Science Says We're Getting Dumber. Here's How To Keep Your Brain Active And Healthy.

Wandering, both physically and mentally, might be just what you need to keep your mind young.

Despite the fact that our gadgets are getting smarter, it often feels like people are getting dumber. And, according to science, this seemingly harsh assessment of society isn't just your imagination. 

After analyzing the nearly 730,000 IQ tests given to Norwegian men before their compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009, scientists from the Norway's Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research established that average IQ scores were actually diminishing. With every generation of Norwegian men, IQ points seem to decrease by about seven points.

Yet, while this one study indicates that IQ might be on the decline, there are numerous steps we can take to improve brain health and reduce memory loss on our own. Here are five tips you should follow if you wish to keep your brain active and healthy.

1. Enjoy some physical exercise.

While exercise has obvious physical benefits, such activity also impacts mental health, too. Many lead increasingly sedentary lifestyles, which could be causing you to slow down both physically and mentally. However, even just a daily walk can get the blood pumping in ways that will improve your whole body.

According to Harvard Medical School, "Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Animals who exercise regularly increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in aging animals. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart."

2. Make time for friends.

Do you often find yourself debating whether to spend time with friends or binge your latest TV addiction? Well, if you want to improve your brain health, you might want to opt for the former rather than the latter. As Melinda Smith, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson note, humans are highly social animals who aren't meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Relationships stimulate our brains, thereby positioning such interactions as the best kind of brain exercise.

"Research shows that having meaningful friendships and a strong support system are vital not only to emotional health, but also to brain health," the duo writes for HelpGuide.org. "In one recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, for example, researchers found that people with the most active social lives had the slowest rate of memory decline. There are many ways to start taking advantage of the brain and memory-boosting benefits of socializing. Volunteer, join a club, make it a point to see friends more often, or reach out over the phone. And if a human isn't handy, don't overlook the value of a pet—especially the highly-social dog."

3. Expand upon your education.

If you feel less sharp and "with it" than you did when you were in school, you might want to consider heading back to class. By learning a new language or taking up an instrument, you will force your brain to work in ways that it hasn't in years.

"Many countries have early intervention programs (such as Head Start, in the USA) to provide intensive early education to children at risk," Bryan Roche, Ph.D. writes for Psychology Today. "They seem to work for scholastic achievement to some extent but have not really been shown to improve a child's general intellectual ability. The main benefit of these programs seems to be that they provide a rich stimulating environment for the child and intensify their educational experience." 

"We can all do the same thing for ourselves and our kids by actively embracing problem-solving and learning every day," he adds. "Take courses. Learn that second language. Read that heavy book you were avoiding. Even older children appear to show IQ gains if their environment becomes more stimulating and challenging."

4. Reassess your current diet.

What you put in your body impacts every element of your being. Thus, you might want to reconsider the types of food you consume, as what you eat could be the reason your brain feels foggy or lethargic at times.

"Your brain is always "on." It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, your senses — it works hard 24/7, even while you're asleep," Eva Selhub MD writes for Harvard's Health Blog. "This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That "fuel" comes from the foods you eat — and what's in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood."

"Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day," she adds. "Try eating a "clean" diet for two to three weeks — that means cutting out all processed foods and sugar. Add fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, or kombucha. You also might want to try going dairy-free — and some people even feel that they feel better when their diets are grain-free. See how you feel. Then slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and see how you feel."

5. Let your mind wander.

We're living in a world of constant stimulation. Even when we have the opportunity to sit still now and then, we feel the need to grab for our smartphones and start scrolling through Instagram or Twitter. After all, we're conditioned to believe that being inactive makes us lazy and unproductive. However, as it turns out, allowing your mind to wander might actually help boost brain power, as daydreaming opens you up to more creative, innovative thoughts.

"It might seem like daydreaming would dull your ability to remember things, like, say, what your boss said at the morning meeting or where you put your car keys. But research suggests your straying thoughts aren't actually memory killers," Sidney Stevens writes for Mother Nature Network. "In fact, mind drifting may enhance your working memory (the ability to retain and recall lots of information at once). Scientists from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science found that participants who performed easy tasks that promoted daydreaming were more likely to remember information on a tough memorization task later, even when they were distracted. In other words, your wandering mind bolsters your storage-and-retrieval skills."

Cover image via  Lia Koltyrina / Shutterstock

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