19. Fire Up Your iPod
...or sign up for guitar lessons. Whether you’re listening to music or playing it, a good song expands your potential for learning. Numerous studies show that mastering a musical instrument changes the anatomy of the brain and rewires your cells to think faster and more accurately. Although the effect is less pronounced when you’re just listening, it’s still there. A classic UC Irvine study conducted in the 1990s found that the IQs of undergrads soared (temporarily) after listening to Mozart. The study led to a bestselling series of books called The Mozart Effect.
20. Practice Memorizing Things
Think of it as a pre-workout warm-up for your brain. Pick something new each day—a cell phone number, a song lyric, a new vocabulary word, a favorite quote—and try committing it to memory, quizzing yourself every few hours to see how well you’re remembering it. “It may sound like a waste of time, but it’s an incredibly useful exercise,” says Marie Pasinski, M.D., a Harvard neurologist and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost your Brain Power. “In the digital age, we’ve ceded so much memory to our phones and computers. But remembering things is a skill like any other—it requires maintenance.”
21. Get More Sleep
Your brain isn’t just fresher after eight full hours of sleep. It also has more learning potential, and performs better than when it’s sleep deprived. How much difference does adequate sleep make? When German researchers at the University of Luebeck gave a group of men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 a series of complex math problems to solve, they found that well-rested individuals were three times more likely to figure out the rule for solving the equations than those who weren’t getting enough sleep. And the benefits don’t end there. Research from the University of Notre Dame found that people who get enough sleep are also better able to remember visual cues and process emotional information than men and women who skimp on pillow time.
22. Take a Multi
The key nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough of include vitamins B, C, D, and E. In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University measured vitamin levels in the blood of 104 adults and then compared their scores on different cognitive tests, as well as MRI brain scans. The healthier the subjects’ diets were—and the more of these key vitamins they had in their blood—the bigger their brains were, and the better they performed overall on each mental test they were given.
Whatever form your relaxation takes, it will ultimately help you to be smarter in the long run, says Pasinski. When University of Oregon researchers taught a group of roughly 100 students a type of stress-busting meditation, they found that within just two weeks, study participants showed improved neural signaling within the brain, and after a month they found enhanced connections between brain cells—two of the primary factors responsible for better learning.
24. Widen Your Social Circle
“Interacting with people challenges your memory, and forces your brain to stay nimble and grow,” says Pasinski. It may not even matter whether your new friends are real or virtual: When psychologists at University College London analyzed brain scans from 125 college age students and then looked at their Facebook accounts, they found that the students with the most friends also had significantly larger brains, especially in the areas associated with memory and emotional response.
25. Consider an HGH Supplement
Human growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance that helps your body to develop. But after the age of 30, levels start to plummet. Additional doses—in the form of injections or supplements— may be a solution for keeping your body and brain going strong well into old age. In a study conducted at the University of Washington, researchers found that cognitive ability improved 5–7% in people taking HGH supplements, compared to those taking a placebo.