Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Want to be sharper, faster, more articulate, a better whatever you are -- painter, writer, shopkeeper, teacher, parent, philosopher? Want to be a winner, and excel in every undertaking -- be more skillful, efficient, creative in everything you're trying to do?

I know I'm smarter now than I was ten years ago, but I don't know why.

Do foods help? Vitamins B6, B12, and E; beta carotene; folic acid; antioxidants don't help, nor do omega-3's, (the fatty acids in fish). And statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) don’t help, and neither do estrogen or NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen).

I used to eat a lot of cottage cheese -- now I eat whatever I feel like -- does that have something to do with why I'm smarter now?

Probably not, though quite a few doctors say the Mediterranean diet helps you think clearer. But is it the olive oil, fish, vegetables, and wine that you eat, or the fact that you don't eat red meat, refined sugars, dairy fat?

The current thought is -- what you eat does not enhance your brain.

At a recent symposium on the subject (the 2010 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience), they discussed neuroplasticity. It's the science of getting the brain to create more neurons and synapses -- because neurons and synapses are what boosts learning memory, reasoning and creativity.

The Society concluded -- take up something very new, like ballroom dancing, or learning a new, foreign language.

They also said that nicotine helps, but the side effects are disastrous. Drugs -- Adderall, Ritalin and caffeine help -- they raise the brain levels of dopamine, (the "juice" that gets you feeling motivated). The drugs enhance the recall of memorized words as well as working memory, but many people get the dopamine benefits by simply believing that they're doing well with whatever it is that they're doing.

Motivation -- that's the key. You learn Italian because you'll want to visit Rome. I feel my brain power doubled from learning how to make films on a Mac computer -- I had to learn -- I wanted videos for my blog.

The Society for Neuroscience says "tricks" work -- learn Face Book, conquer Tweeting, or get interested in your ancestry. The European Journal of Social Psychology advises concentrating on how Grandpa survived the Depression, how Great-Grandma opened a restaurant -- it strengthens your neurons and synapses and gives you self confidence.

Confidence is Adderall without the prescription. Even watching pandas on YouTube helps -- it enhances creative problem-solving by reducing stress. Stress coats neurons with a sheath that impairs signal transmission.

So what's the best thing to do? JUST DO STUFF.

# 1. Do aerobic exercise -- walking 45 minutes a day three times a week, improves episodic memory and executive-control functions by about 20 percent. One of the Society's leading scientists said that a year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the connectivity of a 30-year-old, improving memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and multitasking.

# 2. Meditate -- think about a subject, concentrate on it for 5 minutes, three times a day. I meditate when I'm gathering the news about what's happening in the world, and examine how I feel about this or that.

# 3. Video Games -- another learned specialist in the Society tested video games, and concluded that the older adults he taught to play a complex action game called "Space Fortress," increased their neurons and synapses by learning to shoot missiles and destroy the fortress while protecting their spaceship against missiles and mines.

I don't like video games. They make me nervous (therefore stressed, and dumber).

So what are you going to do -- play video games, meditate, or exercise?

You don't need much brain power to know what I'm doing to get smarter. I'm exercising, just by writing this blog.
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