10 Evidence-Backed Ways to Become Smarter
It’s common to think of intelligence as something that you’re simply born with. Some people, after all, make being smart look effortless.
Intelligence isn’t a set trait, though. It’s a changeable, flexible ability to learn and stimulate your brain that can improve over time. The key is to practice lifestyle habits that support and protect your brain.
Practicing certain lifestyle habits may help improve your overall intelligence, which includes two types:
Crystallized intelligence. This refers to your vocabulary, knowledge, and skills. Crystallized intelligence typically increases as you get older.
Fluid intelligence. Also known as fluid reasoning, fluid intelligence is your ability to reason and think abstractly.
Read on to learn what science has to say about the different ways you may be able to boost both your crystallized and fluid intelligence.
- Exercise regularly
Staying physically active is one of the best ways to improve brain functioning.
According to a 2018 studyTrusted Source, light exercise promotes activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. It also enhances the connection between the hippocampus and other brain regions that regulate memory.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source also found that exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus. The authors of the study speculated that aerobic activity promotes the growth of neurons, which boosts brain structure and function.
To enjoy the cognitive benefits of exercise, it’s important to do it regularly. The good news is that you don’t have to exercise vigorously to reap the benefits.
Beginner-friendly exercise ideas include:
- Get enough sleep
Sleep is also essential for supporting optimal cognitive function. When you sleep, your brain consolidates memories you created throughout the day. It also enhances your brain’s ability to learn new information when you wake up.
In fact, adequate sleep is so important that a 2019 studyTrusted Source found that even mild sleep deprivation negatively influences working memory.
Another way to become smarter is to practice meditation.
In an older 2010 study, meditation was associated with better executive functioning and working memory. These effects were observed after just four days of meditation.
A 2019 studyTrusted Source found similar results. After participants completed 8 weeks of 13-minute guided meditation sessions, their attention, recognition ability, and working memory increased. The participants’ anxiety and mood also improved.
The researchers speculated that these cognitive effects were due to the emotional benefits of meditation.
There are many ways to meditate. You can use meditation apps
listen to guided meditation videos
attend a meditation class.
- Drink coffee
Adenosine is a brain chemical that stops the release of stimulatory substances in your brain. However, the caffeine in coffee blocks adenosine, which allows these substances to give you a boost of energy. This could help promote learning and mental performance.
A 2014 studyTrusted Source also determined that caffeine intake can enhance attention, which may help you stay focused, and better able to take in new information.
It’s best to consume coffee in moderation, though. Drinking too much caffeine can increase anxiety and make you jittery.
- Drink green tea
Sipping on green tea can also support your brain function. Some of these effects are due to the caffeine in green tea, which is present in small amounts. Green tea is also rich in a chemical called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
According to a 2019 reviewTrusted Source, EGCG may facilitate the growth of the axons and dendrites in neurons. Axons and dendrites make it possible for neurons to communicate and complete cognitive tasks.
Additionally, a 2017 reviewTrusted Source concluded that green tea increases attention and working memory. This is likely due to the combination of beneficial components in green tea, rather than a single substance.
- Eat nutrient-rich foods
Another way to boost your brain health is to eat foods with nutrients that support brain function. This includes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, and vitamin K.
Omega-3 fatty acids
According to a 2017 reviewTrusted Source, omega-3 fats are major components of the brain’s structure. Rich sources include:
Flavonoids are beneficial plant compounds with neuroprotective benefits.
According to a 2015 reviewTrusted Source, flavonoids are associated with positive cognitive outcomes, including increased executive functioning and working memory.
Rich sources of flavonoids include:
According to a 2019 reviewTrusted Source, vitamin K plays a role in brain cell survival and cognitive performance. It’s primarily found in leafy greens, such as:
- Play an instrument
Playing an instrument is a fun and creative way to boost your intelligence. It involves skills like:
This challenges your sensory and cognitive abilities, according to a 2013 reviewTrusted Source. As a result, playing a musical instrument may help increase your cognitive and neural functioning.
If you’re an experienced musician, challenge yourself by learning new songs or genres. If you don’t know how to play an instrument, remember that it’s never too late to start. You can find plenty of free how-to videos online to get you started.
Research shows that reading may also help boost your intelligence.
According to a 2015 review, reading stimulates every part of your brain, along with the neural connections between them.
That’s because it requires multiple cognitive functions, including:
long-term storage memory
visual processing of letters
A 2013 studyTrusted Source also determined that reading enhances connectivity between brain regions involved with comprehension. This effect can last a couple of days after reading, suggesting long-term benefits.
- Continue learning
If you’d like to increase intelligence, aim to be a student for life. A longer duration of education is linked to higher intelligence, according to a 2018 reviewTrusted Source.
Another 2019 reviewTrusted Source found that continuing education also increases cognitive function and protects your brain.
Continuing your education doesn’t mean you need to get a degree. You can:
listen to podcasts
watch TED talks
attend lectures or workshops
pick up a new hobby
learn a new language
read books on a new subject
Since humans are social creatures, staying social may also enhance your mental fitness. That’s because socialization stimulates the mind and cognitive ability, according to a 2018 studyTrusted Source.
If you find it difficult to meet new people or create relationships, you may want to consider the following:
volunteer in your community
join a club, gym, or sports team
take a class
join a book club
reconnect with old friends
The bottom line
Remember, intelligence isn’t about knowing more than other people. It’s about stimulating your brain, being able to solve problems, and learning new things.
By staying curious and following the tips outlined above, you may be able to boost your brain health and enhance your intelligence over time.