By Tara Miller
Almost everyone would love to take advantage of ways to boost their brain power and become smarter, no matter how smart they already are. Below are 25 scientifically proven ways you can do just this. From surprising activities such as watching TV or riding a motorcycle to brain-healthy nutrition choices, try a few of these ideas and see if you notice any improvement in your intelligence.
What You Can Do
These activities all offer ways to improve your cognitive abilities, so pick up a crossword puzzle, drink some water, and listen to some music to make yourself smarter.
- Watch specific types of TV shows. Outlined in the book Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson, TV shows that include certain elements such as many overlapping plot strands, a relatively large number of primary characters, moral ambiguity, and no narrative hand-holding produce benefits for the views that build intelligence. Some examples of these types of shows include E.R., Alias, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, and 24.
- Play video games. Not all video games may qualify for this, but researchers showed that 9 and 10 year-olds who played Dr Kawashima’s More Brain Training on the Nintendo DS displayed “dramatic” results when looking at math improvement and classroom behavior. The number challenges, problem-solving, and memory puzzles are likely what makes this game different from some others.
- Social networking. According to a study reported in Discover Magazine, social interaction boosts synaptic activity, then sleep helps eliminate any unnecessary synapses, thereby boosting the positive ones. Granted, this study was done on fruit flies, but the idea is that by interacting socially, humans are creating more synapses, therefore increasing brain power.
- Ride a motorcycle. The developer of Nintendo’s Brain Training software, Ryuta Kawashima, conducted an experiment on Japanese men in their 40s and 50s who had motorcycle licenses but hadn’t ridden in years. The men were split into two groups–one riding a motorcycle to work every day and one not. The motorcycle riders showed improved cognitive functioning and they also indicated that they made fewer mistakes at work and felt happier.
- Age. Researchers have discovered that as the human brain ages, several processes begin to occur to improve the way the brain functions. Older brains have learned more, use more complex modes of processing, and the two hemispheres of these brains begin to work together more efficiently. The result is that when people reach their 40s and well beyond that, their brains are just beginning to work at peak efficiency, resulting in more wisdom and intelligence.
- Drink water throughout the day. Just about everyone has heard that drinking water is good for your body, but some researchers say that drinking water throughout the day keeps your body hydrated more effectively, thereby providing more of the benefits of drinking water–including carrying nutrients and oxygen to your brain.
- Get enough sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep (generally between 7 to 8 hours a night) allows your brain time to process the day by strengthening memories, and the connection between neurons, resulting in better recall. Find out your optimal amount of sleep, then engage in healthy sleep-promoting behaviors such as getting exercise and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed to help boost your intelligence.
- Listen to music. Several studies have shown a connection between listening to music can improve memory and boost skills in math and science. Listening to music also works to improve listening skills and focus as well as promotes relaxation.
- Practice dual n-back exercises. These exercises were created by psychologist Susanne Jaeggi specifically to improve intelligence and are now available in several games, such as the open source version from Brain Workshop or a paid version for the iPhone called IQ boost.
- Learn a foreign language. While most research focuses on teaching languages to young students, learning a new language at any age will provide your brain the opportunity to make new neural connections, which increases intelligence.
- Practice Transcendental Meditation. This form of meditation requires practitioners to sit quietly with eyes closed while chanting a mantra. Studies have shown that Transcendental Meditation can improve the performance of high school and post-secondary students.
- Stretch your memory. Learn from London taxi drivers, who must memorize all the streets in the city before taking on their job. Researchers have learned that these taxi drivers have a larger than normal hippocampus, suggesting a strong link between using memory and growing intelligence.
- Work crossword puzzles. Working crossword puzzles on a regular basis keeps the mind sharp and holds dementia at bay as well. Don’t worry if you think you aren’t good at them, start easy and work your way up to more difficult ones.
- Play chess. If you don’t already know how, learn how to play chess to help boost your intelligence. While many studies look at teaching students the game in order to help raise intelligence and problem-solving, it is also an excellent way for adults to do the same.
What You Can Eat
Good nutrition is tied to both a healthy body and a healthy brain, but some aspects of nutrition have been shown to improve intelligence and protect brain function. Find out what you can eat (and drink) to make yourself smarter.
- Vitamin B. Vitamin B helps improve memory and mood. Studies have also shown a connection between mental decline in the elderly and a lack of B vitamins in their bodies. Eat plenty of foods high in B vitamins such as bananas, turkey, beans, lentils, and potatoes.
- Fish oil. Whether you take high-quality supplements, eat fish such as wild salmon, or both, getting fish oil in your diet is an excellent way to make yourself smarter. Research has shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are the best type of oils for the best brain function.
- Avoid artificial colors and flavorings. A study of one million students in New York showed that students who ate lunches that did not include artificial flavors, preservatives, and dyes did 14% better on IQ tests than students who ate lunches with these additives. Eating naturally is not only better for your body, but helps raise intelligence, too.
- Matcha. This stone-ground, powdered form of green tea is a super-concentrated version of the green tea that comes in tea bags. This form of green tea is an excellent way to increase mental alertness, improve focus, and is incredibly healthy.
- Antioxidants. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants can help improve focus, problem-solving, and memory by combating free-radicals in your body. The best sources of antioxidants include blueberries, red kidney beans, cranberries, artichokes, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
- Breakfast. It may be known as the most important meal of the day, but it is now considered the best meal for your brain too. Those who eat breakfast each day show improved focus, memory, creativity, and overall performance.
- Ginkgo Biloba. This herb has been used since ancient times and increases blood flow to the brain and has been shown to reduce dementia, increase short-term memory, and improve focus.
- Avocado. Avocados have monosaturated fat (the good fat), which increases blood flow. Increased blood flow promotes brain health. Avocados also help lower blood pressure, and high blood pressure is associated with reduced cognitive function.
- Meat and fish. Eating a diet with lean meat and fish provides creatine for your body, which has shown to boost both memory and intelligence. There have been reports of athletes and students taking high levels of creatine supplements to get more mental and physical benefits from it, but naturally occurring creatine from meats are the best source for your body and brain.
- Ginseng. Long used in the east as a mental stimulant that improves memory and brain function, a study done at Baylor College of Medicine indicates that ginseng actually may protect the brain. In this study, ginseng protected the brains of rats from toxins that replicate the effects of diseases such as Huntington’s and may also hold a clue to treating Parkinson’s.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E is beneficial to brain health as it works as a mild antioxidant. It also has been shown to reduce depression and to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Find vitamin E in nuts, leafy green vegetables, kiwi, and mango.