5. Buy a Wii
Or unpack that old Xbox. Turns out improved hand–eye coordination isn’t the only reason to embrace your love of Grand Theft Auto or Madden. When researchers in Belgium did an MRI analysis of the brains of 150 teenagers, they found that those who played video games frequently had more brain cells in the left ventral striatum of their brain—the region responsible for controlling the interplay of emotions and behavior. The better developed this region is, the better your potential for learning becomes.
6. Cut Back on TV
The more you watch, the less you know, says a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Scientists analyzed questionnaires from nearly 4,000 people, looking at not just their overall intelligence level but also their personal data, such as the amount of TV the respondents watched each day. Not surprisingly, those who watched TV or Internet-based broadcasts the most (four hours or more a day) also had the lowest mentalacuity scores. Compounding television’s mind-rot effect, a study from Iowa State University found that students who watched more than two hours of TV a day were up to twice as likely to be diagnosed with some form of attention disorder, such as ADHD, due to the amount of rapid-fire stimuli the brain is typically overloaded with during television viewing.
7. Hit the Gym Regularly
“Use it or lose it” doesn’t apply only to your muscles. Leading an active lifestyle helps to keep the tissues in your brain every bit as young and active as those throughout the rest of your body. In fact, regular physical activity seems to help slow or even reverse the brain’s physical decay over time. Scientists at the University of Illinois have proven exercise’s prowess at keeping the brain healthy. In studies on mice, they found that regardless of whether the animals ate a super-healthy diet or traditional “boring” mouse food; had cages filled with toys and games; or were kept in a stimulation-free environment, the one factor most responsible for improving their memory and performance in cognitive tests was a running wheel. Mice who ran ended up simply being smarter all around in virtually every test, compared with mice who didn’t. Best of all: The increase in brain matter was visible after just a few weeks.
8. Eat Like a Pioneer
That means natural meats, grains, fresh fruit and produce, and as little processed food as possible. (In other words, nothing with a label or created after about 1900.) Why? In a study of almost 4,000 children, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers found that kids who were given a “traditional” or “health-conscious” diet consistently scored better on IQ tests than children fed a diet high in processed foods. Although the human brain grows at its fastest during the first three years of life, researchers say a clean, healthy diet is just as important after the brain is fully developed.
9. Order Some Fish
Pile your plate high with salmon, tuna, and other ocean dwellers at least a couple of times a week. If you don’t like fish, pop a daily fish-oil supplement instead. In a study of 4,000 teenage boys conducted in Sweden, scientists found that eating fish twice a week increased subjects’ verbal and visuospatial intelligence scores by more than 10%. Although the exact mechanism behind fish oil’s ability to improve mental performance still isn’t known, study author Kjell Toren, Ph.D., believes the benefit may come from the combination of improving blood flow to the brain, reducing inflammation, and boosting the immune system— all courtesy of seafood’s ample supply of omega3s and 6s.
10. Fight Inflammation
It doesn’t matter whether your body is battling infection, toxins, or chemicals—anything that leaves your tissue inflamed, whether inside or outside your body, may have a negative effect on your mental performance. In a study of 50,000 men ages 18–20, Swedish researchers found that inflammation in the body was consistently linked to lower intelligence levels. Among the best inflammation fighters: foods full of omega3s and antioxidants.
11. Quit Smoking Today!
When researchers at the University of Michigan tested the IQs of 172 men—some of whom smoked regularly and some who didn’t—they found that the smokers scored lower on the tests across the board. According to their finding, years of tobacco use appears to dull mental performance, dimming the speed and accuracy of a person’s overall thinking ability. A more recent study conducted at Tel Aviv University confirms the finding. When researchers there measured the IQs of 20,000 men between the ages of 18 and 21 enrolled in the Israeli Army, they found that guys who smoked more than a pack a day averaged a 90 on their IQ tests, while the average score for a nonsmoker was 101 (typical IQ scores for healthy adults usually range from 84 to 116).