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10 Easy Ways To Boost Your Cognitive Performance

by Gregory Myers
fact checked by Jamie Frater

We all think every day; it is a pretty important part of our lives. However, there are many situations where we wish we could think better. Perhaps we are studying for an exam, working on a really important project, or just trying to learn a new skill for the fun of it. Whatever the reason, sometimes we need that extra boost in cognitive performance.

10 Drinking Coffee

While drinking loads of coffee and not getting enough sleep on a regular basis isn’t particularly good for your long-term health, research has found that in the short term, caffeine does more than just keep you alert. Essentially, researchers believe that caffeine will help you focus on even extremely tedious tasks and will improve nearly everything associated with intelligence, including reasoning and reaction time. It is important to stress that researchers do not believe that it makes you smarter on a permanent basis, only that it temporarily makes your brain work more efficiently (until you crash, of course).

9Drink Wine


There are many positive and negative aspects of alcohol that we can all point out, but you probably wouldn’t hear a claim that it would make you smarter. However, scientists in Norway found that those who drank wine regularly performed better on a cognitive basis than those who did not indulge. Interestingly, the study found that this link was even stronger for women. The scientists also pointed out that most studies on the subject point in a similar direction: wine will make you perform better cognitively when taken in moderation. Scientists believe it may be the antioxidants in the wine that are the cause of the cognitive boost, and that the main effect may be that it keeps the brain from declining. Whichever way you look at it, drinking wine in moderation appears to be good for more than just your physical health.

8 Sunlight

While it is well known that too much sunlight can be harmful to your skin, too little sunlight can also be bad for your noggin. Researchers have found that middle-aged and older test subjects performed better if they had higher levels of vitamin D in their system, something you get naturally from the sun. Researchers believe that higher levels of vitamin D may slow down the effects of aging on the brain. Of course, for the vampires among you, you don’t necessarily have to go out in direct sunlight: vitamin D supplements are another option. It is important to note that, like all good things, you can have too much; all supplements should be taken with care.

7 Allow Your Mind To Wander

You might think that if you want to perform well cognitively, you should be sure to focus on the task at hand. To a certain extent this is true, in that you should mainly try to do only one thing at a time. However, researchers have found that those who allow themselves to drift off and daydream actually perform better on memory-related tasks and appear to have greater cognitive performance. Researchers believe that allowing your mind to take a break from cognitive tasks and simply think about whatever you want for a while allows your mind some much-needed rest; they also stressed that constant attempts at multi-tasking wear your brain out and make it more difficult to process things.

6Talk To Yourself To Find Things

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It used to be that if we saw someone talking to themselves, we would assume they were probably crazy. However, researchers decided to study this and found quite the opposite. The study involved having people search for items and tested the effect of speech on the efficiency of the search. Those participating in the study were shown pictures and told to find a specific item while speaking the name of the item, such as “coke.” The study found that those who spoke the item’s name aloud found them more quickly.

It is important to note, however, that the less the spoken cue was related to the item being searched for, the less the trick worked. This should not be a problem, however, as you are unlikely to repeat an unrelated word, like “refrigerator,” while looking for your keys (unless you really lost your keys).

5 Dance

Some studies have shown that dancing and other leisure activities may actually reduce the risk of dementia. And dancing doesn’t stop there. It keeps your body and your brain busy. The activities that improve your cognitive abilities the best are ones that force you to make decisions quickly, as well as activities that involving learning new patterns. Dancing is great because it involves all sorts of different patterns and is a huge leg up on the competition at the senior center.

4 Eating Habits

We’re always hearing about the next miracle food that is supposed to make you incredibly intelligent. However, the truth is that, while food can make you smarter, it’s a little more complicated than eating a so called super-food or two. To improve your cognitive performance with food, the trick is to make sure your brain (as well as the rest of your body, of course) is getting the right nutrition all around. Some of the main food types that will help you are good ol’ glucose, foods with fatty acids containing omega-3 (like fish), amino acids, and antioxidants, which can be found in many different things, including wine. Vitamin E can also be good for your brain health and can often be found in nuts. Experts also suggest blueberries, avocados, and whole grains, explaining that what is good for your body as a whole is also good for your brain.

3 Play Tetris

Researchers studied the effects of Tetris on the brain (because why not?) and discovered something fascinating. Using MRI scans, scientists found that those they studied actually had increased gray matter in the cerebral cortex after playing Tetris for a short time. Scientists have also found that those who played Tetris were much better at spatially related tasks. But even more fascinating is that some research shows that playing Tetris immediately after a traumatic event can help prevent the brain from solidifying the traumatic memories and can lead to many fewer flashbacks over time. This could be a great preventative treatment to soften the effects of PTSD.

2 Exercise

Many people consider bodybuilders or athletes to be less intelligent than your average scholar type; however, some studies show that exercising actually increases your cognitive performance. It should be noted of course, that the researchers are not speaking of overall intelligence, but of how well your brain is able to perform cognitive tasks. Research has shown that regular exercise actually does improve cognitive function in children and adults by up to 10 percent. However, the authors of the study make it clear that you don’t need to put yourself through an incredibly strenuous exercise regime: even a normal walk will be enough to reap positive effects.

1 Starvation

It might seem a strange notion to suggest starving yourself for extra cognitive activity, especially after speaking of eating foods that will make you perform better. However, while those foods are good for your cognitive function on a long-term basis, if you need to boost your brainpower quickly for an exam, you may want to hold off on the food. Scientists at Yale Medical School performed tests on mice and found that those who were hungry performed much better on cognitive tasks.

The researchers believe this translates to humans for evolutionary reasons: essentially, we work smarter when our brain thinks we need food, so we can obtain it quickly. They suggest that the obesity epidemic in the USA could be affecting people’s cognitive performance and that going into a test slightly hungry (but not completely starved) could greatly improve your cognitive performance.

You can follow Gregory Myers on Twitter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater