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These 9 Things Will Help You Feel As Smart As You Swear You Used To Be

The brain, the brain, the center of the chain.

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No matter how sharp you think you are, sometimes it feels like someone took a fork to your mind and scrambled it around for a while.


Maybe you were supposed to have fish and chips with your great aunt Martha, but you totally forgot, and now she has to eat her mashed peas alone. How could you do that to Martha?! You might be in a conversation, struggling to keep up with the banter, or sitting at work with a brain fog thicker than that San Francisco fog, what do they call it again? Karl? Yeah, Karl.

While there's no one way to instantly get smarter or have a better memory, you can do little things every day to keep that brain of yours at the top of its game.

I spoke with Dr. Eleazar Cruz Eusebio, the chair of the School Psychology Department at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, to find out what actually helps build a sharper mind. Here's what he said:

1. Pick up a book, any book.


It's one of the easiest, most accessible things you can do, and it has major benefits. "Reading is one of most influential exercises," Eusebio says. "It's the most proven way to support brain health because we have evidence of early reading and its direct influence to one's success in life." Reading for just five minutes a day a few times a week deepens your brain's ability to recognize meaning and context.

If you're in between books and need a good recommendation, try reading Moonwalking With Einstein, journalist Josh Foer's story of training for a memory competition that has some expert tips for remembering things embedded throughout. Two birds, one stone! Not a book person? Read the news or even pick up a dictionary or thesaurus to teach yourself something new.

Get it from Amazon for $11.45 (paperback) or $12.99 (Kindle) or from Barnes and Noble for $13.60.

2. Incorporate delicious foods like dark chocolate and blueberries into your meals.


You really are what you eat, and your brain is a crucial part of your body. "Choosing to adopt nutrition and positive dietary habits are crucial to new neuron growth," Eusebio says. He recommends increasing your intake of flavonoids — which are found in dark chocolate and blueberries — to increase neurogenesis and eating foods with lots of in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, to benefit brain health.

Eusebio also warns against consuming too much alcohol and foods rich in high saturated fat. "Overeating puts the body in a lethargic mode and takes energy and blood flow away from having good mental activity," he says.

3. Stop feeling guilty about indulging your love of video games.


Believe it or not, 3D video games have been scientifically proven to improve memory performance 12% more than playing two-dimensional games. "These games are more complex, as you need to learn and recall more information," Eusebio says. "Any type of similar enriching experience that makes you focus your attention, even for brief periods, can have the same effect in the hippocampus."

Eusebio doesn't recommend spending hours playing them to ~improve your memory~ this way, but if video games are your thing, feel free let Mario be your guide to a sharper brain.

Get Super Mario 3D Land from Amazon for $31.47.

4. Get a group together to play a game.


"When we think of brain training, we need to consider the many group activities that can also promote a stronger and healthier brain," Eusebio says. Scrabble, and even an app like Words with Friends, are solid language-based activities he recommends.

If word games aren't your style, consider one that can teach you about the world, like Risk. "These types of multi-player games create a challenge beneficial to fine-tuning the brain," he adds.

Get Scrabble from Amazon for $39.17, and Risk for $22.15.

5. Use your non-dominant hand.

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That means using your left hand to brush your teeth or stir your coffee if you're right handed, and vice versa. Doing this "makes you concentrate more on the task," Eusebio says. "The idea is to train your brain to do activities differently in order to grow new parts of the brain. Even engaging in conversations and reading about new topics can help." Plus, it's ridiculously easy — and free — to try.

6. Class it up by learning a new instrument.

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According to Eusebio, learning and playing a musical instrument can be as beneficial as learning a new language. “It helps you make new neural connections,” he says. “I attribute most of my ability to translate and adopt complex ideas to the early auditory acquisition skills of my early training in listening to, and more importantly, playing classical music.” Maybe that’s why all the band kids were also in all the honors classes.

If you're at all musically inclined, you could invest in an instrument like this space-friendly keyboard to help you learn the piano. The key, though, is actually following through with learning how to play; mental benefits are best reaped with dedicated practice. Eusebio recommends setting a goal, like learning how to play "Stairway to Heaven," and giving yourself a timeline in order to follow through.

Get the keyboard from Amazon for $39.

7. Develop a solid exercise regimen.

When I'm feeling slow and sluggish, literally the last thing I want to do is work out. But, like tea bags (and Liz Lemon) say, sometimes the hard thing and the right thing are the same thing. And Eusebio agrees. "Doing regular cardio and strength building benefits the mind," he says. "Healthy brains begin with healthy bodies. In the interactive body, it is difficult to not fuel the brain when integrating healthy exercise in daily practice."

He suggests karate, yoga, or kickboxing if you're looking for something new to dabble in. "They involve both complex and simple gross motor mechanics that, when put into a sequence, provides a framework for fine-tuning one’s memory and stamina." Oh, and major key alert: Even having sex helps you generate new brain cells.

8. Try doing a variety of word and number games in addition to your daily Sudoku or crossword puzzle.


The mental benefits of routinely doing crosswords and Sudukos are real, according to Eusebio. To really get the most out of doing them, though, mix up the kinds of puzzles you're doing with a book like Brain Games. Trying new things "challenges the parts of your brain that your it doesn’t normally use," Eusebio says, which ultimately makes it more agile.

Get Brain Games from Amazon for $8.67.

9. And when in doubt, just try something — literally anything — new.


"I can share that learning any new and engaging activity helps to grow and create a healthy brain," Eusebio says. "It takes action, a little curiosity, and some practice to keep things moving."

Need some suggestions? Here are a few: Meditation, improv, learning a new language, doing a puzzle, cooking a new recipe, joining a book club, and practicing algebra.

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