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7 Ways to Improve your Memory

Think your brain cells have been depleted by stress, work or motherhood? There’s still time to reclaim them, says Maryam Funmilayo. All it takes is a few simple steps…

It was seven months after my first son’s birth. I became a mother in the midst of my undergraduate studies. One day, I had promised my husband to be home on time so that we could take our son to his doctor’s appointment. Off I went for my study group session, thinking that the day’s plans were good to go.


After my session had ended, I walked down the stairs, exited the hall, and waited in the car park for my husband. After a few minutes, I got anxious because I began worrying about my husband and son at home. I waited for few more minutes and started walking home, totally forgetting about the car in the car park.


I was already halfway between my home and my school when it dawned on me that I had driven the car to school! With much anger and embarrassment, I reversed my steps and headed to the car park. I was really upset with myself. I felt so clueless. I did not know what had come over me since I had been promoted to “Mum” status. Chronic forgetfulness gradually took hold of me in a fashion that was beyond my comprehension. I was not me anymore.


According to psychology experts, frequent mild memory lapses are not unusual for women in their early or mid-thirties. As one gets closer to 30, one’s body starts making fewer chemicals for the brain which in turn needs more chemicals for it to work at its normal rate. In addition to this, stress levels for mums and lack of sleep can take their toll on one’s memory. Recent research has uncovered a few ways to boost and enhance brain function.


1. Care for your brain by feeding your brain
The brain is the process center of our bodies. Be it eating, drinking, reading, memorising, or just chatting, we use the brain all the time and, each time it is used, it gets exhausted. So it needs to be fuelled by eating on time and in moderation. Foods such as honey, almonds, walnuts, beans, avocados, berries, apples, and whole grains have been proven to be powerful brain boosters. Spices and herbs like cinnamon and oregano also sharpen the mind, according to research. As Muslim women, the key is to eat healthy foods in a moderate and balanced manner, according to the Qur’an and Sunnah.


2. Study a new language
Bawo ni o? Se alaafia lewa? Ahlan Wa Sahlan! Marhaba Biki! With our world turning into a mega-city of hundreds of languages, now might be the best time for you to learn about a new culture through the taste of a new language. Scientists have explained that when learning a new language, extra effort is expended and it takes a while to get the gist of the new language. However, the good thing is that your efforts are not being wasted because as your brain is getting an adequate blood supply as it is at work and not just lazing around. So, keep your brain at work by doing something productive like learning a new language. As Muslim women, learning to read, speak and understand the classical Arabic language  should be on our list of priorities in life, whether we are native speakers or not.


3. Engage in other productive activities
There are numerous things to do for yourself and for others. Reading good, beneficial books, gardening, taking craft classes such as beading and sewing, visiting the sick at the hospital, engaging yourself in community service, learning how to cook an entirely different ethnic food from yours are a few ways of stimulating your brain to work diligently. At least pick up a good book or magazine, and read. Reading is an essential part of the Muslim way of life. If we misuse this gift of reading, we will lose it entirely. So, read on!


4. Women and multitasking
It is not untrue to say women are excellent multitaskers in this day and age. From taking care of our families, friends, and even extended families, to study and work, we get stressed out, to the extent that we have no time to take care of ourselves. And in the middle of this stress, we still cook, help with our kids’ school work, and run numerous errands. At the end of each day, most women are exhausted and the brain is simply sapped. As Muslim women, we should remember that no matter how challenging our roles are, at home, in the community, and in the world, our bodies still have rights over us and we shall be questioned by Allah (SWT) regarding how we dealt with them. So, take a deep breath when your stress levels are increasing and remind yourself that Allah (SWT) will not overburden you with more than you can bear.


5. Exercise!  
Alhamdulillah, women-only exercise studios and gymnasiums are burgeoning, and this is indeed a good sign because we cherish our privacy. However, going to such fitness places might not be practical for every Muslim woman.  An infant at home, time factors, and membership fees are valid excuses for some Muslimahs to prefer exercises done within the comfort of their own homes.  Go for it if this works for you because exercise at home is much better than not doing any form of exercise at all. According to kinesiologists, exercise increases blood flow, thus getting crucial nutrients and oxygen to brain cells. Numerous studies from scientists have shown that exercise improves memory and helps grow new brain cells. According to Dr. Small, author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, “exercise is great because it does not just prevent your memory from lapsing. It actually improves it.” Personally, I do not go to the gym because of the schedule factor. I also enjoy the camaraderie that ensues when exercising at home with my husband and children. It is an opportunity for the entire family to instill a love of exercise in our lives and actively follow the footsteps of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who was very fit and healthy despite the responsibilities he shouldered for the ummah.


6. Iron each day keeps the doctor away
Globally, women are iron-deficient, even in industrialised countries. Though many are not considered to have chronic iron deficiency, iron is a mineral that gets lost from the body because a lot of blood is lost during menstruation. With a loss of blood comes anaemia and lethargy. This might lead to forgetfulness, according to some scientists. Eating plenty of iron-rich foods is often advertised in health centres and in the media. Such foods include dried fruits like dates and apricots, red meat, dark leafy greens, iron-enriched cereals, and beans. A visit to the doctor’s office can result in an immediate, positive change in your overall health if you are feeling drowsy and tired all the time. Depending on what your doctor says, you might be advised to start adding iron supplements to your diet. As Muslim women, it is upon us to take advantage of the health resources available around us and, as they say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.


7. Keep your mouth moist with istighfar
You might wonder how and why istighfar is linked to memory gain. We need no scientific proofs for this.  There is enough evidence for us by looking at the lives of some scholars.  For example, Imam ash-Shafi’i had a powerful memory. It is reported that he memorised ‘Al Muwatta’ from Imam Malik in a single day. However, he began to sense a deficiency in his ability to memorise and retain information, so he asked his shaykh, the well-known Waki bin Al Jarrah about that. Waki bin Al Jarrah advised him to abandon sin, and said to him that knowledge is a light and the light of Allah is not granted to a sinner (Diwan al Imam ash-Shafi’i).  Shaykh Ibn al Uthaymin also advised seeking forgiveness a great deal because it leads to the removal of sins which are the reason for forgetting knowledge. As Muslimahs, we ought to be seekers of Islamic knowledge at all times and constantly keep our mouths moist with a great deal of proactive istighfar. Proactive istighfar involves sincerity and commitment, and determination not to go back to committing the minor and major sins that tarnish our hearts. Many times, we commit sins unknowingly, without realising the consequences of our actions before Allah (SWT). Hence, it is incumbent upon us to always seek forgiveness, and get accustomed to the sweetness of faith that results from the memory gain and loss of forgetfulness and ignorance.


As for me, I have made some personal changes to reduce unwanted stress and make my life easier: I snack more on fruits and nuts, and use honey for our lemonade at home; I enjoy jumping rope with my family members, and I am studying Arabic language along with them. I still multi-task but I now break large tasks into bite-size portions. I am slowing down by anticipating my needs and scheduling “me time” in my daily work.  I also take my multivitamins along with iron supplements. And just to be sure that I do not have any more embarrassing moments, I write my “things to-do” list in my notebook instead of relying on my memory.  As for istighfar, I do not have any choice but to submit to the One who deserves to be called upon by His sinning servants.


Maryam Funmilayo has emerged from a young, naive, first-time mother, to an experienced mother of four. With her public health nutrition background, she enjoys nourishing her body, mind and soul by utilising the tips above.