Nelson Dellis is a 4x USA Memory Champion, leading memory expert and an Alzheimer’s disease activist. Dellis explains to the WAM Weekly how everyone can improve overall brain health through mental exercises. In his new book written for children, Memory Superpowers!, this father of a baby boy also shares techniques to help us all – adults included – memorize information more easily.
WAM: What exactly is mental exercise and how does it improve the overall health of your brain?
Dellis: Mental exercise is really any strenuous task you can do with your brain. From learning a new language or skill, practicing improving your memory, to solving a puzzle––mental exercises strengthen your brain. My background is focused on improving memory and that’s what I choose as my daily mental exercise. Just like having some daily physical activity to maintain your body’s health, having a daily mental activity to stretch your brain is key to keeping a healthy mind. The incredible news is that our brains continue to grow when we challenge them, and working on our memory functions is a great way to do that, no matter your age.
WAM: How often do you recommend people exercise their brain and what are some easy and accessible things that they can do?
Dellis: I recommend doing some form of mental exercise every day. It doesn’t need to be for hours; even a daily mental exercise session of 15-20 minutes will show results. In terms of what to exercise exactly, I prefer to exercise my memory because it’s something that helps with so many other facets of my life (my relationships, career, personal goals, etc.). Memory is also involved in so many day to day activities, which makes it an easy skill to practice on the go. Try memorizing the names of people you meet, phone numbers, or your to-do list. There are tons of opportunities to practice. You’ll find just focusing your undivided attention on these things will help your retention.
WAM: What are some of your memory training tips and how can students apply them to their learning, whether they are going back to school remotely or in person this fall?
Dellis: One of the main foundational principles of memory techniques is to think in pictures. Our brains are surprisingly visual and can recall and remember pictures better than abstract information. So what I tell students is, if they can turn that difficult formula, times tables, math fact, vocabulary word, or speech, into a series of mental pictures––specifically pictures which have meaningful (and MEMORABLE) associations to you––then the information will be much easier to remember.
WAM: Your new book, Memory Superpowers!, is a children’s book. How will learning the techniques at a young age, help kids improve their memories as they grow up, and are these techniques for short term learning or do they also apply to long term learning and everyday life?
Dellis: Oftentimes, I wish I had been taught memory techniques growing up. If you think about it, some of the first things you have to learn in school are completely based around memorization. Why isn’t proper memory-use taught first? This book helps correct that. If a young student can learn these techniques earlier on in life, then memorization will be the easier later on. With a lot of technological aides like calculators and computers, children may not have to remember the same things older generations did, but they still have to remember a lot of things. A strong memory is a useful tool throughout your education and life, and developing those memory skills is an investment. Building healthy brain exercise habits will keep kids’ brains sharp and strong for the rest of their lives.
Know someone who would like the latest book from Nelson Dellis, Memory Superpwers!: An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don’t Want to Forget? Buy his new children’s book here.