We’ve all heard the same statistic: 1 out of every 4 Americans don’t read any books during the course of an average year. It seems that, for many Americans, learning stops after formal education. Once we’re done with high school or college, we forget everything we learned in school and just focus on advancing our careers.
But studies have shown time and time again that the more active your brain stays during your life, the less likely you will be to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia later in life. But keeping your brain healthy and growing your intellect takes more than attending a few classes at the Learning Annex. If you’re serious about getting smarter every week, there are a few simple tips to keep in mind.
1. Make Learning a Daily Task
Whether you want to learn a new word, a new English monarch, or a small bit of trivia, subscribing to a daily language arts or history trivia newsletter or RSS feed is a great way to learn small bits of information on a daily basis.
But it’s not just enough to read this information. If you want to retain it, you’ll need to put it to use. Try to set a personal goal for your daily tidbit, perhaps using your word of the day three times with three different people during the course of the day.
2. Keep Your Mind Sharp
Solving puzzles can help your brain to stay flexible, and a sharp mind is better at retaining information. Tackle the Sunday crossword puzzle, take up Sudoku, or at least try your hand with the kid’s word jumble in the local paper. Even puzzle-based video games can help you stay sharp.
3. Focus on Cumulative Learning
Do you remember what testing was like in high school? Chances are, you crammed all week for a big exam, and the second you turned in your paper, all that knowledge went right out of your head. You knew you weren’t going to be tested on it later on in the year, so what was the point?
To avoid something similar happening on your quest to get smarter every week, make sure what you’re learning this week builds on knowledge acquired in previous weeks. A good example of this is learning a language. Every bit of vocab and grammar is dependent on what you already know, so your mind is much less likely to dump that knowledge.
4. Take Up a New Hobby
Getting smarter is partly about learning new facts, and partly about using parts of your mind that aren’t usually used. A new hobby will challenge your brain in new ways. If you tend to be more analytical or technical in your pursuits, try branching out into painting. If you’re generally a creative person, take up a hobby like restoring old cars.
5. Eat Right
Consider supplements like ginko biloba to aid in memory, and make sure you’re eating enough fats. Your brain can’t work if you’re on a starvation diet, your brains need cholesterol and fats to work correctly. Other foods such as broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, berries, and fish can also aid with memory and proper brain function.
6. Think Positive
As Stepcase Lifehack’s own Leon Ho explained in a past post, thinking that you are capable of getting smarter allows you to actually get smarter.
“Students who were members of vulnerable groups (e.g., those who previously thought that intelligence cannot change, those who had low prior mathematics achievement, and female students) had higher mathematics grades following the intelligence-is-malleable intervention, while the grades of similar students in the control group declined. In fact, girls who received the intervention matched and even slightly exceeded the boys in math grades, whereas girls in the control group performed well below the boys.”
7. Stay Active
“Exercise and staying active helps protect your brain against dementia in later life,” says Dr. Anne Corbett. “It also helps keep your weight down, which is important because obesity increases the risk developing of dementia later in life. Be careful of sports that can cause head injuries since footballers and boxers have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease.”
8. Quit Smoking
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine followed 21,123 Californian smokers between 1978 and 2008. The study found that those who were heavy smokers doubled their risk of memory loss later in life. If you’re trying to raise your intelligence, smoking is a habit that will not serve you well.
Getting smarter involves a combination of learning new information, retaining that information, and maintaing the health of your brain. If you can manage to do all three, you’ll raise your intelligence by leaps and bounds.