Webster's Dictionary defines intelligence as the ability to learn and understand, or to deal with new or trying situations. Simply put, it's the degree of one's mental sharpness.
It's easy to believe that your intelligence is set, meaning there's no way to "boost" your brainpower. However, many scientific studies have proven the exact opposite. A combination of lifestyle adjustments and mental exercises has been shown to not only increase intelligence, but also to improve general brain health and help to prevent disorders associated with aging, such as Alzheimer's disease.
According to most neurologists, the key is to stay mentally active, despite your age. The brain is a complex organ, able to create new connections between nerve cells when it is properly stimulated. These connections lend themselves to optimal brain function and increased intelligence.
Whether you're a Generation Xer, a baby boomer, or an octogenarian, the following ten tips will help to boost your mental activity and increase your intelligence:
Get Some Sleep
An adequate amount of restful sleep is an important component of brain function. While scientists argue over its effect on memory and learning, restful sleep provides energy as well as the ability to focus. Both are vital factors in achieving mental stimulation. Some studies have also shown the reverse to be true. More mental stimulation during the day equals better sleep at night.
Notice that we used the term, "restful sleep". The reason is that for many of us, sleeping can be an uneasy experience. While some people suffer from sleeping disorders, most of us can improve the quality of our rest by making a few lifestyle changes. We'll talk about some of them later, as several have positive effects on both sleep and intelligence. For now, we suggest that you do what it takes to make your bed comfortable and your bedroom peaceful. It also doesn't hurt to drink a cup of chamomile tea right before bedtime.
Increase Your Exercise
Exercise benefits our bodies in many obvious ways, but it's also been shown to increase mental sharpness. To begin with, it helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, all major obstacles in terms of learning... and sleeping.
Regarding its physical effects, exercise brings oxygen-rich blood to the brain, an important component to overall brain health. Exercise also regulates blood sugar levels. Some recent studies have shown a correlation between impaired glucose tolerance and an undersized hippocampus, the portion of the brain that controls the conversion of short-term memory into long-term.
Forms of exercise such as aerobics, dance, and martial arts all require memorization and are great for promoting mental stimulation. They also help to develop the rhythm and timing circuitry that runs through multiple regions of the brain. During these types of exercise, neural pathways that connect the regions are invoked and stimulated.
Improve Your Diet
Just like exercise, a good diet is critical to both physical health and intelligence. For babies, brain development is highly dependent on diet, especially in terms of the intake of essential and non-essential fatty acids. But as adults, these fatty acids play a major role in how our brains function.
It's important to first understand that essential fatty acids are components of fat particles that our bodies cannot produce and, as a result, they must be ingested. Non-essential fatty acids are fat components that our bodies can produce.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is an essential fatty acid that's part of the Omega-3 family. Thousands of studies over the last few decades have shown ALA to have a positive effect on everything from arthritis and cardio-vascular health, to learning and IQ.
The highest quantities of ALA are found in flax seed and flax seed oil. Smaller amounts can be found in walnuts, wheat germ, and cold-pressed canola oil. Trace amounts are found in dark green, leafy vegetables.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are also part of the Omega-3 family, and they are primarily found in oily, cold-water fish such as salmon. Because of the body's ability to convert ALA into both DHA and EPA, they are considered to be non-essential. But, there's a catch. Anyone who has low levels of ALA, or is deficient in the vitamins necessary for conversion, may also have low levels of DHA and EPA.
The lesson here is to eat more of the good stuff and a lot less of the bad. Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, fish, and natural fats. Eat more whole foods as opposed to processed foods and, when consuming sugar, caffeine, or alcohol, do it in moderation as they are known to affect both brain function and quality of sleep.
Read More Often
We've all heard the term "reading is fundamental", but the question is, does it make you smarter? Well, for starters, reading has been shown to increase vocabulary quicker than either talking or direct teaching. The benefits of having an enhanced vocabulary are rather obvious and too numerous to mention.
The second benefit of reading is its ability to increase general knowledge while minimizing the absorption of misinformation. The resulting knowledge, along with the accompanying confidence it generates, contributes greatly towards becoming a more skilled speaker and conversationalist. Lastly, reading helps to sharpen both memory and reasoning abilities. As we age, the positive effects are even greater.
Write More Often
Writing is beneficial to your intelligence, as well as your perceived intelligence. Unlike conversation, a written communication is memorialized in physical form. A written document not only gives the reader more time to scrutinize your thoughts, it can also be used as proof of your grammatical and spelling abilities. These factors elevate the importance of your overall writing skills. The bottom line - the more you write, the better writer you'll become.
Writing also helps to nurture creativity by way of exercising the imagination. From "thinking outside the box" and problem solving to creating and conceptualizing, an enhanced imagination has many practical applications. A good tip for increasing your writing is to keep some sort of a daily journal. You can improve your writing skills, exercise your imagination, and reflect on your day, all at the same time.
Watch Less TV
We've all heard the expression, "TV rots your brain!" While it is somewhat of an exaggeration, watching TV doesn't do much to sharpen your thinking. The main problem is that viewing television is a completely passive activity. After plopping yourself onto the couch, the majority of your mental stimulation will come from fighting over the remote.
We are not suggesting that anyone cut out television altogether, but we do recommend limiting it. Better yet, take control of your TV watching as opposed to the other way around.
VCRs are a little outdated. DVRs (digital video recorders), on the other hand, are a great solution, as they give you the ability to record a multitude of shows without videotape. This practice accomplishes three very positive things. First, it allows you to watch what you want, when you want. No more being held captive by network programming. Second, it cuts down on channel surfing, a major contributor to frivolous viewing. Third, it allows you to bypass all commercials.
Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, certain board games, and card games are great for mental stimulation. Each of them will exercise various brain functions such as lexical recall (memory for words that name things), attention, memory, logic, and pattern recognition. They are accessible to almost everyone, and some only require one player. The key here is that as you advance in skill, you should seek out harder, more challenging versions.
There is no shortage of contemporary studies that show a powerful correlation between a strong working memory and overall intelligence. A good memory has also been shown to slow down mental aging. Ergo, memorizing almost anything is one of the best exercises you can give your brain.
Start small by memorizing your shopping list or your daily schedule. Step it up a notch and memorize a poem or two. Take it to another level by learning a musical instrument or a new language. Doing any of these exercises can potentially lead to quick and substantial improvement in your mental sharpness.
Get a Hobby
Gardening, bird watching, collecting, flying model airplanes, etc.; taking on any new hobby is good for mental stimulation as well as your overall mood. Finding activities you really enjoy allows you to learn and have fun, simultaneously. It provides both an escape and a passion. All of these traits are components to living a happy and rewarding life, and remaining mentally sharp.
One enemy of intelligence and mental sharpness is our propensity to fall into overly rigid, daily patterns. It is one thing to keep a schedule, or to plan out the events of your day. What we're talking about is having the exact same routine, nearly every day.
Falling into rigid patterns promotes mental passivity, or the opposite of stimulation. At the top of this article we spoke about neurologists agreeing that the key to sharpening your mind is to increase mental activity. Same old, same old is no way to accomplish this.
Instead, we recommend mixing things up a bit. Challenge yourself by participating in new activities. Join a softball league, a reading club, or even a theater group. At the very least, play around with your daily schedule. The point is that too much regimen can dull the senses.
We wish you good luck with implementing these suggestions. May they help to bring sharpness, clarity, and happiness into your life!