It is possible to increase the abilities of the brain by different exercises, situations and in cases medication (but to be used in conjugation with the others). You can actually increase your intelligence to a great extent. The abilities are so increased by the gradual increase of grey matter, forming of new neural pathways, strengthening of old pathways and de-clogging of clogged neural ways. Brain is like a muscle, it can be strengthened the way you work out your body. The strategies are a little different here of course.
From my observations there are a few things which can help a person to really develop his/her smartness and take it to the next level.
Do the tasks which are difficult to the brain. For example if you are a math student, try solving tougher problems, or if you are an English literature student try to comprehend passages which require focus and concentration in extreme levels (say a Shakespeare’s play or Kant’s philosophy). By doing so your brain automatically builds new connections and releases certain chemicals which flush out the materials which clog the pathways.
Research also found out that people who faced problems early in life have greater IQs than people who were grown up without facing adversities( Initially, the sets of children were taken in such a way that they had the same IQ when brain mapped on MRI). When you are beset with problems, your brain is forced to think for solutions to come out of the quandary as quickly as possible.
Exercise is another way to improve your intelligence. When scientists took 2 groups of people of almost identical intelligence levels and of same age and race, in the first group of people who did not exercise, scientists did not observe any changes in the brain mapping reports and in IQ tests, strangely some people even scored less than what they did prior to the start of the experiment. Interestingly people who exercised daily for 70 minutes or more were able to show dramatically better results in brain mapping scans and IQ tests. The most striking observation was that the people who had physical exercise consistently for a period of time were able to express their view points more lucidly and reported improved communication and clarity in thought process. This is due to the simple fact that during exercise our body facilitates blood flow to the brain which de-clogs the connections and assists in easy communication of electrical charges (messages) across the brain.
There are some brain training games which are specifically designed to improve the cognitive functions of the mind. My favorite ones are Lumosity and Elevate. They have dedicated laboratories and are doing excellent work in this aspect. You can also solve puzzles and learn a new language to keep your brain active. These activities are not just meant for improving intelligence, they can also be used for preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. There is a greater than or equality to 20% chance of getting Alzheimer’s when a person reaches the age of 60.
And bad life style habits such as smoking and drinking triple your chances to acquire one. Alcohol and Tobacco in fact deteriorate brain cells causing extensive damage to the already formed neural networks. So better avoid this duo. Being a teetotaler is one of the best life style changes you can ever make.
Another interesting activity you can practice to improve your cognition (and overall well being) is Meditation. Meditation cools down the continuous firing of neurons and finds a way to rewire the necessary brain cells to make it efficient. Experiments clearly showed that there is a significant increase in grey matter when a person meditated for 10 minutes or more for a month. After one year scientists were awe struck to see that there was a completely different brain map and saw dense grey matters in the brain. Research also observed that Buddhist monks are more expressive, better communicators and empathizers than ordinary people.
There are new medicines coming into the market which promise to enhance the functioning of the brain. These are also called Smart drugs or Nootropics. Some of these drugs are used to treat patients suffering with attention disorders and also aging of brain. I cannot vouchsafe the efficacy of them (since I personally did not try them) but from reports, people say they are quite safe to use and had decent improvement with their flow of thoughts and memory. Obviously you cannot expect results comparable to that of Bradley Cooper in Limitless movie but they do make an impact. Finally, yes it is really possible to improve intelligence! — Raviteja Visakoti