Brain Waves
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Many of the techniques used to increase one's mental abilities are temporary. These include problem solving methods, exercises in imagination, and stimulants like caffeine or deep breathing. Some people argue that because these only temporarily improve performance, they don't actually increase IQ. On the other hand, you can choose to use them whenever you want to, including during IQ tests, so the "temporary" argument may not be all that relevant.

Of course, to use any technique continually is a difficult goal. Maybe you want to make more permanent improvements? But can you increase brainpower permanently, or at least as permanently as things can be for mortals?

Recent research answers this clearly. Yes, you can actually change the physical structure of your brain, and so improve its function. There are two basic ways you can do this. The first way is to build and strengthen your brain with mental exercises. The second is to strengthen it with certain physical exercises and activities.

Mental Exercises That Improve the Brain

Mental exercises create temporary changes in your thinking. However, in many studies, exercising the brain has also been shown to generate new neuronal growth. It has even been demonstrated that it can halt the decline of mental function that often comes with age.

Which mental exercises should you try? Ones you enjoy are ideal. You'll get more involved and be more likely to keep doing them. In the research, there have been many activities used to test neuronal growth that results from exercising the brain. No specific ones have been singled out as more effective yet, but we can apply our common sense here.

Watching TV, for example, is not a good mental exercise. It is too passive. Crossword puzzles make for good mental exercise, as does playing word games, arguing philosophy, or doing mental math while driving. Other possibilities include habitually redesigning things in your imagination, learning and using memory techniques, and inventing the lyrics as you sing a song.

Physical Exercises That Increase Brainpower

Physical exercise improves brain function indirectly, which is is easy to understand. A better cardiovascular system means better blood flow. It is blood that carries much-needed oxygen to the brain. Unfortunately, this better oxygen supply to the brain will persist only as long as you stay in shape, so are there physical exercises or activities that will make more permanent changes in the brain?

Again the research says yes. Activities involving timing and coordination cause new dendrite growth in the brain, resulting in more possible connections. More connections means your learning and thinking can be more flexible and efficient. Doing physical exercise and activities, then, can increase brainpower - if you do the right type.

Athletic activities that can increase brainpower include tennis, basketball, soccer, and tossing around a frisbee. Other activities that require a lot of coordination and timing can accomplish the same thing. Try playing musical instruments, especially those that require precise timing, like piano playing. You can also try activities involving hand-eye coordination, like painting, drawing, or woodworking.

Meditating, part physical and part mental activity, also changes the structure of the brain. Research shows that it increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in sensory processing and attention - the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula. Other studies show a similar thickening in the relevant areas of the cortex of highly skilled musicians and linguists.

The bottom line is that areas of the brain which you exercise grow bigger. This growth is from new neurons, as well as bigger blood vessels and supporting structures like glia and astrocytes, and from increased branching and connections. You can increase your brain power by physically improving your brain.