembering information is one thing – recalling it is another. Often, individuals who want to know how to improve memory and retention are actually struggling with retrieval – the information is still there, in your brain. Studies exploring the relationship between our five senses and memory demonstrate this effect well, and show that it’s possible for a memory to come rushing to the surface unexpectedly because of something as simple as a familiar scent from long ago.3
The exact mechanics regarding how memory and retention work are fascinating, complicated, and have been the subject of decades of global study. In 1956, an important theory proposed that the human brain can only actively be working with between five and nine items at a time.4 The ramifications of this theory include one of the more common means of improving memory and retention: chunking.
Chunking means grouping large amounts of data into larger units to make them easier to remember. For example, when you try to memorize a phone number, it’s likely you break it up into three three-or-four-digit numbers to make remembering it easier. When you do this, your brain is only actively engaging three “slots” of processing power, rather than trying to use ten. In 2020, a team of researchers proposed further that larger chunks of information are more efficient for the brain to work with than small groupings.5 Even this in-depth study is inconclusive, however; human memory is an enduringly complex topic.
How to Improve Your Memory and Retention, Naturally and Easily
So how can you improve memory and retention naturally? There are a lot of ways to approach this seemingly daunting task. For example, you can:
- Take breaks! If this seems counterintuitive, you might be surprised to learn about many, many studies conducted on how breaks can improve memory, retention, and retrieval. When participants in these studies were allowed to take breaks and let their minds rest midway through studying – and this meant no phones or other stimuli – their ability to remember information was, in some cases, nearly twice as strong.6 Taking regular breaks is not only good for your stress levels, it actually can improve your memory!
- Exercise regularly. Exercise, and in particular cardio exercise, is very good for your body. In 2011, a study examined the effect a year of regular aerobic exercises (walking, cycling, running, swimming, etc.) on the hippocampus, generally considered one of the key areas of the brain responsible for storing memories. Especially in older age, it is normal for our hippocampi to decay and shrink; the study, however, found that the year of cardio exercise not only prevented the expected decay, but reversed it.7 Taking care of your body takes care of your brain too!
- Try brain-boosting exercises. Your memory – and your brain in general – reacts to use like muscles do; a challenging exercise regimen makes it stronger. Consider brain-boosting exercises and challenges like a low-stakes school course, an app like Lumosity, or a game like chess. Remember that a good brain-booster is something challenging that teaches you something new that you can build on. Above all, it should be rewarding to do every day!8
eSmartr’s own answer for how to improve memory and retention is Cognitive Boost Technology™. This is a different way to naturally improve these processes; it is a unique pattern embedded on the inside of our smart compression sleeves that stimulates specific nerves in the forearm. These signals are encoded by the brain and interpreted as a call to enhance focus, clarity, and memory. This is an outside aid for a natural process that improves cognition without drugs or electricity, which can make studying and testing a less stressful process. You can read more about how our technology works here.
When you’re halfway through a grueling study session, the stress of feeling like you’re getting nowhere can be overwhelming. This is why it is so important to embrace natural ways to improve your memory, retention, and retrieval like taking breaks and exercising. If you are considering further, outside aids, consider items like the eSmartr sleeve instead of more invasive routes. Sometimes, the healthy path feels like the counterintuitive one to take, but a healthy body takes care of its brain. You can take care of both and succeed, happier than ever.
4. Miller GA (March 1956). "The magical number seven plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information". Psychological Review. 63 (2): 81–97. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.308.8071. doi:10.1037/h0043158. PMID 13310704
5. Norris, D., Kalm, K., & Hall, J. (2020). Chunking and redintegration in verbal short-term memory. Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition, 46(5), 872–893. https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000762
7. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Erickson K., Voss M., Prakash R.S., Basak C., Szabo A., Chaddock L., Kim J.S., Heo S., Alves H., White S.M., Wojcicki T.R., Mailey E., Vieira V.J., Martin S.A., Pence B.D., Woods J.A., McAuley E., Kramer A.F. (2011). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.108 (7) 3017-3022. 10.1073/pnas.1015950108