6 Ways to Make Yourself Smarter

Think it’s too late to become a brainiac? Think again. Medical science used to think that you were stuck with the smarts you had once you reached adulthood, but modern wisdom says that our brains continue to grow and adapt at any age. Nurture your gray matter and you can make yourself smarter, healthier, and happier – here’s how.

1 Protect the smarts you have! Protect your brain from physical injury by wearing a helmet when you ride bikes, motorbikes, or go snowboarding, and avoid aggressive sports. “The brain is very soft,” says Dr. Daniel G. Amen, author of Making a Good Brain Great, “and the parts involved with memory, learning, and mood stability are especially vulnerable to trauma. Even a so-called ‘minor’ concussion can have long-term repercussions on your brain that may show themselves long after that impact occurred.”

2. Maintain a healthy sex life. “Orgasm is very helpful for the brain because there’s a lot of activity that goes on and then it calms down. It’s like resetting the brain in many wawys,” says Dr. Amen. Recent Australian research found that intercourse directly stimulates the production of new brain cells; however, to keep those cells you need to do something intellectually stimulating soon after, so reach for that Sudoku book or crossword puzzle once you partner starts snoring.

3. Stretch your brain. Learn new things makes you smarter. The more you exercise your gray matter, the more connections your brain makes. Studying new languages or learning a musical instrument can be excellent activities, but trying anything new has the same effect if you work on it continuously. We’re not talking about watching multiple episodes of Glee, though: The book tube is a brain-dead activity, so limit how much time you spend zoning out in front of the box.

4. Exercise your body. Increasing your blood flow through exercise will get plenty of oxygen to your brain cells. helping them function more efficiently. A study by the University of Illinois found that people who did 45 minutes of brisk walking a week improved their cognitive speed by 15%.

5. Get enough sleep. When you’re catching z’s, your brain rejuvenates. Recent research suggests that our brains grow during the sixth and eighth hour of sleep, and that those who get eight or nine hours of sleep are more mentally alert.

6. Don’t cut too many carbs. A balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetable is key. “You may lose weight on low-carb diets, but you’re not going to have that mental edge because your active brain needs a steady stream of energy fueled preferably by complex carbohydrates,” says Dr. Alan Logan, author of The Brain Diet. Eating fruits with dark red and purple pigments such as cherries and blueberries gives long-term brain protection. So eat up and look forward to a long, mentally healthy life.

Recovery from a Stroke

As if you need another reason to convince you to institute an exercise regime, it turns out that people who exercise regularly may be harmed less by a stroke than those who do not. According to a new study, stroke victims who exercise throughout their lives performed better on two important scales measuring resiliency after a first stroke.

One of the two scales used was the Barthel Index, a respected measure of ability to perform 20 daily activities such dressing or bathing. “The second measure, the Oxford Handicap Scale, takes a broader approach, such as speech and reading comprehension, and the ability to return to work. Study participants who reported having had regular exercise one to three times a week before their strokes functioned significantly better than those who had been sedentary, and those who reported having done aerobic physical activity four or more times a week appeared to do even better.

Medical experts say that the relationship makes sense; if you are physically fit before a stroke, you have more capacity to adjust or compensate after the stroke. They warn that the results, however, common sensical, are still preliminary.

Not within the scope of these study but also important, experts also say there is some evidence, still very sketchy, that exercise leads to reduced risk of stroke in the first place. This is especially true of those who do vigorous exercise from the teen years into their mid-50s. But even people who keep walking as little as 20 minutes a day right through their senior years also seem to see some reduction in stroke occurrences.

How to Reduce the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Men who get moderate amounts of exercise regularly may reduce their risk of prostate cancer. That according to a new study published in the November 2009 issue of Journal of Urology, which reports that prostate cancer was less likely to be diagnosed in men who got exercise regularly than those who led a sedentary lifestyle.

A team at the Duke University Prostate Center and the VA Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina analyzed data from 190 men who underwent biopsies for suspected prostate cancer and found the association. About half of the patients who exercised moderately, or those who engaged in three to six hours of walking each week, were two-thirds less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than their sedentary counterparts. Also of note: The researchers found that men who got exercise equivalent to one to three hours of walking each week were 86 percent less likely to develop an aggressive form of the cancer.

Is there a direct link between exercise and reduced risk? Not for certain. But the findings fit with the fact that exercise, or at least some degree of physical activity, is linked to reduced cancer risks in general. One possible theory for the lowered risk is that those who exercise also tend to have a healthy diet and lifestyle. Another possible reason is that exercise can lower the level of sexual hormones in the blood, like testosterone, that are known to promote prostate cancer growth. Yet a third explanation: exercise can boost the body’s anti-oxidation mechanisms which also helps reduce the odds of acquiring prostate cancer.

A second recent study, published in a British medical journal suggests the same statistical association, i.e., that being physically active may help reduce risk of prostate cancer. The study, done at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, found that those who walk, bike or have a physical occupation show lower risk than those who sit at a desk day after day.

Nearly 200,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and, according to the National Cancer Institute, more than 27,000 will die of the disease.