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.

FSA Facts to Note and Keep in Mind

Did you realize that enrolling in a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) can actually save you some hard-earned cash? The money set aside is pretax, so it’s practically like lowering your co-pay and prescription costs.

Check with your HR department to see what their deadline is for enrollment in an FSA plan. Then follow these tips.

Estimate your medical and dental spending. Think about what expenses you might have in the coming year. Ever thought about Lasik eye surgery (yes, it’s covered!) Other eligible expenses include prescriptions (even birth control), transportation to medical appointments, glasses and contact lenses, doctor co-pays, sleep aids, and many over-the-counter medications. You’ll need a note from your PCP to get reimbursed for certain expenses like massage therapy or sunscreen if you need them to treat a specific condition, but you can usually request a note online.

Find out how to get reimbursed. Some plans will give you a debit card preloaded with your allotted amount for the year, which eliminates the need to fill out paperwork and submit receipts. If you’re in a “paper plan,” the company will ask that you mail or fax your receipts to them so that they can cut you a check (or direct-deposit the money into your account). Generally, money will be deducted from every paycheck over the course of the year, but you don’t need to wait until the money has been deducted before you can use it. If you’re shelling out for something pricey like a new pair of glasses or contacts, it’s helpful to find out how quickly you get reimbursed so you won’t overdraw your checking account and get into a bind.

Use it or lose it. If you haven’t used the money in your FSA account by March 15 of the following year, you will lose it. If you still have money left, you could splurge on a new pair
of glasses, stock up on OTC meds like Tylenol, or get a flu shot.

Save on Health Insurance

Given the scary state of the economy, many people are reconsidering all areas of their budgets these days. But if you’re young and fairly healthy, and have medical insurance, you probably haven’t given health-care costs a second thought. Think again—you could be overpaying in lots of little ways that really add up. Below are suggestions for reclaiming some of your hard-earned cash.

1 Review Your Insurance Options Regularly
Your workplace probably makes it easy to roll over your benefits selections each year without reviewing them. Resist the temptation! If your company offers two or more medical insurance options, check them annually to make sure you still have the most cost-effective one. Even if the plan names have stayed the same, what they cover can change a lot over time. Also, don’t assume that the cheapest way to get insurance is through your own company—if you have a spouse or domestic partner, you might get a better deal on his or her insurance plan. Websites like ehealthinsurance.com or vimo.com offer basic price and
coverage comparisons.

2 Set Up a Flexible Spending Account (FSA)
An FSA lets you put aside money from your paycheck before taxes to pay for medical and other health-related costs. Admittedly, taking advantage of an FSA may take a bit of effort. For example, you’ll need to calculate how much to hold back from your pay at the start of each year, and you’ll have to stay current on which expenses qualify. But using pretax money can cut your out-of-pocket medical costs by about one-third—possibly enough so that you can recover from any hassle on a beach in the Caribbean.

3 Research Your Drug Options
There are a number of ways to save money on prescription drugs. Generic versions of costlier name brands are often available, and most insurance companies also have lists of preferred drugs that will cost you less. Rxaminer.com is one great resource for checking out alternatives on a particular drug. Prices vary between pharmacies too, so it’s worth calling around if you have an expensive or recurring prescription to fill. Finally, use your doctor as a resource. She’ll be able to provide guidance on what’s best for your health as well as your wallet, and may even be able to offer you free samples of prescription drugs.

4 Negotiate
It’s a little-known fact that many out-of-pocket medical costs, co-pays, and deductibles are negotiable, especially if you can legitimately argue that they constitute a financial hardship. (Say, if you’ve just been laid off.) Remember—it never hurts to ask. If you’re looking at a particularly hefty bill for a hospital stay or feel your insurance company has denied you coverage for a procedure unfairly, check to see whether your company offers access to a patients’ advocacy service such as Health Advocate to help you navigate the system.

5 Pitch A Win/Win Money-Saving Idea to HR
Your company may consider offering a new health benefit if it doesn’t cost them much and will result in healthier, more productive employees. One example is the Weight Watchers at Work program, in which a company pays to have a Weight Watchers meeting leader come into the office once a week for a session with all interested employees. This saves you the time and expense of a personal membership.

6 Stay Alert For Hidden Perks
Your workplace or insurance carrier may offer perks that are easy to overlook if your employee manual or insurance literature is gathering dust at the back of your file cabinet. Common benefits include significant discounts on gym memberships or even on alternative wellness therapies like massage. Spa day, anyone?

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.

The Benefits of a Bath

The American way is the no-nonsense shower. Get wet, get clean, get it over with, get onto the next project. But there are many reasons why taking an occasional bath makes sense and can have mental and physical benefits. Here are 10 points, all supported by medical research and anecdotal evidence, to think about next time you’re singing in the shower.

Stress Reduction
Getting into the tub with some swirling water can help unwind the stress of the day and let your brain relax.

Better Sleep
Immersing yourself in hot water for 15 minutes before bedtime raises your body temperature and enhances your ability to fall asleep.

Hydrotherapy
Get relief for arthritis, aches and stiffness as warm water increases blood suppy to aching joint and inflamed areas of the body.

Oh Buoy
The buoyancy of water relaxes muscles and warm water decreases muscle tension for greater flexiblility.

Breathe Easier
Steam rising of hot water can open up nasal and bronchial passes, and aids in maintaining upper respiratory health.

Headache Relief
Some people find relief from headaches by soaking in a hot tub.

Heart Health
A recent Mayo Clinic studyfound that soaking in a hot tub provides some benefits of exercise, such as lowering blood pressure, without the strain.

Cover Your Back
Four of five Americans suffer from chronic back pain. Hot water alleviates lower back pain
as well as the common ailment of knee pain.

Skin Game
Soaking in a tub is an easy way to treat large areas of skin for itching, eczema, hives, dry or crusty skin, inflamed or chafed skin and poison ivy or oak.

Serenity and Peace
A hot tub can be a statement of taking control of your personal life and time, and locking out all the other demands. Aromatherapy, candles and music can rejuvenate you.

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