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Are There Things You Can Do to Become More Intelligent?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 23, 2021

Many people believe that intelligence is a fixed trait. But, research has shown that there are things you can do to help boost your IQ. Also, strategies that claim to increase intelligence are a waste of your time. Here, you'll discover some science-backed methods to enhance your brainpower and learn which methods you should skip.

Adopt a Growth Mindset

The most important thing you can do if you want to become smarter is to believe that you can. A growth mindset is the belief that your brain is like a muscle and grows stronger with use. A fixed mindset is the belief that your intelligence is something you're born with, and you can't do much to change it.

In a 2019 study, students who were taught growth mindset principles went on to enroll in more advanced math classes and achieved higher grades in those classes. Low-achieving students showed the most improvement. 

Students with peers who supported the ideas behind a growth mindset also showed greater improvement. Surrounding yourself with people who believe you can become smarter will make it easier for you to achieve your goals.  

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

You already know you should be eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep to keep your body healthy. But, the same things that benefit your body benefit your mind.

Eating a healthy diet. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains isn't just good for your heart and your waistline. The same foods that make you healthier can protect your brain from losing function as you age. Make sure your diet includes:

Getting enough sleep. A study on elementary-school students found that people who slept for less than 8 hours per night scored lower on tests of verbal intelligence, full-scale IQ, verbal comprehension, memory, and attention than those who slept for at least 8 hours. Even moderate sleep deprivation can affect your ability to learn.

Exercising. Just like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise can give you a healthy body and brain. Exercise reduces your insulin resistance, and this reduces the inflammation in your body and causes your body to produce more growth factors. These are chemicals in your brain that affect the growth of new blood vessels in your brain. They affect how many brain cells you have and how many new brain cells you can have.

The areas of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in people who exercise than in people who don't. Regular exercise also improves your mood and your sleep, which can have a positive effect on your intelligence.

But, you don't have to run a marathon to see brain growth. In one study, people who walked as little as 120 minutes (2 hours) per week saw improvement.

Learn Something New

While learning almost anything new can make you smarter, there are a few subjects that are especially beneficial for developing your brainpower.

Learning a second language. Learning a second language protects your brain from some of the negative effects of aging. It can also increase your reading ability, verbal skills, and general intelligence. This is true even if you learned a second language as a child or an adult.

Learning to play an instrument. Taking up music lessons requires your brain to multitask. This can increase the connections in your brain and increase your verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills.

Reading a book.Reading is a great way to learn a new subject or skill. The benefits of reading aren't limited to nonfiction, though. Even spending time reading the latest thriller can make you smarter. The act of reading builds your vocabulary and brain structures. Reading for just over 20 minutes a day will expose you to over 1.8 million words per year.

Feel Free to Skip Brain Training

One thing that won't make you smarter is playing games that promise to make you smarter. Developers of brain training games would like for you to believe that by playing a game on your phone for a few minutes a day you can increase your intelligence.

Unfortunately, the research doesn't support that. If you play brain training games, you'll get better at brain training games. The effect doesn't carry over to other tasks.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Educator: "What reading does for the mind."

Annals of Neurology: "Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?"

Cambridge Brain Sciences: "Brain Training Only Makes You Better at Brain Training."

Frontiers in Psychology: "Musical training as an alternative and effective method for neuro-education and neuro-rehabilitation."

Harvard Health Letter: "Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Foods linked to better brainpower."

National Library of Medicine: "[Effects of sleep deprivation on the intelligence structure of school-age children in Changsha, China]."

Nature: "A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement."

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