Get Smarter Every Day!

woman-reading-get-smarter-every-dayWe all want to be brighter bulbs in the chandelier. But rather than cursing your mom for those martinis she downed while you were cooking in the womb, check out these five ways to improve your brainpower. They’re simple, they’re fun, and one of them even involves spending QT with your TV.

Read Between the Lines

Pick up a Kafka novel or even a book of modern poetry and you’ll be helping your brain work better, according to a recent study in Psychological Science. When you’re exposed to something that doesn’t automatically make sense, your mind tries to find some other kind of meaning–a response that kicks your gray matter into high gear and enhances the part that’s in charge of learning.

If you prefer whodunnits or historical romances, no need to worry–your mind is getting just as stretched, but in a slightly different way, says Keith Oatley, Ph.D., former director of the cognitive science program at the University of Toronto. “Fiction in general is a kind of simulation of our emotional and social worlds. People who read lots of fiction tend to be more empathetic and socially intelligent than those who don’t.” The bottom line: Read something with substance. “Even when you peruse the newspaper or a magazine, you’re taking in different ideas, creating a bigger database of knowledge in your mind,” says Daniel Willingham, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

Solve a Small-Screen Mystery

Flip to an episode of Lost or CSI to help build your intelligence. TV shows that include elements such as overlapping plot strands, several primary characters, moral ambiguity, and no helpful connect-the-dots narrator actually engage your brain in a data-gathering, hypothesizing, and testing process that mirrors the scientific method, according to Steven Johnson, Ph.D., author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. So while you’re trying to figure out why Hugo hasn’t lost any weight, or why they never turn on the lab lights onCSI, your noggin is exercising your problem-solving skills and enhancing your social intelligence.

Conk Out

Getting enough shut-eye may help your brain process the day by strengthening memories and the connections between neurons, resulting in better recall, reports a new study from Michigan State University. Participants were asked to identify a list of words shown to them 12 hours earlier, after having either a full night’s sleep or no sleep at all. Those who hadn’t snoozed made the most mistakes, meaning they were more likely to have incorrect memories.

These experiments are the first to indicate that false memories (remembering things that didn’t happen) can be reduced after sleep and that the benefits of slumber include a more accurate retention of basic info. So getting plenty of rest could mean never having to search for your keys again (or at least not every single morning).

Tune Up

According to a recent study review from the online service Faculty of 1000 Biology and Medicine, practicing a musical instrument connects and develops the motor systems of the brain, refining the entire neurological system in ways that can’t be done through any other activity.

If you’re not about to run out and sign yourself up for flute lessons, you can get similar benefits by playing games such as Easy Piano for Nintendo DS, which comes with an external 13-note, full-octave keyboard, or KB Piano for your PC, which lets you play more than 100 different instruments, from guitar to ocarina. “In some ways, the brain is like a muscle,” says Richard Haier, Ph.D., a professor of pediatric neurology at the University of California at Irvine. Meaning, the more it’s worked–such as by practicing an instrument–the more efficient it becomes.

Socialize with Smarties

Instead of heading straight home to your pj’s and a glass of pinot after work, go to happy hour with your pals to do your brain good. “The mental gymnastics that come with social interaction may provide boosts to our cognitive functioning,” says Oscar Ybarra, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. In his research, he found that study participants who were more social had higher levels of cognitive performance, meaning they were better at remembering information that could later be used for planning, setting goals, and reasoning. Take your socializing to the next level by hanging out with people who are brainier than you…even if it means you have to pick up the tab!

Courtesy of Women’s Health Magazine.

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