How can you improve your memory

How good is your memory? How many phone numbers do you actually know (without looking in your phone book)? How often do you rely on computerized devices to remind you of meetings or even your best friend’s birthday? With more and more technology available we rely on our memories less and less.
Why do some people have better memories than others – are they just ‘brainier’?

According to research at University College, London ,master memorizers do not have a higher IQ than anyone else or any special brain structure1. However, they do use a technique to help them remember. When trying to remember a series of events or things they visualize a journey with specific items located at points along the way2. When recalling the memory they follow their path through the journey, seeing the items in their correct order, and are able to achieve a very high level of recall. Using this technique can help you remember names, events and tasks.

Associating words or tasks to images and then creating a picture in your mind can help you hold together all the components you are trying to remember. If this picture tells a story following it through can help you identify whether you have completed all the component parts – if the story doesn’t follow, you have missed something!
Keeping your mind healthy and active can help ward of senility and memory in later life. What can you do to improve your memory?
Association: Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, studied the link between events and memory. His experiments in the early 1900s examined the effect of ringing a bell each time he fed his dogs. Having done this a number of times, ringing the bell alone (without providing any food) was sufficient to start the dogs salivating for their meal. They had associated the sound of the bell with the provision of food. This kind of association has also been found to be true with humans. Smells can be used to evoke memories. If a certain odor is present while students are learning a particular subject, having the scent present when remembering the subject can increase the memory recall by up to 20%3.
If you are trying to remember something, try and associate it with another element that will remind you of what you have to do. For example, being in a particular place, seeing a particular color, hearing a specific song, wearing a ring on a different finger or smelling a particular smell.
Chew gum: Chewing gum may improve memory. Researchers at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle found that gum chewing improved many different aspects of memory, including learning mental and physical tasks and remembering learned information. It is thought that this is because more blood flows to the brain as a result of the chewing process4.
Eating well: A healthy diet, rich in antioxidants primarily found in fruit and vegetables can help improve memory. Brain cells get bombarded with many free radicals (damaging molecules), and antioxidants help combat the damaging effects of these molecules. Research suggests that by eating a diet high in these foods, especially blueberries and blackberries, you may be able to help protect your memory.
Use it or lose it: Keeping your mind and body active is essential for maintaining your memory. Dr Robert Butler, head of the International Longevity Center says ‘Just as keeping the muscles in your body active, to prevent them wasting away, so keeping the brain active helps prevent the loss of cognitive function’ 5.
There are many things you can do to help improve your memory. Stimulate your brain frequently by reading, doing the cross word, making an effort to remember people’s birthdays and mobile phone numbers, taking time to properly observe your surroundings, learning new skills (and rehearsing old ones) and practicing the process of successfully remembering things. Physical activity can also help; a vigorous walk can increase blood circulation in the brain, just as well as chewing gum! Remember, regularly using your brain will help improve your memory.
Sources

Motluk A. Master memories are made not born. New Scientist. 15 Dec 2002
Robbins TW, Metha MA and Sahakian BJ. Neuroscience: Boosting working memory. Science. 2000;290:2315-2319.
Young E. Pavlov’s people. New Scientist 29 March 2001
Wilkinson L, Scholey A, Wesnes K. Chewing gum selectively improves aspects of memory in healthy volunteers 1. Appetite 2002;38:235-6.
International Longevity Center. http://www.ilcusa.org

Incorporating activity into your day

Although it can sometimes seem impossible to fit any activity into your day, there are many simple things you can do to increase your daily activity level. Research has shown that chores such as do-it-yourself projects, housework, gardening and walking upstairs can all lead to a healthier body.
The table below shows some activities and how many points you earn for doing each activity for one minute. The more points you earn the better, but you should aim for at least 30 points each day.
Activity
Points/
min

Activity Points/
min
Cleaning house 1 Running upstairs 3
Cycling, leisurely pace (14mph) 3 Walking, brisk 1
Dancing, general 1 Walking upstairs 2
Golf, carrying clubs 1 Walking downstairs 1
Jogging 2 Walk/run with children, moderate 1
Running, light (10 min mile/6mph) 2 Weight/ resistance training 1
Running, vigorous (7 min mile/8.6mph) 3 Yoga (Astanga) 1
There are many other ways to fit activity into your day. Try some of the following – if you have a family, numbers 9-13 may be more applicable.
Instead of taking the elevator or standing on escalators, walk up and down the stairs.
Take a break and walk around the office every hour. This will also help improve stress levels and concentration.
Go for a 10-20 minute brisk walk at lunchtime.
Try a different restaurant at lunch that is further away or take a route that you know.
On the way to and from work, try to get off the train or bus a stop before your normal one so you have to walk further. Or walk to and from the station and home instead of driving or getting a ride.
Cycle to work. Make sure you have a road-worthy bike, a helmet, reflective and bright clothing, and know the way!
Maximize your free time at the weekends taking long brisk walks, cycling, jogging, or going swimming. The greater the pace, the greater the number of points!
Consider getting up half an hour earlier and exercising before work.
Exercise at lunchtime.
If you have small children and like to run, buy a baby jogger.
Turn off the TV and play with the kids.
Go swimming with your children, making sure you swim some lengths.
Plan family outings such as walking in a park, or skating at an ice rink.
If you take your kids to play football or cub scouts or brownies, go for a jog/walk while you wait for them.
Exercise and being active has many positive effects on your health & well-being, both physical and psychological. It can help improve your general health and make you more able to cope with pressure.
So, what are you waiting for? Get active now!
Sources

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services.
Your guide to physical activity and your heart. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Are you a type A or a type B?

Do you show type A behavior? Are you competitive, impatient and ambitious, or are you relaxed, patient, and easy-going? Take a quick test to find out:

Read the statements below and circle the number that most closely represents your behavior.

(Source: Cooper’s adaptation of The Bortner Type A Scale, 1969, Cooper et al., 1988)
Casual about appointments 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Never late

Noncompetitive 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Very competitive

Good listener 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Anticipates what others are going to say (nods, attempts to finish for them)
Never feels rushed (even under pressure) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Always rushed
Can wait patiently 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Impatient while waiting

Takes things one at a time 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Tries to do many things at once, thinks about what to do next
Slow, deliberate talker 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Emphatic in speech,
fast and forceful

Cares about satisfying self no matter what others think 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Wants good job recognized by others
Does things slowly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Does things quickly (eating, walking)

Easy going 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Hard driving (pushes self and others)
Expresses feelings 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Hides feelings

Many outside interests 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Few interests outside work/home

Not ambitious 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Ambitious

Casual 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Eager to get things done
Add up the circled numbers to figure out your total score.

Determine where your score fits on the scale below. Are you an A or B, or somewhere in between?

14 84 154
Type B Type A

Type A? Type A people are characterized by competitiveness, perfectionism and a sense of urgency. However, many studies have shown that type A behavior is more likely to lead to stress-related illness and heart disease1. If you are a strong type A, you should look at the areas where you scored the highest and think about what steps you can take to reduce the pressure on yourself.

Type B? Type B personalities tend to be relaxed and easy-going. Some people may find you too relaxed, but long-term, this slower, gentler pace of life has its benefits. Studies have found that type B’s are less likely than type A’s to develop coronary heart disease.

In the middle? Many people are type A’s in some situations and type B’s in others – think about how you behave at work and at home. You may like competition, but you don’t feel you always have to win. If there are particular areas where you scored a strong type A, you may want to take a look at these and see if you can reduce these sources of pressure.

Look at your scores in the questionnaire and see where you show the most type A tendencies. Take each of those areas in turn and challenge yourself to act in a more type B way, even if it is just for 30 minutes a day. Do not allow yourself to become stressed during these exercises!

Challenge your Type A traits

Never late? – Take an event, such as meeting friends (something that is not absolutely time critical) and force yourself to be 5 minutes late. If this really isn’t your style, at least try and be forgiving of others who are late for non-critical events.

Very competitive? – Next time you play a game, do not focus on winning. Instead, enjoy the experience of playing and let someone else enjoy winning.

Anticipate what others are going to say? – Stop interrupting people! Really listen to what others have to say without saying a word until they have finished.

Always rushed? – Slow down. Allow enough travel time, learn to say no or renegotiate time-frames.

Impatient while waiting? – Next time you go to the supermarket, choose the slowest checkout line and do not allow yourself to become stressed about waiting.

Stressed out stuck in traffic? Getting wound up by the situation will not help. If you are heading to a meeting, phone ahead and let them know you’re stuck. Most likely, it won’t be a problem, and if they need to start, ask them to conference you in while you are on the way (only try this if you have a hands-free kit). Getting frustrated will not help you move any faster.

Try to do too many things at once? – Learn to manage your time effectively. Prioritise your activities and build in relaxation time. Focus on the task in hand rather than worrying about the next task on your list.

Emphatic in speech, fast and forceful? – Breathe slowly and deeply and slow down your speech. Studies have shown that type B personalities may be better managers and communicators.

Need recognition? – Feel a sense of achievement from knowing that you have completed your tasks/ met your targets and reward yourself. Don’t rely on others for commendation.

Always at speed (eating, walking)? – Slow down. Eating fast impairs digestion: chewing is vital for stimulating gastric juices, and when you are stressed, blood is diverted from your digestive tract (further impairing digestion). Think about how fast you walk – do you really need to push past people? Slow down and use the time to take a few deep breaths and look around you.

Hard driving (pushing yourself and others)? – Set realistic targets for yourself and for others. Manage your time effectively to relieve some of the pressure of meeting the targets.

Hide your feelings? – Become more aware of your feelings, write them down, or express them to others. Suppressing emotions can be a significant cause of stress.

Few interests outside home/work? – Make time to pursue outside interests. Focusing on something new such as getting involved in a new sport or learning a language can be a great way to meet new people as well as giving you more perspective on your day to day activities.

Ambitious? – There is nothing wrong with being ambitious. However, it can be a significant source of stress if you are setting yourself unrealistic targets.

Eager to get things done? – Again, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with being eager to get things done. Try to keep your priorities in pespective though. For example, is meeting that deadline more important than spending time at home with your family?

Don’t feel guilty about diet slip-ups

A small slip in your diet plan doesn’t mean disaster.
You’re on a diet; you’ve lost a few pounds and your clothes feel looser; you’re fitter and healthier than before. Suddenly a bag of chocolate chip cookies calls to you. You are drawn closer and closer to them and vow to have ‘just one, as a treat’. But soon this turns into two, three, four. You hate yourself for giving in and so decide to polish off the whole bag anyway, because the damage is done. The next day you might feel disappointed, even disgusted with yourself.
This is a common experience when dieting. Diet lapses and relapses are bound to occur and are nothing to be ashamed about. However, when we slip up, many of us have feelings of guilt that can be very stressful and destructive.
One study found that women who attempt to restrict their food intake have higher levels of stress than those who do not. The women in the study produced a high amount of the hormone cortisol (which is released when you are stressed). Too much cortisol can cause serious health problems (for example, bone loss, decreased fertility or heart disease). This study suggested that to enjoy healthy eating – rather than monitoring or restricting food intake (dieting) – is the best way to achieve a healthy weight1.
However, diet stress can build up so much for some people, that they become obsessed with losing weight. They can feel hopeless in general and believe that they will only be happy and successful if they are thin. It might be that they feel too fat even though people say otherwise, and feel ashamed of themselves after eating. Weighing yourself daily and skipping meals are other symptoms of diet overload, which may develop into an eating disorder. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to tell someone (a friend, family member, counselor, doctor) how you are feeling2.
A study at Baylor University, College of Medicine, showed that obese people who used only restrictive dieting to lose weight regained the weight later on, whereas people who only exercised had smaller weight losses but kept the weight off3. However, combining a healthy diet (15% of calories from protein, not more than 30% from fat, and the rest from carbohydrates) and doing around 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week is the best way to lose weight and keep the weight off permanently4.
This study also indicated that the occasional slipup isn’t that important; for example, eating badly two or three times a week out of 21 meals, means blundering only 10% of the time – the other 90% you are sticking to your healthy weight loss program, which means you can achieve your target weight just as quickly as someone who has adhered to their diet rigidly5.
Sources

McLean JA, Barr SI & Prior JC. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001: 73(1); 7-12
Thompson C. Eating Disorders Recovery Group, Canada. 1996 http://www.mirror-mirror.org
Skender ML, Goodrick GK. et. al. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1996: 96, 342-6
Foreyt JP, Goodrick GK. Living Without Dieting: A Revolutionary Guide for Everyone Who Wants to Lose Weight. Warner Books. 1994

Setting attainable goals and resolutions

Setting goals for yourself is very personal and you need to choose your resolution carefully. There may be many things you would like to change, but you are more likely to stick to your goal if you attempt only one or two changes at a time. Identify what behavior, or aspect of your life, you would most like to change and concentrate on that.
Whatever your goal, make a list of why you want to do it, and how you think it will change your life – will you feel healthier, happier, more relaxed? And how will you feel if you don’t make the change? How will you feel not only now but in a year or five years?
Take time to consider the change you want to make. Planning how you are going to incorporate the change into your life will make your resolution much more successful than a split-second decision.
Learn about the behavior you intend to adapt: read books, watch videos, search the Internet – find out as much as you can so you are aware of the pitfalls and the difficulties you will encounter as well as the benefits of achieving your goal.
Think about the wording of your resolution – is it conducive to achieving your goal? Instead of “I am going to lose weight” which is broad and unspecific, how about “I am going to lose 10lbs by May”, or “I am going to go walking three times a week at lunchtime”. Making a specific commitment makes it easier to keep.
Once you have decided on your resolution, set a start date and prepare yourself. For example, if your goal is to eat more healthily, or lose weight, clear out your cupboards and fridge, chuck out your temptation foods and go shopping with your new eating plan in hand.
Make a plan for your resolution. Which behavior are you going to change, what do you aim to achieve each week and how are you going to cope with slip-ups in your plan? Making a contingency plan for slip-ups will also help you reach your goal. To find out more, click here to read “don’t feel guilty about diet slip-ups”.
Regularly remind yourself why you have made the resolution. Set yourself short- and long-term goals, and reward yourself appropriately when you achieve them. Log your progress – see how you are improving and, if you are tempted to lapse, look at the circumstances that caused this to happen.
Don’t become complacent. Success is achieved by making the change last, so continue to avoid situations that are possible triggers to your old habits.
Give yourself credit for what you have achieved. You have worked hard to stick to your resolution.
Sources

How to keep up with those New Year’s resolutions, researchers find commitment is the secret of success. University of Washington Press Release Dec 23, 1997. http://www.washington.edu
Prochaska JO et al. Changing for good: A revolutionary six-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward. Avon books. New York. 1994

Not enough hours in the day? Feel like things are getting the best of you?

It might help you to know that you’re not alone. As a nation we’re feeling increasingly under pressure and stress is becoming a major cause of sickness absence from work.

There are many potential causes of stress, from moving house or an endless to-do-list to relationship problems or loneliness. Some stress can be a positive thing by helping to motivate us into action. But an overwhelming amount of pressure has negative effects on both our immediate and long-term health.1,2

It’s important to remember that what causes stress for one person may have little effect on another and that we all deal with stress in different ways.

Stress symptoms

Stress can affect people in various ways – common symptoms include:

Breathlessness
Irritability, mood swings and frequent crying
Anxiety and low self-esteem
Poor concentration and memory
Dizziness
Tiredness and headaches
Muscle tension
High blood pressure
Sleeping problems
Digestive problems
Sound familiar?

Combat stress

Recognize your stress

The first thing to do is to take some time to identify the sources of stress in your life. How do they make you feel? Is there anything you can do about them? Perhaps you are expecting too much of yourself or others, which leaves you feeling frustrated.

Once you know your stress triggers you can make a plan to reduce the number of stressors in your life. It also helps to learn to recognize your own symptoms of stress so you can react quickly when you see the signs.

Physical activity

Doing some activity, whether it’s walking, dancing, swimming or running, helps to lift your mood and beat stress.3

Exercise outdoors if you can for a better mental boost. Aim to do at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week, but more if you can.

Eat well

When we are stressed we often don’t eat properly, which in turn can add to the negative effects of stress.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber is a great stress buster.

Swapping refined carbohydrates (like cookies or candy) for complex carbs (like wholegrain bread, brown rice and baked potatoes) will help to combat mood swings and keep you feeling full and energized for longer.

Wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables provide your body with plenty of fiber and vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system and keep your heart healthy. The parts of your body that are often be victims of stress.

Drinking plenty of water and cutting down on caffeine (found in tea, coffee and cola) are also good well-being moves.

It’s important not to rely on props such as alcohol or tobacco when you’re under pressure. Although they may sometimes feel they are helping with your stress in the short-term, they’ll add to it in the long run.

Relax

Find time to relax each day without feeling guilty. Do something you enjoy, that fits easily into your life. This could be reading, listening to music, or enjoying a warm bath. It doesn’t have to take long, but it should be a regular part of your day.

Try sitting somewhere quiet and practicing deep breathing. Take long deep breaths, focusing on each breath in and out, and nothing else. Feel your stomach and chest fill with air each time your breath in.

Just this simple exercise can provide immediate relief from many of the symptoms of stress.

Be proactive

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, family member, co-worker or professional counselor, talking can help you to cope with the stresses and strains of life.

Managing stress in your life

Not enough hours in the day? Feel like things are getting the best of you?

It might help you to know that you’re not alone. As a nation we’re feeling increasingly under pressure and stress is becoming a major cause of sickness absence from work.

There are many potential causes of stress, from moving house or an endless to-do-list to relationship problems or loneliness. Some stress can be a positive thing by helping to motivate us into action. But an overwhelming amount of pressure has negative effects on both our immediate and long-term health.1,2

It’s important to remember that what causes stress for one person may have little effect on another and that we all deal with stress in different ways.

Stress symptoms

Stress can affect people in various ways – common symptoms include:

Breathlessness
Irritability, mood swings and frequent crying
Anxiety and low self-esteem
Poor concentration and memory
Dizziness
Tiredness and headaches
Muscle tension
High blood pressure
Sleeping problems
Digestive problems
Sound familiar?

Combat stress

Recognize your stress

The first thing to do is to take some time to identify the sources of stress in your life. How do they make you feel? Is there anything you can do about them? Perhaps you are expecting too much of yourself or others, which leaves you feeling frustrated.

Once you know your stress triggers you can make a plan to reduce the number of stressors in your life. It also helps to learn to recognize your own symptoms of stress so you can react quickly when you see the signs.

Physical activity

Doing some activity, whether it’s walking, dancing, swimming or running, helps to lift your mood and beat stress.3

Exercise outdoors if you can for a better mental boost. Aim to do at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week, but more if you can.

Eat well

When we are stressed we often don’t eat properly, which in turn can add to the negative effects of stress.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber is a great stress buster.

Swapping refined carbohydrates (like cookies or candy) for complex carbs (like wholegrain bread, brown rice and baked potatoes) will help to combat mood swings and keep you feeling full and energized for longer.

Wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables provide your body with plenty of fiber and vitamins and minerals to boost your immune system and keep your heart healthy. The parts of your body that are often be victims of stress.

Drinking plenty of water and cutting down on caffeine (found in tea, coffee and cola) are also good well-being moves.

It’s important not to rely on props such as alcohol or tobacco when you’re under pressure. Although they may sometimes feel they are helping with your stress in the short-term, they’ll add to it in the long run.

Relax

Find time to relax each day without feeling guilty. Do something you enjoy, that fits easily into your life. This could be reading, listening to music, or enjoying a warm bath. It doesn’t have to take long, but it should be a regular part of your day.

Try sitting somewhere quiet and practicing deep breathing. Take long deep breaths, focusing on each breath in and out, and nothing else. Feel your stomach and chest fill with air each time your breath in.

Just this simple exercise can provide immediate relief from many of the symptoms of stress.

Be proactive

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a friend, family member, co-worker or professional counselor, talking can help you to cope with the stresses and strains of life.