Can we make ourselves smarter? Apparently so, according to new research.
The benefits of meditation have received a lot of attention over the last few years and, as such, it has become a staple part of many yoga-mat-carrying, Headspace-downloading millennials’ lives.
However, while this practice is typically associated with reducing stress and unwinding, new research has shown that there’s another unexpected benefit: it can help improve your IQ, too.
According to researchers, there are two ways to categorise intelligence. The first is known as Crystallised Intelligence and is made up of learned knowledge, such as facts and skills. It’s something which we build on throughout our whole lives, and can be tactically improved by doing things like reading books or watching documentaries.
Fluid Intelligence, on the other hand, is something you’re born with. It’s the natural ability to see a problem and work it out effectively, and links to creativity and innovation – aka the kind of things you can’t learn. Or so we thought.
Siegfried Othmer, former president of the neurofeedback division of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, has conducted neurofeedback research on a range of people practicing a type of scientific deep meditation called Brainwave Training, to track the effects of meditation on their IQ.
He noted that those who meditated showed an average gain in IQ of 23%, as well as long lasting improvement in creativity, concentration and self-awareness.
“Intelligence is a lot like height,” adds Professor Jonides, another senior author on the paper.
“We know that how tall you are is largely determined by the height of your parents. But we also know that better nutrition can make everyone a lot taller. Perhaps the n-back task is just an ideal form of mental nutrition.”
Hmm. It seems that, while we can’t choose the brain we’ve been given, we can choose what that brain is paying attention to. All it takes is a little practice.
If getting zen isn’t your thing, but you’d still like to try and boost your IQ, try one of our tips below:
Keep a journal
Writing in a journal has long been thought of as a great way to hone your writing skills and express yourself: indeed, the benefits of creating a bullet journal swept social media last year as enthusiasts swore that it helped their mental health. However, it seems recording your thoughts everyday can also improve your IQ as it encourages you to develop critical thinking skills.
How? Well, by recalling events in your day, mulling over your emotions and taking the time to analyse them, your mind will become trained to think about things in a more analytical way. Journaling is also said to improve vocabulary and ability to reflect.
Top tip: By yourself a lovely new notebook and start by filling in an entry at the same time every week, for example on a Sunday night, and go from there.
Cut down on red meat
If you’re a vegetarian, you’re probably thinking you’ve got this one down, but there’s actually a little more to attaining an IQ-boosting diet than meets the eye. Research has shown that the best types of food for optimum brain health are those that are typically associated with Mediterranean cuisine.
People living in countries like Spain and Italy tend to eat less red meat and instead feast on fresh foods like vegetables and fruit, with ample portions of fish, which contains healthy omega-3 fatty acid. Tests have shown that people adopting this diet see a positive impact on their brain’s grey and white matter, which promotes connectivity.
Top tip: If you’re a vegetarian, make sure you’re stocking up on fresh vegetables. And, if you’re a meat-lover, try and limit your red meat intake to once a week. These delicious plant-based recipes are an ideal way to get you started.
It’s pretty widely recognised that at least a bit of gentle movement is good for our physical health. Now it turns out that it’s good for our brain health, too.
Aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your pulse racing) appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Exercise has a powerful effect on our bodies and research shows that by getting your heart pumping fairly regularly you can stimulate the release of growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells. This promotes the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and helps an abundance of and survival of new brain cells.
Top tip: A long walk is a great way to ease into exercising, check out our favourite country walks across the UK.
Want to find out more? Why not attend ‘The New Approach to Mindfulness: Wellness in the 21st Century’. Join wellness advocate and founder of the app Happy not Perfect, Poppy Jamie, as she takes us through the science underpinning the importance of a mindfulness routine.
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