T Nation

Getting Smarter

Mind Games
7 ways to make your brain better, faster, and smarter.
By William Speed Weed
From Reader’s Digest
August 2006

The No. 1 Thing You Can Do?

  1. Move It
    Quick – what’s the No. 1 thing you can do for your brain’s health? Differential calculus, you say? Chess? Chaos theory? Nope, the best brain sharpener may be … sneakers? Yup. Once they’re on your feet, you can pump up your heart rate. “The best advice I can give to keep your brain healthy and young is aerobic exercise,” says Donald Stuss, PhD, a neuropsychologist and director of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto.

Mark McDaniel, PhD, professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, agrees, but adds, “I would suggest a combined program of aerobics and weight training. Studies show the best outcomes for those engaged in both types of exercise.”

As we age, our brain cells, called neurons, lose the tree-branch-like connections between them. These connections, or synapses, are essential to thought. Quite literally, over time, our brains lose their heft. Perhaps the most striking brain research today is the strong evidence we now have that “exercise may forestall some kinds of mental decline,” notes McDaniel.

It may even restore memory. Myriad animal studies have shown that, among other brain benefits, aerobic exercise increases capillary development in the brain, meaning more blood supply, more nutrients and – a big requirement for brain health – more oxygen.

The preeminent exercise and brain-health researcher in humans is Arthur Kramer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In a dozen studies over the past few years, with titles such as “Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans,” Kramer and his colleagues have proved two critical findings: Fit people have sharper brains, and people who are out of shape, but then get into shape, sharpen up their brains.

This second finding is vital. There’s no question that working out makes you smarter, and it does so, Kramer notes, at all stages of life. Just as important, exercise staves off heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other maladies that increase the risk of brain problems as we age.

  1. Feed It
    Another path to a better brain is through your stomach. We’ve all heard about antioxidants as cancer fighters. Eating foods that contain these molecules, which neutralize harmful free radicals, may be especially good for your brain too. Free radicals have nothing to do with Berkeley politics and everything to do with breaking down the neurons in our brains. Many colorful fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, as are some beans, whole grains, nuts and spices.

More important, though, is overall nutrition. In concert with a good workout routine, you should eat right to avoid the diseases that modern flesh is heir to. High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol all make life tough on your brain, says Carol Greenwood, PhD, a geriatric research scientist at the University of Toronto.

If your diet is heavy, then you’re probably also heavy. The same weight that burdens your legs on the stairs also burdens your brain for the witty reply or quick problem solving. The best things you can eat for your body, Greenwood notes, are also the best things you can eat for your brain.

Your brain is in your body, after all. Greenwood’s recommendation is to follow the dietary guidelines from the American Diabetes Association (available at diabetes.org).

Go to rd.com for the entire article.

This must explain why there are so many smart people in T-Nation!