Improving memory, concentration and focus as we age is a vital part of both our brain health and also our overall wellbeing. Brain health is increasingly important, and many over 50s adopt daily brain training activities to improve memory and concentration. The good news is that keeping healthy by eating a balanced diet, keeping active with regular exercising and getting enough sleep can have a positive impact on brain health.
There’s plenty of reasons why you want to increase your brain health. Better brain health can help you improve memory, concentrate more and allow you to focus on mental tasks more easily. The result is you are able to feel more in control and less overwhelmed – completing tasks more effectively and thinking with greater clarity. Your social life may also get a boost, with your ability to recall events and people improving.
Boosting brain health can help banish muddled thinking and poor memory. The good news is that you don’t need to resort to medicines, schemes or unproven claims to improve your memory and mental health. By improving your everyday health you can help keep your brain in shape.
We’ve rounded up ten everyday activities you can do to make sure your brain health is as good as it can be, and help improve concentration, memory and focus.
Get a good night’s sleep to improve memory and concentration
Scientific studies are increasingly revealing the importance of sleep and its impact on brain health. Poor sleep, disturbed nights or simply not getting enough hours of shut-eye may be detrimental to brain health, and may even contribute to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Scientists have found that a good night’s sleep allows the brain to sort through information from the day, repairing and flushing the brain during the process. A test conducted by Germany’s Luebeck University found that volunteers were better able to solve number puzzles when they had more sleep – the more sleep-deprived the volunteer was, the less chance they had of solving the puzzle.
Quality of sleep is important, too. You should get around eight hours of sleep each night and follow a routine before going to sleep to help you fall asleep easily. Stick to the same routine – even at weekends – as your body will settle into a natural sleep rhythm. Disrupting the rhythm, such as sleeping later at weekends, may be harmful. Additionally, it’s worth avoiding smartphone and tablet use before going to sleep, as the blue light these devices can prevent a healthy sleep by lowering melatonin release, which helps you sleep. See if your smartphone has a night mode that cuts out blue light emissions.
Can’t sleep? Read our guide I can’t sleep – how to fall asleep for tips and advice on how to get a good night’s sleep.
Have a nap to improve memory and concentration
Sleep isn’t just limited to night time. The benefits of short periods of sleep during the day on brain health can help improve mental abilities. Taking a nap, some studies have found, can improve how alert you are during the remainder of the day, aiding learning, memory and recall, alertness and even boost your ability to tackle problem-solving.
If you really need a short-term memory boost, a 20-minute nap can help. Research has found that a short nap can show an improvement in your ability to remember names, faces and facts, as well as improve energy levels for the rest of the day.
Keeping your brain in tip-top condition can help stave off a range of later life brain illnesses. Improving your memory and focus with our guide to brain health: 12 ways to boost your brain.
Have sex to improve memory
If there was another excuse needed to have sex on a regular basis, you can add improving memory to the list. When we have sex, blood flow to the brain is increased which boosts the amount of oxygen the brain receives, as well as acting as a payload for mood-enhancing hormones and vital nutrients. It’s backed by scientific research, too. The University of Maryland found that regular sex can help the brain forge new neurons, staving off memory loss and may also help boost cognitive function.
Listen to Mozart to improve brain health
Music has been shown in numerous studies to help brain health, increasing the listener’s ability to recall memories, have greater cognitive abilities and be more successful in problem-solving. The trick, however, is down to the type of music you listen to.
The complexity of the musical arrangement affects how well it can improve mental abilities – and the more complex the arrangement, the create the effect on brain function. This means classical music is good for the brain, with Mozart topping the charts of how music can boost brain function. According to researchers, you should also dial down the volume so music is heard in the background – too loud, and music may actually be detrimental to clarity of thinking.
There’s some good science to back up music’s ability to improve memory, understanding and our ability to solve problems. Rome’s Sapienza University conducted a study in 2015 that demonstrates increased brain activity in response to Mozart’s compositions – though weirdly the same activity increase did not occur with any other classical composer.
Laugh your way to a better memory
Laughter really is good for you – not just for your mood, but also for your mental abilities. Laughing has a profound effect on chemicals within the body, promoting the release of endorphins, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress – all of which may combine to increase our short-term memory. A US study found the effect prevalent in older people, with older people who watched a comedy video performing better in memory tests than those who didn’t watch the video.
Everyday sports and activities can boost your brain power, improve your memory and concentration. Learn more in Brain power: exercise that can boost your brain.
Spend time with friends to boost brain health
A good social life may be instrumental in holding back mental decline, and especially our ability to recall memories. Having an active social life provides positive emotional support, and researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found a thriving social network can mean we suffer less from memory decline. Stay socially active by joining groups, using web sites such as MeetUp, adopting a dog and taking it walking, or joining a team sport.
Brain training games
Playing games doesn’t have to be limited to sporting activities – and despite the benefits of socializing with others, you can still benefit your brain with solo games or less active games. Taking time each day to using brain training games can keep your brain healthy and can be done quickly and easily. Games such as chess and Scrabble keep your mind active, and there are lots of dedicated brain training games available to buy. You can also resort to paper and pen – non-verbal reasoning games such as Sudoku and crosswords are good games to keep your mind sharp.
Meditation to improve memory
Mindfulness, yoga and meditation may also be instrumental for better brain health. Meditation and breathing exercises work by forcing you to slow your breathing and relax, achieving a state of calmness and clarity. Clarity and slowing down your thinking can significantly improve your ability to focus, process facts and tackle problems. It can also reduce stress, helping with our ability to reason and concentrate.
Interested in meditation and yoga? Read our yoga for over 50 – health benefits of yoga guide to help get you started with yoga over 50.
Learn to play an instrument to improve mental abilities
Our brains are divided into a left and right hemisphere – and each is responsible for different actions, behaviours and states throughout our body. The two states generally operate independently, with discrete functions – but it seems that music has the ability to unify the two hemispheres according to studies. Learning to play a musical instrument uses both right and left hemispheres, and may actually encourage the brain to build new neural connections as you learn to master the musical instrument. The side effect of these additional neural connections is that they can aid memory, improve our ability to community and cognitive function.
Jot it down – keep a diary to aid memory
The process of recording our thoughts, emotions and feelings can aid memory and lead to better processing of problems and issues, according to research. One of the best ways is to keep a diary, recording your thoughts and forcing you to take time to review and assess events. A diary can help with improving memory, as well as lowering stress as you work through events and jot them down.