5 Simple Ways to Boost Our Intelligence

Popular media is full of suggestions on how to improve our brain health and cognition. But can we really boost our intelligence?

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #277

3. Eat Well and Exercise

There is a well-established link between brain function and gut hormones derived from the foods we eat. There is also a wealth of research attempting to link certain foods with cognitive ability, many focused on the impact of eating certain foods on the risk of dementia. Although the results in many cases are still mixed, there appear to be positive links between lowering risk of dementia and certain flavonoids or nuts rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids from fish, and caffeine.

There is also solid evidence that certain types of exercise, like 30-minute moderate intensity aerobic sessions, sprints, and even trampoline jumping, can increase your neuroplasticity, the ability of your brain to change which can be associated with learning new things.

4. Sleep Well

We are consistently advised to sleep more hours at night to improve many aspects of our physical and mental health, and brain function is no exception. Current research suggest that our brain works to consolidate our memories for us, deciding what it wants to keep from our short-term memories made throughout the day and committing those to long-term storage. Even napping may help your memory in the long term. So as hard as it can be in our busy lives, make getting a good rest a priority whenever you can.

5. Get Outside

Studies dating back more than a decade have repeatedly shown that ingesting certain bacteria may increase your cognitive abilities. For example, in a study out of Sage Colleges of Troy, scientists found that mice that were fed mycobacterium vaccae, a natural bacterium found in dirt, found their way out of a maze twice as fast as their non-dirt-eating counterparts. The same bacterium has also been linked, again in mice, to the growth of new neurons, increased levels of serotonin, and lower levels of anxiety. No need to eat dirt though: we likely ingest this bacterium just by breathing in the air outside.

Of course, there are different ways of defining intelligence. Is it how much you can memorize? Is it the ability to read people and anticipate the emotional responses of others? Is it problem solving or quick thinking? The more scientists learn about the brain, the more we will understand how these different aspects of cognition are related. In the mean time, working to improve our overall brain function through motivation, practice, good health, sleep, and even dirt, offer our best inroads toward boosting our intelligence. You can also check out my earlier episode on how memory works along with tips on how to improve it.

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Ask Science’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Ask Science on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

Image of human brain © shutterstock


Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Ask Science. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.