Bad news aspiring brainiacs! Recent studies have found no significant evidence that conventional brain training exercises actually work. It’s entirely possible that the only thing you’re training your brain to get better at doing is the brain training games themselves, with no additional effect on your day-to-day mental activity or sharpness.
But don’t despair of your chances of ever getting smarter – or else reach for ethically questionable quick fixes like nootropics – there still remains some methods of approving your mental faculties that are backed by recent scientific findings.
The link between healthy body and healthy mind is a fairly stale adage by this point, the sort that is repeated so frequently that people forget it is in fact true! As we read on the Harvard University website, regular exercise has been shown to improve both memory and thinking skills, at least partly due to increased blood flow to the brain. A 2010 study on primates published in Neuroscience revealed that monkeys that had exercised were able to learn new tasks twice as quickly as a control group who had not exercised.
Listening to Music
It’s well known that listening to fast-paced music – around 100 to 145bpm – can help motivate you during a brain-boosting physical workout. However, scientists have found that music also has its own positive effects on the brain according to an article on Lottoland. One study measuring mental improvement in those recovering from coronary artery disease found that verbal fluency improvement was more than doubled after listening to music. Music has also been suggested to reduce depression and chronic pain, helping with mental wellness and relieving anguish that could be depleting your cognitive effectiveness. For an even greater boost, try learning to make music yourself! Numerous studies since 2006 have suggested a correlation between learning the complex skill of a new instrument and increases in IQ.
Taking Your Vitamins
You are what you eat and so, unsurprisingly, getting a well-rounded diet will help ensure that your brain is in top condition. However, some vitamins and minerals have a far more significant effect on cognition than others. These include the omega-3 fat DHA, which you can find in cod liver oil, and vitamin B12, which is present in meat and dairy products and which vegetarians and vegans will need to supplement into their diet. B12 is thought to be involved in reducing the brain shrinkage that comes with age and those with low levels of the vitamin can suffer from a marked decrease in their mental capacity.
However, your brain doesn’t exist in isolation from the rest of your body and even vitamins that don’t act on it directly can have unintended effects on its processing power. In particular, it is important to consider the health of your gut, since the bacteria inside of it transmit information to your brain via the vagus nerve constantly. Abnormal gut flora is linked to abnormal brain development and your gut even contains neurons capable of submitting the same neurotransmitters found in your brain, such as serotonin! To maintain the health of your gut flora and thus your brain, cut down on processed food and sugar, which can damage your flora or feed unhelpful bacteria. Traditionally fermented foods such as tofu or kimchi can also do wonders for your gut health.
Having a Nap
Dozing your way to greater mental faculties might seem counterintuitive but there’s scientific evidence that it really works. Just as sleep gets your physical body ready for a new day, it also restores your mind to peak performance and can help you untangle tricky problems, “resetting” your brain and allowing it to consider new perspectives. Research from Harvard published on Mercola suggests people are more capable of drawing connections between ideas after a rest and may not even realise that their performance has improved. Performing challenging skills in your dreams is also a way of virtually “practising” them and going over the day’s events can improve memory. By contrast, not sleeping enough can reduce the flexibility of your brain, making it harder to learn new skills.