Written by: Hiyaguha Cohen
December 22, 2020
Brain training has become a billion dollar business. Brain training can slow cognitive decline in the elderly. When you’re tired of crossword puzzles, try these five other tips!
Why everyone wants to be smart
Being super smart is one of the status things many want, if not for themselves, at least for their children. After all, smart people often make more money, get more recognition, have more power, and gain more admiration from the opposite sex. Studies show that 80 percent of Americans wish they could improve their ability to remember things, and 94 percent wish they were smarter, at least about money (89 percent globally).
“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.” -Albert Einstein
The quest for genius has spawned a booming industry of products and literature designed to maximize IQ. Recent launches include a variety of brain training products, games, and websites like Lumosity and Brain HQ. Brain training has grown into a billion dollar business, despite the fact that in 2014 a consortium of 70 of the world’s top psychologists and scientists reviewed all the evidence and eventually released a report that found that brain training products boost IQ. The only thing people gain from playing these brain boosting games was that the brain training games got better while their IQs stagnated.
The tragedy of this finding was subsequently counteracted by a study of 11,430 people from 2015, in which it was found that while brain training does not shake the masses, it does something good for people over 60. After six weeks of training, the older participants had improved verbal thinking skills, which the researchers saw as a sign that brain training could slow cognitive decline in older people – but also crossword puzzles, and they’re free. In any case, the brain training websites and products are still good, but if you’re not over 60 or want intelligence beyond good verbal skills, there are other things that are surefire ways to improve yourself.
Five ways to increase memory, IQ, and intelligence
Probably the best that you can do for your brain has nothing to do with thinking. It turns out that exercising not only builds muscle tissue, but also brain cells. That’s because exercise increases a protein in the brain called BDNF, and BDNF triggers neuron growth, which in turn increases hippocampal mass. The hippocampus is the region of the brain associated with memory. Exercise also increases the amount of oxygen available to the brain.
For example, one study found that women who did strength training had less brain shrinkage than women who didn’t. Another found that seniors gardening or doing other light exercise reduced their chances of cognitive impairment by 50%. And yet it was found that children who go to school do better on tests than those who drive in a car.
The rodent brain also benefits from fitness. In one experiment, scientists found that mice that ran for 45 days on a bike had more neurons in the hippocampus than sedentary mice. But just walking on a bike – or walking on a street – is not enough. It turns out that different types of exercise have different effects on the brain. To maximize intelligence, you need to do everything – including weight training, stretching, and aerobics.
2. Choose friends wisely
Make smart friends. Not that you can give your friends intelligence tests to make sure they qualify, but studies show that your IQ is most likely the average of the five people you spend most of your time with (so, wedded weddings). Smart friends will most likely challenge you to rethink, improve your vocabulary, and get mentally involved. Even if you don’t make friends as brilliant as you, it is better to hang out with others than to isolate yourself. A Harvard University study of over 17,000 people over the age of 50 found that as they age, those with the best social lives also drastically reduced the rate of cognitive decline – 50 percent less.
Although research shows that group activities and participation in social activities help keep intelligence intact, ironically, the research underscores the fact that smarter people often prefer to be alone.
3. Turn things on
Routine work in other ways can create new connections between different regions of the brain and even open new nerve pathways. For example, you can brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Try to write with your left hand if you are usually a “righty”. Change your daily routine, your way to work or the arrangement of objects in your home. Put some objects upside down. Move to another seat at the table. Turn your desk, eat new groceries, read backwards.
4. Make up for sleep
Too many late nights can slow your cognitive speed, impair your memory, undermine your ability to do math, and even affect your ability to solve spatial orientation problems. In other words, instead of staying up late and playing brain-boosting games, go to bed on time.
5. Eat brainy foods
Research shows that both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (for high blood pressure) significantly slow down cognitive decline. Junk food, on the other hand, erases IQ points. And there are certain foods that improve cognition, improve memory, and slow the mental decline of the elderly. Among the best: blueberries, oily fish, nuts, broccoli, sage, pumpkin seeds. And supplements containing L-carnosine, DMAE, and acetyl-L-carnitine can give an extra boost by helping maintain brain cell health.
The bottom line is that some of the same things that keep your body healthy keep your mind bubbly and functional – exercise, good nutrition, good sleep habits, and good friends.