Nine Ways to Make Yourself Smarter
edited by Dr Harv


Looking for ways to boost your intellect, save off mental aging, and maybe even live a longer life? You might be surprised to learn that not only do such strategies exist, but many are easily attainable by making simple tweaks here and there to your daily routine. Embracing the strategies that follow may give you a hearty boost to your brainpower, help you keep mentally healthy and ultimately even make yourself smarter.

1) Exercise - Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. During exercise nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning. Further, exercise provides protective effects to your brain through:

  • The production of nerve-protecting compounds
  • Greater blood flow to your brain


  • Improved development and survival of neurons
  • Decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke

2) Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats - Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega-3 fat, is an essential structural component of both your brain and retina. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fats-25 percent of which is DHA. DHA is also an essential structural ingredient of breast milk, which is believed to be a major reason why breastfed babies consistently score higher on IQ tests than formula-fed babies.

Omega-3 fats such as DHA are considered essential because your body cannot produce it, and must get it from your daily diet. DHA-rich foods include fish, liver, and brain--all of which are no longer consumed in great amounts by most Americans.

DHA is found in high levels in your neurons--the cells of your central nervous system, where it provides structural support. When your omega-3 intake is inadequate, your nerve cells become stiff and more prone to inflammation as the missing omega-3 fats are substituted with cholesterol and omega-6 instead. Once your nerve cells become rigid and inflamed, proper neurotransmission from cell to cell and within cells become compromised.

3) Sleep - Sleep is not only essential for regenerating your physical body, but it is imperative for reaching new mental insights and being able to see new creative solutions to old problems. Sleep removes the blinders and helps "reset" your brain to look at problems from a different perspective, which is crucial to creativity.

Research from Harvard indicates that people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas after sleeping, but few realize that their performance has actually improved. Sleep is also known to enhance your memories and help you "practice" and improve your performance of challenging skills. In fact, a single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.

The process of growth, known as plasticity, is believed to underlie the brain's capacity to control behavior, including learning and memory. Plasticity occurs when neurons are stimulated by events, or information, from the environment. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes and gene products that may be important for synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory, can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber.

As you might suspect, this holds true for infants too, and research shows that naps can give a boost to babies' brainpower. Specifically, infants who slept in between learning and testing sessions had a better ability to recognize patterns in new information, which signals an important change in memory that plays an essential role in cognitive development. Even among adults, a mid-day nap was found to dramatically boost and restore brainpower.

4) Coconut Oil - One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, which is converted into energy. Your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your bloodstream into the food it needs to survive.

If your brain's production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it's deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally. This is what happens to Alzheimer's patients--portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement and personality.

In effect, your brain can begin to atrophy from starvation if it becomes insulin resistant and loses its ability to convert glucose into energy. Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, and this is where coconut oil enters the picture.

5) Vitamin D - Activated vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in your brain, and researchers have also located metabolic pathways for vitamin D in the hippocampus and cerebellum of the brain, areas that are involved in planning, processing of information, and the formation of new memories.

The National Institutes of Mental Health recently concluded that is is vital that the mother get enough vitamin D while pregnant in order for the baby's brain to develop properly. The child must also get enough vitamin D after birth for "normal" brain functioning. In older adults, too, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function, and increasing levels may help keep older adults mentally fit.

Appropriate sun exposure would take care of these issues, as the sun is irreplaceable when it comes to the body's ability to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.

6) Optimize Your Gut Flora -Your gut is your "second brain", and your gut bacteria transmits information to your brain via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem into your enteric nervous system. There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development, and just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut--including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain and is linked to mood.

7) Vitamin B12 - Vitamin B12, or rather a lack thereof, has been called the "canary in the coalmine" for your future brain health, and recent research has bolstered the importance of this vitamin in keeping your mind sharp as your age. According to the latest research, people with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume, which suggests lack of the vitamin may contribute to brain shrinkage.

Mental fogginess and problems with memory are two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and this is indicative of its importance for your brain health.

B12 is available in its natural form only in animal food sources. These include seafood, beef, chicken, pork, milk, and eggs. If you don't consume enough of these animal products to get an adequate supply of B12, or if your body's ability to absorb the vitamin from food is compromised, vitamin B12 supplementation is completely non-toxic and inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of laboratory testing.

8) Listen to Music - It's been long theorized that listening to music may boost your brainpower; you've probably heard of this with the "Mozart Effect," which suggests listening to classical music can make you smarter. Indeed, research has shown that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease. In this study, signs of improvement in the verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session.

9) Challenge Your Mind - One of the simplest methods to boost your brain function is to keep on learning. The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them actually change as you learn. This can take on many forms above and beyond book learning to include activities like traveling, learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or participating in social and community activities.

Another important method? Brain aerobics. As with learning, challenging your brain with mind-training exercises can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something as simple as thinking of famous people whose first name begin with the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that get you thinking. Research has even shown that surfing the Web activates regions in your brain related to decision-making and complex reasoning. So unlike passively watching TV, using the Internet is an engaging task that may actually help to improve your brainpower.