10:10 29 September 2009
Modern life has left us relying on technology for almost every activity in some way. But it seems the cleverer gadgets become, the less we need to use our brain. And the old adage "use it or lose it" could be truer than we dare to realise.
However, there are steps you can take to improve your brain capacity and intelligence, proving you can "teach an old dog new tricks".
Intelligence expert Stephen Pincock has revealed six steps you can take to increase your own IQ.
There is more to intelligence than simply being good at maths or languages. According to psychologist Howard Gardner, there a nine types of intelligence. These range from sensitivity to the natural world, to the ability to think in three dimensions.
One of the most significant types, is social intelligence the ability to understand and interact with others.
In 1999, US researchers studied 3,000 older people, correlating their mental status with the number of social contacts they had.
The scientists found that those with no social contacts were typically twice as likely to develop cognitive difficulties, compared with those with five or six acquaintances.
Learning a new skill
Your brain is never more stimulated than when it is learning and scientists have made a profound discovery that the adult brain is more adaptable and capable of change than was once thought.
Give your mind a new challenge and it will make new connections.
In 2008, British researchers suggested that when people learn new skills such as playing an instrument or riding a bike, new brain cells bring into play pre-formed circuits that were wired but not yet fully functional and activated.
Those with green fingers are likely to keep a sharper mind.
Australian researchers, who followed nearly 3,000 people over the age of 60 for 16 years, found that daily gardening reduced their risk of developing dementia by 36%.
Providing exercise, stress relief and outlet to express creativity, all of which have a positive mental impact, it is easy to imagine the benefits of gardening.
The benefits are two-fold as you can grow the fresh fruit and vegetables required for a healthy diet.
As well as learning other new skills, as stated above, dancing has shown to be particularly effective.
Not only does it provide exercise to keep you fit, but it also offers a work out for your grey matter.
In fact, American researchers studying the link between leisure activities and the risk of dementia in senior citizens found that dancing was the best prevention.
In the 21-year study, people who danced were on average 76% less likely to develop dementia.
Another study showed older people who took tango classes saw greater improvements in balance, posture and motor co-ordination than those who walked for their exercise. They also performed better performed a cognitive task while walking.
It may be that the mental effort needed to remember steps and make split-second adjustments to movements stimulates the brain's activity to make new links between cells. The brain only does this when it is pushed to through challenges.
As well as providing, physical benefits, dancing is great for socialising, which in turn helps boost brain power.
Alcohol (in moderation)
We're all familiar with the risks too much alcohol, and the negative effects this can have on our intelligence. However, sensible, moderate drinking could actually improve brain power.
In 2000, Tokyo researchers tested the IQ of 2,000 people aged between 40 and 79.
Males who drank less than 1 pint (540ml) of wine (sake) a day had a higher IQ by 3.3 points than those who did not drink at all.
For women the results were similar, with female drinkers an average 2.5 points higher IQ than teetotalers.
In America, one study found that women who have up to one drink a day may reduce their risk of cognitive decline as they age, while another showed that low doses of alcohol can improve problem-solving capability and short-term memory.
More recently, scientists in New Zealand discovered that rats that were given moderate doses of alcohol had a positive increase in signals between brain cells in the hippocampus which is important in the formation of memories.
Obviously not a reason to have a child (and an impossibility for males), but there is good evidence that pregnancy may actually serve to stimulate your brain.
It is a common held belief that pregnancy causes "baby brain" turning your mind to mush, however, studies on humans, mice and rats have shown the contrary.
Some research has shown having a baby can in fact boost the size of neurons in the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in memory, learning and emotions).
Furthermore, studies of rats showed that the mothers could navigate mazes more efficiently, had less anxiety and fear, and excelled in multitasking trials.
Learn more about the ways to improve your mind and how to identify and tackle the things that drain it in 'Intelligence Quotient' by Stephen Pincock.
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