Are you looking for ways to boost your brainpower, think faster, increase your cognitive capacity, and improve your overall health and happiness? If yes, then it’s time to focus on increasing your intellectual wellness.
Many people focus on their physical wellness and taking care of their bodies. However, it’s just as critical to dedicate time and energy to keep your mind healthy. Not only does intellectual wellness improve all of the above, but engaging in mentally stimulating activities may also reduce cognitive impairment and put you at a lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
What Is Intellectual Wellness?
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.
Intellectual wellness, therefore, is an active pursuit of working towards an optimal intellectual state. It can include being open to new ideas, thinking critically, expanding your knowledge and skills, exposing yourself to new ideas, people, and beliefs, discovering more about yourself and your potential, being open to different perspectives, and fostering creativity.
12 Ways to Increase Intellectual Wellness
Lots of supplement companies make millions of dollars claiming to improve your brainpower and brain health. Do they work? Maybe. But there are plenty of things you can do, free of charge, to increase your intellectual wellness and improve your brain function.
Here are 12 ways to increase your intellectual wellness.
1. Try Something New
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences. Historically, scientists believed that the brain stopped growing after childhood. But current research shows that the brain can continue growing and changing throughout the lifespan. Your brain can change and adapt through stimulation, stress, and experiences. Your job? To provide those experiences!
What new thing will you try to do outside your comfort zone? You could pick up a new sport, travel to a new location and learn about its history, learn a foreign language, or take a class at the local community college. What challenge will you choose to expand your brainpower?
One of the common habits of the most successful people in the world? They read. Oprah, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg, LeBron James are all avid readers.
So, what should you read? Anything that expands your mindset, your views, your experiences, and your knowledge. It can be a magazine, newspaper, or a good fiction or non-fiction book. It doesn’t matter. If it stimulates your mind and generates interest or allows you to learn something new or explore something interesting, dive in—your mind will thank you for it.
Not only is exercise good for your heart and body, but it can also help improve another major muscle, your brain. In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise—the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping—appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Other studies show that aerobic exercise stimulates the release of the substance known as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports the growth of new connections in your brain. Ultimately, exercise enhances your learning, sharpens your memory, and helps you feel better overall.
Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise—walking, running, biking, swimming—three to five times per week.
4. Be Social
We are social beings hardwired for connection. That means we need to spend time engaging with others to thrive as we learn how to get a life we can enjoy. Studies have shown that people who socialize often have higher levels of happiness than those who don’t. Plus, when you’re around others, we learn and grow because we hear different perspectives and new stories.
Make an effort to grow and nurture healthy relationships in your life. Spend time—either in person or virtually—with friends, family, and colleagues. Join a meetup hiking group, take a cooking or dance class, or join a recreational sports team. Attend the office (virtual) happy hour. Make a concerted effort to make deeper connections, listen attentively, and learn from the people around you.
5. Stay Curious
Curiosity increases brain activity and activation. Being curious about something not only improves learning about that specific subject but increases your overall learning and retention capabilities, too.
Curious how your car engine works? Take it apart. Curious why your local baker started her bakery? Ask her. Curious about the plant-based movement? Watch a documentary. Identify one thing that you wish you understood better—big or small, it doesn’t matter. Just find something you’re curious about, explore that thing, and activate your brain!
6. Eat Well
The food you eat fuels not just your body but your brain. In fact, your brain consumes about 20% of your daily calories! Inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, and refined carbs affect you negatively, while clean, nutrient-dense foods affect you positively.
Some great food sources for brain health include antioxidants in blueberries, micronutrients such as magnesium and zinc in pumpkin seeds, vitamin K, folate, and beta carotene in green leafy vegetables, flavonoids in chocolate, lutein, and the healthy fats and compounds in nuts, specifically walnuts. Why do you think they’re shaped like a brain?! Increase your intellectual wellness by including a couple of these foods consistently into your diet.
7. Get Creative
Creativity stimulates your intellectual wellness and improves your overall health. Take music, for example. You’ve likely heard that music makes you smarter. One study showed that executive functions (EF) were enhanced in musicians compared to non-musicians. These include problem-solving, working memory, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility.
Not the musical type? That’s okay! You can get creative through doodling, painting, crafting, writing, photography, pottery, or even gardening—anything where you can come with an open heart and mind and dive in with curiosity and exploration.
8. Stay Hydrated
The human brain is composed of over 75% water, with some studies suggesting that the number is closer to 85%. What do you think happens when we are dehydrated? You guessed it—the cells in your brain are dehydrated too, and you experience brain fog, loss of focus, memory as well as headaches, and emotional issues like moodiness and fatigue. According to research, “water gives the brain the electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.”
Do you want to improve your focus and clarity? Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses daily. Increase the hydration factor by adding electrolytes or a little sea salt to increase absorption into your cells.
Sleep. Sleep, you say? Doesn’t that seem like an odd thing to do if I want to grow my intellectual capacity? Shouldn’t I be actively doing something? When we sleep, our brain removes stored toxins and takes out the ‘mental trash,’ which allows our brains to function better. According to research, “sleep has a restorative function. Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects.”
I used to wear it as a badge of honor that I didn’t sleep much. Maybe you do, too. However, studies continue to emerge on the importance of getting enough quality sleep and, more importantly, the consequences when you don’t. Make getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a priority. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
10. Practice Self-Reflection
Just like physical wellness is about growth and strength, so is intellectual wellness. Taking the time to reflect on yourself and your life is a great way to engage your brain.
Self-reflection is defined as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.” It’s about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior, and beliefs. Self-reflection improves self-awareness, provides perspective, facilitates a deeper learning level, challenges your assumptions, enables learning and growth opportunities, and even improves confidence.
Like the idea but not sure where to start? Here are some great tips for self-reflection.
Meditation and mindfulness seem to be the answer to all that ails you, and yes, they can help with increasing your brainpower, too. Meditation allows you to calm your thoughts and achieve greater mental and emotional clarity.
Don’t want to meditate? Just breathe. Deep breathing increases circulation by bringing oxygen to your muscles and brain. It initiates your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), promoting a state of calmness and quiets your mind.
What happened when you started to read this? Did you take a deep breath? Great, you should be feeling much clearer. Practicing deep breathing or meditation for just five minutes a day will make a huge difference in your intellectual wellness.
12. Pick Up Your Rubik’s Cube
Okay, you can probably tell I’m a child of the ’80s. Games can help exercise your brain and improve your long-term and working memory. Working through puzzles or finding words in patterns uses a great amount of brainpower. Increasing your ability to work through these activities can maintain and build your intellectual wellness.
Want to go old school? Pick up a crossword puzzle, grab your book of sudoku, or play a game of chess. New school? Grab your smartphone for a game of Words with Friends or check out one of the many free brain game apps like Lumosity or Brain HQ.
Ready to Get Started?
You don’t need to do all of these to increase your intellectual wellness. Think of these as a menu to improve your brainpower and mental stimulation. Your next step? Identify two to three items you will commit to trying, then go out and do them.
Your brain controls your body and your overall health and well-being—it’s time to commit to actively increasing intellectual wellness. Your brain will thank you for it!
More on Intellectual Wellness
Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com