5 ways to improve your intelligence | Smarter in five steps | PICTURE | Women's Health & Fitness

Some will argue it’s not possible to increase your intelligence, saying you’re better off focusing on what you already have. But here’s what our experts – and the latest research – say about boosting your brainpower.

1. MEDITATE

Meditation improves your memory, increases brain size, makes both brain hemispheres work together and enhances your emotional intelligence, according to the Exploration of Consciousness Research Institute. Plus, a 2012 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found participating in an eight-week meditation training program had measurable effects on how the brain functions even when you are not actively meditating.

TRY > There are various meditation practices, but the Australian Teachers of Meditation Association says it’s broadly a discipline that involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image, object or feeling. A quiet space makes meditation easier and you don’t need to take up any particular posture, just be comfortable so that you don’t need to readjust part way through the practice. High Performance Coach Stephanie Kakris, who teaches meditation, recommends starting with a guided meditation using an app such as Relax and Rest, which gives five, 13 or 20-minute options with music or nature sounds.

2. PLAY GAMES

The jury is still out on whether cerebral exercises have any long-term effect on mental performance. “The main problem is that although people can train themselves to do better on particular tasks, the performance improvement rarely generalises to other tasks and abilities,” says professor Nick Haslam, of the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences. But a 2008 study called Improving Fluid Intelligence with Training on Working Memory was the first research to show it might be possible to increase your intelligence to a significant degree through training.

TRY > Neuroscientists have designed a series of games called Lumosity to help challenge certain parts of your brain. The online and smartphone resource let’s you exercise core cognitive abilities whenever and wherever you like.

3. REST UP

Nothing will drain your brain faster than sleep deprivation. “Being well rested means you will use your cognitive skills more efficiently because tiredness, anxiety and stress interfere with mental clarity, focus and concentrated effort,” says professor Haslam.

TRY > Sleeping even seven hours a night will slowly add up to a costly sleep debt when it comes to brain function, according to recent University of Pennsylvania and the Walter Reed Research Institute studies. While getting six hours a night for two weeks resulted in participants having the “cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk”. Best aim for eight hours or more every night!

4. KEEP FIT

Physical exercise – the type that really gets your heart pumping – has been proven to have long and short-term benefits on your brain. New research from Boston University School of Medicine shows physical activity is beneficial for brain health and cognition. The findings published in Behavioural Brain suggest certain hormones, which are increased during exercise, may help improve memory and processing speed.

TRY > Get at least 30-minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity into most, if not all, days of the week. You can break it into short bouts such as three 10-minute sessions each day.

5. NETWORK

Whether you have that twinkle in your eye that some say gleams from exceptionally smart folk, or you prefer sticking to the conversation basics, networking is the perfect way to boost your know-how and social intelligence. “A big part of success in life is the ability to build strong interpersonal relationships – be they in a netball team, a family unit or at work,” Kakris.

TRY > Mixing with new people, ideas and environments, opens yourself up to new opportunities for cognitive growth. Ideally, networking is done through face-to-face interactions, but Andrea Kuszewski, a behaviour therapist from Florida, told a 2010 Harvard University intelligence seminar that social media can also be used to maximise your cognitive potential.

Words: Harriet Edmund

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