"Do you know what today is?" a wife asked her husband as he left for work.

"Of course I know what today is," grumped the husband. "I can't believe you would think I would forget such an important day." And with that the husband rushed to his car to conceal his panic and embarrassment. Had he forgotten their wedding anniversary again?

That evening he returned home bearing a dozen roses and a beautiful dress from his wife's favorite boutique. "This should win me some points," he thought to himself.

His wife could barely contain her excitement. "My goodness!" she exclaimed. "A dress and flowers. What a wonderful surprise. But tell the truth, do you know what day this is?"

"Of course," said the husband confidently.

His wife said, "Today is Arbor Day!"

Will he forget Arbor Day ever again? Probably not. But he will have a tough act to top on his anniversary!

Most people who claim they have a poor memory actually have an untrained memory. People remember things three different ways: by hearing, seeing and doing. But this isn't anything new. Confucius said 2,500 years ago: "What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand."

Just about any healthy person can improve his or her memory. Take, for example, Scott Hagwood, who follows a regimen to improve his memory similar to those athletes use to train their bodies. Hagwood suffered from thyroid cancer, and one of the side effects of his radiation treatments was memory loss. Hagwood entered a contest called the USA Memory Championship. Contestants memorize poetry, decks of cards, lists of numbers, words and so on. Hagwood went on to win the event four times.

You can improve your memory at any age by following a few basic tips:

Get plenty of rest. Lack of sleep can diminish your brain's ability to solve problems, think creatively and form memories. A good night's sleep is essential.

Exercise. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and keeps you healthy in other ways. You become more alert and relaxed, thereby improving your memory. Relaxation techniques can be helpful to improving memory.

Socialize. Stay in touch with friends. Good relationships are important to emotional health and mental processes because they provide stimulation and laughter. Volunteer, join a club or get a pet.

Reduce stress. You can't eliminate all unpleasant situations from your life, but do your best to manage your reaction to them.

Eat the right food. A nutritious diet can help you stay in shape mentally and physically. Research shows that foods with omega-3 fatty acids may lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease, and fruits and vegetables supply antioxidants good for your brain.

Organize your thoughts. Learning new material or retaining facts works best when you group related information until you have mastered it.

Spend extra time with really difficult material. Learning the names of a few new co-workers is a breeze, but when you need to identify every member of your new department, allow yourself a little more leeway.

Keep your brain active. Spend more time reading and doing crosswords or Sudoku puzzles than watching TV. A good mental workout will keep your mind in shape to process and remember important information.

Minimize distractions. Pay attention. Distractions can make you quickly forget even simple items. If you're easily distracted, pick a quiet place where you won't be interrupted.

Mackay's Moral: Exercise your brain so your memory doesn't get flabby.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.