12. Down Some Java
It’s not just your imagination telling you that coffee makes you think more clearly. It really does. When researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences gave rats a jolt of caffeine equivalent to what a human would get from two cups of coffee, then measured the performance of nerve cells in the brain, they found that the strength of electrical messages being transmitted increased significantly. And when your synapses become stronger and perform better, your ability to learn and remember also skyrockets.
13. Go Solo
Have a tough work issue you’re trying to power through? You may want to go it alone rather than pull together a group for a brainstorming session. A recent Virginia Tech study warns that certain group settings—whether it’s a committee meeting, a class, or even a cocktail party—can alter the expression of your IQ, making you seem dumber (or, at least, less able to process information) than you’d be if left to your own devices. The finding, according to study author Read Montague, Ph.D., shows just how interwoven psychological traits like self-confidence, intelligence, and outgoingness can be, and how impossible they may be to separate for certain individuals.
14. Stay Hydrated
Working up a sweat for just 90 minutes can dehydrate your body enough to cause your brain to literally shrink away from the sides of your skull—the equivalent of a year and a half’s worth of aging and abuse. That’s the warning from a 2009 U.K. study in which teens worked out in varying levels of sweat-inducing clothing; when they were then asked to play video games following the workout, brain scans showed their brains had to work much harder, and actions that would have been completed fairly easily took significantly more brain work to complete.
15. Take Up Swimming
Holding your breath while working out in the pool improves the flow of blood to your brain. As with your muscles, the more oxygen those tissues in your cranium get, the stronger and healthier they become—and the better they’re able to function.
16. Banish Negative Thoughts
Believing in yourself isn’t good only for your overall well-being. It can also play a crucial role in how well your brain performs in different settings. When researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the relationship between test-takers’ motivation level and performance on an IQ test, they found that those who scored the best on the tests also tended to have the most positive attitudes. A second study conducted at Columbia and Stanford universities supports the finding. In this trial, researchers found that teenagers who had the most self-confidence—including believing they could successfully develop their math skills—actually had the most success doing so, consistently out-performing their peers and improving their test scores throughout the course of the two-year study.
17. Learn A New Skill
When you leave your comfort zone and do something new, your brain creates new neurons (that’s a good thing). It doesn’t matter what new skill you decide to take up—speaking a foreign language, painting, carpentry—any time you’re learning one thing, your brain is becoming better at learning everything. Need proof? When researchers at McGill University, in Montreal, enrolled a group of 30 men and women in tango lessons and tested their cognitive functions regularly, they found that after 10 weeks of classes, just learning a new dance had also helped the individuals score better on memory tests and get better at multitasking.
18. Get Off Your Ass
Just walking more can amp up your brain power, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health. In the study, sedentary men and women were encouraged to walk for 40 minutes three times a week. One year later, almost all participants in the study performed better on memory and intelligence tests, due primarily to improved connectivity between cells in the brain and nervous system.