Can You Improve Your Memory Recall And Retention?

Updated March 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We rely on our memory for so many things that it can be easy to take it for granted. You likely get up in the morning and assume you’ll remember how to walk to the bathroom, how to get to work, your name, and even what the numbers on the clock mean. Without memory, we would likely be stuck in a very confusing world. There are many tips and tricks to improve memory recall, and many of them are scientifically backed, but just how effective they are will probably depend on the individual.

Do You Need Help Boosting Your Memory Recall Or Retention?

How Memory Works

Memory is the result of a series of electrical signals within the brain that replicates the same pattern over and over. As your body repeats the pattern, it becomes more familiar, and this familiarity may be stored as cellular memory, to the point of being automatic. This is what a memory is at its core; you can think of it like a path in a forest that’s been cleared over and over, so much that it almost appears to be a part of the winding rows of trees and greenery.

These patterns and pathways use nerve cells called neurons. The more the connection between neurons is used, the stronger the pathway becomes. If the pattern stops being used for a while, the brain "loses" the pattern to make way for ones that are used more often.

Why Is My Memory Bad?

How strong our individual memories are can depend on a myriad of factors: the significance of an event, how much sleep we’ve gotten, past experiences, and more can impact how well we remember things. 

Are you experiencing short-term memory loss? If you find that you consistently struggle to retain or recall memories, whether they be short- or long-term ones, there might be something bigger than just individual differences going on.


As we get older, our neurons become less robust and may be damaged, which means the process of creating and storing memories can become more challenging. With age, neurons lose their plasticity; that means they don't conduct electrical impulses as well, leading to garbled or lost memories. 

Memory loss is normal as we age, but the process can be slowed down with good habits like eating a nutritionally-sound diet right diet that gives cells ample support to repair them. While you can take some steps to keep your brain health strong for as long as possible, it may not be possible to completely avoid memory loss as you age.

Health Conditions

Alzheimer's disease, dementia, head injuries, and other similar health concerns that impact the brain may impact memory processing. However, not all medical conditions that affect memory are incurable. Depression, for example, is a common mental illness that can affect an individual’s ability to recall or retain memories. Things that demand a lot of the brain, as things like depression often do, can make it hard for our minds to dedicate energy to remembering the things that happen around us.  

Likewise, mental health conditions can also overall affect your ability to store information. For example, living with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might lead to poor memory retention as a result of juggling constant distractions.

How To Improve Memory Recall And Retention

No matter why you feel like your memory might be faltering, there are some steps you can take to help improve your ability to hold on to and recall the things you’d like to. Many of them involve making simple changes to your daily routine.

Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle

Perhaps one of the most important parts of improving (and keeping) your memory is to live a healthy lifestyle. Exercise has been linked to better memory by the American Geriatrics Society. The food you eat can make a difference, too; a diet rich in nutrients can supply your body with the fuel it needs to function at its best. Research conducted on rats even suggests that diets heavy in things like cholesterol and saturated fats, often found in high volumes in processed foods, can actually impair memory. 

Sleep Well

A healthy lifestyle also includes plenty of sleep. Since your brain "downloads" your memories during sleep, inadequate rest may mean your memories either won't be able to form properly or won't be kept. There has been extensive research linking sleep and memory, and all stages of sleep are considered to be important for memory formation. How much sleep you need depends from person to person, but in general, better sleep means better memories. A quick nap can also help if you're behind on your sleep.

Train Your Brain And Body

Research suggests that cardiovascular exercise can promote memory recall and retention by increasing the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory. Find an activity that you enjoy that gets your blood and heart pumping and try your best to incorporate it into your routine.


Part of a good memory is often the ability to focus. When you're focused, you're probably more engaged and more likely to remember what you're focusing on. Meditation has been shown to help improve episodic memory, so it may be a useful tool for promoting memory retention overall. Regularly practicing meditation and other mindfulness techniques may help you center your mind and feel better equipped to process and store new information.  

Consult A Professional

Because there are so many factors that go into memory, it’s challenging to point to a single list of things you can do to improve your own. Sometimes, it can be best to seek out professional insight and guidance, particularly if you’re concerned about long-term memory loss and changes. You can consult a doctor to conduct a memory test and do a further evaluation. There are a lot of therapies that are related to memory such as repressed memory therapy and cognitive stimulation therapy.

Memory loss often goes together with mental health disorders, whether because it’s the result of them or because the former leads to the latter. Research demonstrates that online therapy is an effective treatment option for depression and anxiety, two mental illnesses that commonly impact memory. Even if your memory changes are unrelated to a mental health disorder, a licensed online therapist can likely offer support as you work together to develop solutions that can help.


Memory isn't an exact science. There may be multiple things contributing to memory loss. One thing is almost certain, though – understanding the challenges you face related to memory is typically the first step toward truly addressing them. Working with a licensed mental health professional may help you unpack what’s causing your memory-related concerns and what you can do to make things better. Losing our memories may be a somewhat inevitable part of life, but with some simple changes, you can help keep cherished moments around for longer.

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