A trick to improve your memory

  • An isometric exercise as simple as squeezing something with your hands improves memory responses.
  • One study showed that the exercise of manipulating a stress ball accelerates memory response.
  • This gesture helps to focus on the environmental context, increasing awareness and improving the ability to remember.


If mind and body are connected, what you do with your body affects your mind. Since it is a given that there is a link between the two, research published in the journal “Psychology and Aging” titled“Isometric Handgrip Exercise Speeds Working Memory Responses in Younger and Older Adults” explains how a simple and easy exercise can improve memory responses. And it works with both young and older people.

The research

The researchers divided 109 participants into two groups. A younger group, aged 18 to 29, and an older group, aged 65 to 85. The participants were then further divided into two groups that included within them members of the two source groups: the first was assigned manipulative exercises with isometric movement while the other control group did not do this exercise.
Basically, it involved manipulating (i.e., squeezing and releasing) a stress ball while listening to music. Afterwards, both groups were engaged in a memory exercise: they had to listen to specific information and then return it, giving as much detail as possible.

The response of the control group (which, we remind you, did not squeeze the ball) was slower than the other group, i.e., they remembered the details of what they had been told just before with more difficulty and in fewer numbers. In essence, the study showed that isometric hand compression exercises accelerated memory responses.

The reason for the increased memory response is related to the fact that the simple act of manipulating something brings attention toward a particular action that helps the mind focus more on the environmental context, ultimately being more aware of what is happening around it. In other words, in the absence of a stimulus or action to bring it to be present in the moment, the mind would wander aimlessly, picking up too many environmental stimuli to be able to remember any in particular, or eventually remembering far fewer.

Why it is an important discovery

Seen from the perspective of a normal person in good shape, this could be a minor curiosity, good perhaps for winning more at Trivial Pursuit. However, if we think about those who already have memory problems, it becomes clear how useful it can be: elderly people or those who have developed some form of memory impairment may be the people to whom a very simple technique like this can bring many benefits.

And, come to think of it, as is often the case this is something the ancients knew very well: many forms of meditation and prayer involve the manipulation of something, such as a rosary (for Catholics) or a mala for Buddhists (which is very similar to the rosary and has the same function). The act of “shelling” the stones of a mala or rosary beads serves precisely to draw the mind’s attention to a specific gesture, preventing it from becoming distracted by wandering aimlessly.

Now we understand better why it happens and why a simple gesture such as focusing on something you hold by making repetitive movements with it can help us not only decrease stress but focus and remember things better.

(Via Psychology Today)


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