It’s become a cultural trend nowadays to postulate how the human brain can be improved. We’re beginning to think of how we can make the brain smarter and healthier, while making ourselves more intelligent. Hollywood has even caught onto this cultural trend, making films about maximizing brain potential (‘Limitless’ and ‘Lucy’, for example).

What many people don’t know is that there are actual, proven methods for improving our brain – many with verified scientific studies behind them. So, we’ve decided to create a list of 10 ways to improve brain health. As we move down the list, we’ll include some techniques that are considered to be backed by more concrete evidence.

Here are 10 ways to improve brain health:

10. Don’t smoke

Smoking is a bad habit, especially for its physical effects. However, evidence accumulated from over 20,000 smokers and published in an Archives of Internal Medicine study showed that those who smoked between a half and one pack a day had a 44% higher chance of developing dementia (specifically, Alzheimer’s Disease).

For those who used to smoke but quit, they showed no increased risk of dementia and had normal brain function into old age. So, quitting apparently showed as good of results as not smoking in the first place.

9. Think positively.

Well, you’re already on the right site for this! Thinking positively helps with brain health and also helps us function to our highest capability.

Consider this famous study, titled “Believing You Can Get Smarter Makes You Smarter.” This research study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that by setting high expectations and standards for ourselves, we then believe that achieving them is possible and are much more likely to have success. On the other hand if we feel inadequate or unworthy, we’re much less likely to achieve our potential.

8. Have positive relationships.

The positive, diverse relationships that you have in life often help strengthen certain cognitive areas. For example, if a friend that you know has a good memory for faces, they’ll often dispense some knowledge about it. This is seen often in married couples, where the woman may have a tremendous memory for remembering someone’s name, job, taste in music, etc. while the man may not. They’ll often work together and are much more skillful in social situations.

The more diverse that your friends are in kind, the more they will expand your creative thinking. In other words, our friends can make us more well-rounded people and keep our minds open.

7. Get good sleep.

Our brains are very active, whether we are awake or asleep. When we sleep, our brains are consolidating the information that we’ve taken in and attempts to sort and store valuable knowledge. This is where the term “sleep on it” came from – we actually make more sense of information if we get a good night’s rest.

Something to consider: when we don’t get a good night’s sleep, it’s a two-edged sword. First, we can’t assimilate knowledge and make sense of the valuable information that we’ve taken in throughout the day. Second, this negatively affects the brain’s ability to perform at its cognitive best the following day.

6. Eat healthy.

No shortage of research on this fact: eating healthy increases cognitive ability. So, let’s get to the meat of the matter. Here are some foods and their respective effects on the brain:

– Ginkgo Biloba: has a good effect on memory.
– Veggies: improve memory and overall brain function.
– Omega 3 oils: improve learning and memory; protects against mood disorders.
– Protein: helps neurons produce the important transmitters’ norepinephrine and dopamine – both responsible for mental alertness.

5. Meditate.

More research continues to accumulate noting the positive effects that meditation has on our physical and mental health. While meditative techniques have a tendency to vary somewhat, they generally focus on three areas: stillness, deep breathing, and staying calm.

Here’s what the research has shown so far:
– Meditation improves concentration and memory.
– Meditation allows the brain to process information quicker.
– Meditation strengthens executive functions of the brain (planning, behavior control, etc.)
– Meditation reduces stress and improves the ability to learn new information.

4. Exercise.

The magical effects of exercise have contributed to significant research findings. Scientists have discovered that the positive effects of exercise extend beyond the physical – to our emotional and mental lives as well.
These positive effects are thought to exist for a couple reasons: (1) exercise increases the amount of blood flow, oxygen and glucose to your brain, (2) exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells and strengthens the connections between existing ones.

Some research has even been done tying physical exercise to gains in intellectual quotient (I.Q).

3. Challenge your brain.

Neuroscientists have suggested that challenging games such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku stimulates your cognitive abilities. Perhaps something a bit more interesting: even when we struggle with certain mental activities – from putting together a piece of furniture to understanding directions to some place – we actually gain from this struggle cognitively.

A good thing to do is give your brain one challenge a day. Try reading a difficult topic or solving a perplexing crossword. When you’re inpatient or are tempted to quit, just remember that your brain is thanking you!

2. Never stop learning.

Research is coming out that suggests that our intelligence is not fixed. As we continue to learn, we can increase something called ‘fluid intelligence’, which relates to the ability to think logically and solve problems independently of acquired knowledge.

A couple of scientists from Norway wanted to test the hypothesis that intelligence increased with further education. At the end of the study, the scientists discovered that Norwegian males IQ had risen nearly four points for every extra year of education received.

The takeaway is this: don’t stop learning. Read books, learn a new skill, or learn a second language…whatever to advance your knowledge. And remember, this can be fun too!

1. Brain train.

There has been a big uptick on the number of brain training games, and for good reason: these games may actually improve cognitive skill levels. For example, some of these games focus on memory, attention or decision-making speed. When we focus on a specific cognitive skill, and work on advancing that skill, there are real, measurable changes that are made to cell density in the brain area responsible for these skills.

Note that some neuroscientists are somewhat skeptical on some of these brain training games. But one thing that nearly all of them agree on: training your brain in a specific cognitive area – attention, memory, etc. – will result in increased ability and higher cognitive functioning.