A Perfect Day for Memory

28.08.2018 |

Episode #9 of the course How to improve your memory by David Urbansky


Hi there. Today, we’re looking at the elements of a perfect day for your memory. In particular, we will focus on how to get your body primed for memorizing. Healthy body, healthy mind!


Morning: Exercise

Exercise is good for you. I’m sure that’s not news, but did you know that exercise helps you grow new brain cells? When you exercise, your heart rate increases and more oxygen is pumped into your brain. This stimulates your brain to release chemicals that affect the health and survival of new brain cells, grow new blood vessels, and create new neural connections [1].

How much exercise is necessary?

You don’t have to run a marathon every day. Every other day is enough. Just kidding! A 2015 study found a brisk, one-hour walk twice a week over the course of six months was enough to increase brain volume in areas important for thinking and memory [2]. You could even try the famous seven-minute workout that has been shown to be effective for fitness if done regularly [3]. The key is to find an exercise routine that you can stick to.

Which exercises should I do?

The type of exercise might not matter much, as long as you get your heart rate up. Everything that is good for your heart is also good for your brain. Remember, as your heart rate increases, more oxygen is pumped into your brain, and oxygen is true brain food. Walking, running, swimming, cycling, or even the seven-minute workout will help keep your body fit and your brain fat and happy.

When should I exercise?

I suggest working out in the morning because it will increase your brain activity and prepare you for the stress of the day. You’ll be more likely to retain new information, react to complex situations, and handle stress better.


Evening: Meditation

Just like exercise, meditation can increase blood flow to your brain, strengthen your neural connections, and reinforce memory capacity. Your short-term memory can especially benefit from as little as 20 minutes of meditation daily [4]. You don’t have to practice for years to become a meditation master either; studies suggest you can get tremendous benefits from meditation after only four days [5].


Night: Sleep

That’s an easy one, who doesn’t like to sleep? You may have heard many times that sleep is extremely important for your body and mind. When you sleep, you cycle through the following stages multiple times during the night [6]:

1. Light sleep: You are between being awake and asleep, it is easy to wake up in this phase.

2. Calming down: Your breathing and heart rate slow. Muscle activity stops.

3. Delta sleep: Your body heals and repairs itself in this important regenerative sleep phase. Research shows that memory consolidation takes place during this phase and neural connections are strengthened.

4. Rapid eye movement (REM): Your body is temporarily paralyzed because you are dreaming in this stage, and the paralysis stops your body from acting on your dreams. If this doesn’t work, you’re sleepwalking.

One complete cycle takes roughly 90 minutes to 2 hours. You should get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night to cycle through all phases at least four times. In addition to sleeping long enough, you should ensure your sleep is not interrupted. Research has found that continuity of sleep is especially important for memory consolidation [7].

One study looked at what would happen to test scores if participants slept (or did not sleep) between learning the test material and taking the exam. Unsurprisingly, students who slept performed 8% better on the test than the non-sleeping group. More impressive, though, is that the sleeping group performed 32% better on related tasks where the students were asked to apply the learned knowledge to new problems. This emphasizes that the more information you can remember, the more you can use it to reason and deduct when faced with new challenges [8].

There you have it—a perfect day for your memory. Of course, exercise, meditation, and proper sleep have numerous benefits beyond improving memory, so you should definitely think about making some lifestyle changes if you are inactive, never meditate, or often get too little sleep. Your body, mind, and memory will thank you.

Tomorrow, we will explore the limits of memory, and I’ll revisit some of the steps you can take to improve your memory (and even your life).


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Recommended book

The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness by John Yates and Matthew Immergut



[1] The Effects of Physical Exercise and Cognitive Training on Memory and Neurotrophic Factors

[2] Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills

[3] Effect of 7-minute workout on weight and body composition

[4] Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering

[5] Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training

[6] The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep

[7] Optogenetic disruption of sleep continuity impairs memory consolidation

[8] Sleep, Cognition, and Normal Aging: Integrating a Half Century of Multidisciplinary Research


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