We’re now being bombarded by claims that “Food X can make you smarter!”, “Drug X can make you smarter!”, and “Game X can make you smarter!” According to the New York Times, none of that is exactly true — but there are certain exercises you can do to provide short-term benefits.
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The global population with disposable income is getting older, and wants to dispose said income on retaining their lucidity. For those people, over the age of about 55, constant social engagement and brain-training activities can reduce cognitive decline. It’s a worthwhile activity.
For everyone else, the New York Times quotes some interesting research about the effect of physical activity on brain function. Interestingly, different activities actually affect your brain in different ways:
In humans, one recent study randomly assigned a group of older people with mild cognitive impairment to three groups: one that engaged in resistance training, one that did aerobic training and a control group that did balance and tone exercises. Random selection ensures that any observed differences between the three groups is a result of the type of exercise, not any other characteristics of the subjects. The researchers found that while both resistance and aerobic training groups improved equally on spatial memory, only the women who did aerobic exercise improved on verbal memory, suggesting that different types of exercise might have specifically different cognitive benefits.
You can find the study quoted here.
Another study found that engaging in weights training more often resulted in less brain shrinkage, though the actual effect brain size has on brain function isn’t fully known.
There are a few pointers on what works and what doesn’t in the full story. For example, some drugs just make you feel smarter. The best proven method? Hang out with other people and socialise often.