So, what is intelligence and a healthy brain? What determines it, how do you maintain it, and how do you improve and increase intelligence and brain health? This article will provide answers to those questions on how to Get A Healthy Brain.
What Is Intelligence?
Wikipedia defines intelligence,
as the ability and capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, and problem solving.
Read more on intelligence from Wikipedia here.
Virtually all psychologists now believe that there is a generalized intelligence factor, “g”, that relates to abstract thinking and that includes the abilities to acquire knowledge, to reason abstractly, to adapt to novel situations, and to benefit from instruction and experience, per a 2003 Contemporary Theories Of Intelligence study reviewed by the APA. People with higher general intelligence learn faster.
What Determines Intelligence?
According to the National Institutes of Health, intelligence is a complex trait that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Numerous studies suggest that genetic factors underlie about 50 percent of the difference in intelligence among individuals, and it is likely that a large number of genes are involved, each of which makes only a small contribution to a person’s intelligence. Quoting the NIH:
Intelligence is also strongly influenced by the environment.
Factors related to a child’s home environment and parenting, education and availability of learning resources, and nutrition, among others, all contribute to intelligence.
It is clear that both environmental and genetic factors play a part in determining intelligence. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between high levels of intelligence and success in life. It’s actually one of the biggest predictors of success. Let’s consider the famed Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman study. Terman found more than fifteen hundred California kids with genius-level IQs and set up a study that has tracked their life histories.
Some of these kids ended up richer, healthier, taller, and stronger, but what’s interesting, not all the high-IQ kids were successful. Some turned out average and had higher rates of alcoholism and divorce. What made the difference? The difference was the successful kids had cultivated desire, prudence, willpower, goal-orientation, self-confidence and perseverance—all the stuff you’re probably doing right now. So it’s true that intelligence alone won’t get you the success you’re after.
Environment and other factors, such as all the other typical self-improvement stuff like positive thinking, goal-setting, time management, character development, etc., play a role and account for possibly the other 50 percent, along with the genetic 50 percent.
Can you increase your intelligence, along with improving and balancing your intellectual well being? Absolutely, the answer is unequivacally yes! It only requires stretching your brain….and, it should be one of your goals.
How To Maintain Or Improve Intelligence?
In maintaining and increasing intellectual well being, or IQ, you have to continually engage in stimulating mental activities, to expand your knowledge and skills, and also having the desire and ability to share this new knowledge and skills with others. A balanced intellectual well being person, is always asking questions, cherishes mental growth and stimulation, is involved in intellectual and cultural activities, and is engaged in the exploration of new ideas and understanding because of the practice of open mindedness. As the great American pragmatic philosopher, John Dewey suggests,
includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us.
Traveling a intellectual well being path allows you to explore the possibilities to problem solving, being creative, advance learning to gain additional knowledge, as well, as pursuing personal interests, and, keeping abreast of current issues and new breakthroughs.
During your pursuit, you will develop a higher curiosity level too, as you challenge and engage your mind with intellectual and creative endeavors, and about the world in general around you.
Now that you know the basics of boosting intelligence, you can now better understand why it’s important to keep your mind flexible, informed, actively engaged, actually improves the physical structure of the brain, increasing your intelligence.
Lindsay Bernhagen, PhD, Director of the Center For Inclusive Teaching and Learning, University of Wisconsin, who created the intellectual wellness learning module, defines it this way:
The intellectually well person values lifelong learning and seeks to foster critical thinking, develop moral reasoning, expand world views, and engage in education for the pursuit of knowledge
.Just as a flexible body indicates physical health, a flexible mind connotes into healthy mind. When you exercise your mind by learning a new skill, or concept, attempt to understand a different viewpoint, or exercise your mind with unknowns and challenges, such as puzzles or games, you are strengthening or aiding in balancing your intellectual well being.
To determine whether your brain and intellectual well being is in an ideal state of open mindedness, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I open to new ideas and concepts?
- Do I seek personal growth by learning new ideas and new skills?
- Am I continually searching for lifelong learning and mind-stimulating activities?
- Do I use creativity to achieve new learning and skills?
Your intellectual well being can be developed further through academics, cultural involvement, community activities, personal development and others, which we’ll cover shortly providing research to support it. As your intellectual well being strengthens, your intelligence strengthens, you are able to summon personal resources that work together with the other factors of health and well being, for a lifetime.
Once you achieve this life balance, you become more mindful, and you also become a more well-rounded person. Being intellectually balanced and possessing a positive mindset, means you are open-minded, keeping a positive attitude, you are aware and listen, comprehend what is being said to you, which raises your level of curiosity and adventure, motivating you to travel more, in order to learn and experience new cultures and customs, expanding your mind even more, in a positive upward spiral. There are many traits and characteristics associated with a positive mindset, eliminating negative self-talk is the most obvious, according to this Mayo Clinic study, but it also includes:
- Optimism: a willingness to make an effort and take a chance instead of assuming your efforts won’t pay off. No negative self-talk.
- Acceptance: acknowledging that things don’t always turn out how you want them to, but learning from your mistakes.
- Resilience: bouncing back from adversity, disappointment, and failure instead of giving up.
- Gratitude: actively, continuously appreciating the good things in your life.
- Consciousness/Mindfulness: dedicating the mind to conscious awareness and enhancing the ability to focus.
- Integrity: the trait of being honorable, righteous, and straightforward, instead of deceitful and self-serving.
Studies have shown, like this one published in Nature Medicine, by stimulating your brain and your body, supports the growth of new neurons in the area of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and mood regulation. However, while undue stress and depression, can hinder the growth of new neurons. Challenging your brain also helps existing neurons to form new connections. Combining intellectual growth and relaxing mindfulness, you will boost brain health and prevent premature mental decline, as you age.
Reading ten minutes at the start of each day involving positive thinking, or recite positive things to yourself such as what you desire, will be the best thing you can do to advance brain health, elevate your mood to positive, and protect you from negativity and uncertainty. Your subconscious mind is most active and creative right when you wake up, according to studies like a 2013 Neurophysiology study.
You can train your brain to use this subconscious activity to think positively and accomplish more throughout your day, according to Napoleon Hill, author of the best-selling book “Think and Grow Rich”, which has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1937:
Your subconscious mind works continuously, while you are awake, and while you sleep.
— Napoleon Hill
Hill’s most famous quote which you’ve probably heard of is,
Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can be achieved.
What happens on your subconscious level influences what happens on your conscious level. In other words, what goes on internally, even unconsciously, eventually becomes your reality. Hill continued:
The subconscious mind will translate into its physical equivalent, by the most direct and practical method available.
Spending another ten minutes during the day, either reading the news, to stay informed with the world, or ask a friend to suggest a book you wouldn’t ordinarily choose to read, or, read about a certain political issue, and challenge your friend to a debate, who you know will take the opposing view than you, will also go a long way of keeping your mind open, receptive, and active.
Applying the same theme training your subconscious, use the same strategy before bedtime. Take 10 minutes before you go to bed to meditate on and write down the things you’re trying to accomplish. Write down your goals and dreams and ambitions, regardless of how unrealistic they might seem. It’s common practice for many of the world’s most successful people, past and present, to intentionally direct the workings of their subconscious mind while they’re sleeping.
Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious
Then, let your subconscious mind turn that imagination into reality. Or, let your “imagination” run wild, and think of the most unrealistic thing you can think of, write it down in that 10 minutes before you fall asleep, and turn it over to your subconscious. In an interview in 1929, here is what one of the greatest thinkers of all times had to say about imagination:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
— Albert Einstein
You should practice mindfulness, which focuses your awareness on the present moment, per an NIH review. You can do this by focusing on your slow, deliberate breathing, concentrating on the air moving in and out in your lungs, as your chest rises and falls. Think about the thoughts which also arise during your slow deep breathing exercise (diaphragmatic) (1), then let those thoughts go, without thinking too much about them, or experiencing the anxiety of unknowns about the future, or the unpleasantness of the past. Live in the moment.
You doing this slow breathing exercise for a few minutes each day, will allow your brain and other faculties to relax, distress and recharge and gain sustained attention, according to the NIH. A very good book to read about mindfulness is, “The Present”, by Spencer Johnson, MD. To put it simple, The Present, has a message: Read this great review on The Present. It is only when you Live with Purpose that life lived in The Present has meaning.
Of course, meditation and yoga, are excellent too, for bringing the state of mindfulness to you. Relax and recharge your brain daily with some quiet time, going into neutral, even if it’s only sitting in your car seat in your driveway, stopping to just breathe slowly five deep breaths.
Still having trouble relaxing, centering yourself, being mindful? Here is another option, and it really works! Check MUSE out. Muse is your personal meditation assistant. Muse will guide you to a calm mind….put on the Muse head ban, put on the earbuds, start the app, and close your eyes….then immerse yourself within the sounds of the surf on a beach, or the sounds of a rainforest.
Changing your routine or doing familiar thing differently, is another great way of challenging your brain and strengthening your intellectual well being. Challenging your brain and doing things the hard way or differently, according to a Scientific America study, will get you the benefits of intense entire-brain training, which should transfer to gains in overall cognitive functioning, as well.
In changing your routine, your brain has to adjust and work a little harder initially, to recieve and interpret the new, processing new information, receiving new stimuli, and finding creative solutions. Break your routine intentionally, take a different route home, or eat at a different restaurant, or rearrange your furniture differently, would be some examples of routine changes.
Not only will you find new things to enjoy, by stepping out of your comfort zone, you also improve your brain’s neuroplasticity, and increase your intelligence. Engaging in life-long learning challenges your mind, spurring your curiousity, setting the stage for a vibrant, centered, and mentally active life.
Evidence shows when you experience a novel or completely different activity than usual, that heightens your emotions such as anger or joy, it grabs your intention, and, it is much more likely you will remember what happened right before and right after the new event. Science has not been able to determine why this is so, but mice studies suggest your brain releases dopamine, when experiencing new or novel situations, which exercises your brain, strengthens it, and boost memory, and brings you joy at the same time, according to a John Hopkins 2007 study.
- Always pursue new learning and new experiences at least 3 at a time, research like a University of California Riverside study showed. Learning several new things at once increases cognitive abilities in older adults, according to new research. After just 1.5 months learning multiple tasks in a new study, participants increased their cognitive abilities to levels similar to those of middle-aged adults, 30 years younger. Try learning a new language, or, take up a new hobby or craft, or a combination of at least 3. Read a new book every week and become a renaissance person. Start to notice the “patterns”. Intelligence all boils down to pattern recognition.
- Play challenging games like Chess, or Scrabble, or Dual N-Back, or Crossword Puzzles, or take on a new sport. One John Hopkins study showed Dual N-Back increased IQ drastically, even 30 percent improvement in working memory.
- Work on developing a character of “grit”. Yes. that’s right, grit! Grit is less about cognitive ability and more about cognitive “control”, control or ability to delay gratification, control of emotions and impulses, holding focus, and a readiness to learn. A University of Pennsylvania study found that students who don’t have the highest IQ, but still received high grades share “grit” in common.
- Explore and travel to new countries and cultures. A 2014 study published in the journal of Psychological and personality Science those MBA students who opened their mind and became highly engaged in other cultures during the program had an easier time holding multiple, conflicting viewpoints in mind at the same time. Their interactions with other cultures gifted them a breadth of perspective they didn’t have before and increased their professional career opportunities.
- Participate regular high cardio exercise. There is something about the release of endorphins that sends your brain into overdrive. According to an NIH study, exercise collaborates with other aspects of lifestyle to influence the molecular substrates of cognition.
The study concluded that the evidence accumulated so far indicates that exercise is a strong promoter of cognitive health in humans. The truth of the matter is any kind of physical activity is good for your brain, improving memory and thinking skills per a Harvard Medical School study. The NIH also concluded in a study, that exercise is terrific for brain health..
- Learn An Instrument. Learning to play music is the equivalent of giving your brain a full body workout. This has been proven in studies using fMRI scans. For example, an Association For Psychological Science study found that music lessons enhance IQ which carried over to non-musical areas of cognition, in a large sampling of 144 children. Simply put, playing an instrument lights your entire brain on intellectual fire and has lasting impact on math and spatial reasoning skills. It’s not for no reason the wealthy almost universally require their children to learn a classical instrument whether they like it or not.
- Get restful, relaxing sleep. Your physical body and brain need rest and rejuvenation. Studies have proven that the human brain functions optimally with a minimum of seven hours of sleep. Numerous studies, like these 2 show the benefits of sleep and brain health: NIH study “The Benefits Of Slumber” and Harvard Education “Benefits Of Sleep”. A fifteen minute “catnap” isn’t bad either.
- Multi-tasking is the thing these days, and people boost about how good their multi-tasking is, but actually, you should refrain from multi-tasking, because it is the enemy of full commitment, engagement, and concentration, according to the latest research.
A 2009 Stanford Review found multi-tasking, such as people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information, cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time reducing their overall performance. The study also revealed that heavy multi-taskers were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. It’s better to focus intensely on one task at a time, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive, thorough, and efficient you are.
- Other forms of exercises that are good for mental health and effective in increasing intelligence is worthy of mention: gardening, fishing, bird watching, hiking and camping, pet walking, and swimming. We tend to assume that brains don’t go with brawn, but that assumption is turning out to be seriously flawed. As the latest 2017 Western Sydney University research shows, aerobic exercising the body is one of the best ways to boost your intelligence and preserve it through old age. The study reviewed 14 clinical trials which examined the brain scans of 737 people before and after aerobic exercise programs or in control conditions, resulting in significantly increasing the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.
- (*) Eat “fresh”, and I mean fresh as possible, certified organic non-GMO, nutrient-rich, well-balanced, lean meats; cold-water fish; fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds; natural fermented foods; whole-grain foods; and herbs and spices. You are what you eat, and not only does your physical body need good nutrition, but so does your brain to function properly.
- Supplement your diet with a natural, organic non-GMO, Super Food Adaptogen, healing food plant, called Peruvian Maca (A), for added assurance, which will furnish your body and mind with great nutrition. This amazing Super Food has the ability to assist you physically and mentally in so many ways. This healing plant root provides you the energy necessary to pursue all of the brain-stimulating activities we discussed here, enhances memory, mood, and recall, relieves stress naturally, and reduces the symptoms of anxiety, depression, assisting you in maintaining a positive attitude and a clear mind. For more information on this remarkable plant, read this review In this WHAT IS IN MACA ROOT?. The wide ranging benefits of Peruvian Maca are well documented, and are incredible, per this NIH study.
(*) Here is the complete breakdown of nutrient-dense foods: (A) For meals and a healthy lifestyle, eat fresh, organic, well-balanced nutrient-dense foods, such as grass-fed finished lean meats, fresh, organic, free-range finished poultry, grass-fed finished dairy and eggs (A); fresh cold-water or wild-caught fish and seafood (A); fresh organic fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and seeds (A); and organic whole grains and complex carbohydrates, natural fermented foods, monounsaturated oils like extra virgin olive oil, fresh organic herbs and spices, and antioxidant drinks, infused water, naturally fermented red wine and beer, and fruit and veggie smoothies (A). And, reward yourself with a piece of dark chocolate for a snack! Yes, that’s right, dark chocolate, not milk chocolate (A).
Now that you are thinking about, not only your own intellectual well being, but also your overall health and well being, and you have also answered the questions about intelligence and brain health , take some time to start a journal (2) about what changes you are willing to make. Awareness is the first step toward action and journaling has a positive correlation with intelligence, per a University of Victoria study.
Write down how you’re feeling physically, and mentally, recognize the stressors in your life, what you’d like to accomplish, and how you’d like to feel in one week, six months, and a year from now. Setting goals for you achieving your own balanced well being can make a significant difference in your life and your love ones’ lives. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to get there.
What would you do in the next 2 to 5 years if you knew you couldn’t fail? Put your answer on paper (journal) and place it where you can see it every day. Research supports that if you write down your dreams and goals, you are more likely to achieve them. And, keep in mind, it takes 66 days to make or break a habit. Set one well being goal for the next 66 days, and make it one that is not too difficult to achieve, but will challenge you and make you stretch some, especially your brain.
The steps you take today to safeguard and improve your intelligence health and Get A Healthy Brain, can lead to a journey to optimal overall health and well being, through your self-discovery, and satisfaction, as you’ll help others around you, too. Be well!! “Health and the Mind”, is a related article on mental issues such as depression, worth reading.
Please contact me below should you have questions or comments, and we’ll get right back to you.
(1) Living Well Video
(2) Mirielle Mukiza Video
(A) Use these links for more information, more documented studies, and to purchase any of these incredible nutrient-dense foods, which will be instrumental in achieving higher intelligence and brain health.