The secrets to brainpower: Chocolate, sex and laughter
By GWYNETH REES
Last updated at 08:36 03 December 2007
It has long been thought that the key to a nimble brain lies in good genes.
But the secret to a healthy mind appears to lie in what is eaten to fuel the body and lifestyle choices, reveals new research.
Dark chocolate and plenty of cold meat for breakfast top the list for boosting grey matter and the study also finds sex is essential for keeping the brain fit in later life.
Those wishing to improve their mental power should avoid smoking cannabis, watching soap operas and hanging out with people who moan.
While cuddling a baby, cheating at school, reading out-loud and doing a business degree at university are all good for an efficient mind.
The latest theories, based on research from experts around the world, are contained in a new book entitled Teach Yourself: Training Your Brain.
Author Terry Horne, a business lecturer at The University of Central Lancaster, said: "For decades we have thought that the cognitive capacity of our brains is genetically determined, whereas it's now clear that it's a lifestyle choice.
"What we eat and drink, how we learn at school and what type of moods we have are all crucial.
"People can make lifestyle choices that will not only prevent what used to be seen as an inevitable decline in cognitive [ability] after the age of 17 but will constantly increase our cognitive capacity throughout our adult lives."
The book contains mental exercises and radical thinking on how diet, the environment, stress and other aspects of modern life affect our mental capacity.
It claims that sex has a positive impact on the mind - listing seven different chemical reactions that the brain undergoes during intercourse which improve its functioning ability.
For instance, raised levels of oxytocin - or the "trust" hormone - during sex increase a person's readiness to think of novel or risky solutions to a problem.
While the post-coital rise in serotonin levels aids both creative thinking and calm, logical decision-making.
Elements in dark chocolate also prove beneficial.
Magnesium and antioxidant flavonols or chemicals increase the supply of oxygen to the brain and reduce the chances of brain damage through a stroke.
Ditching a low-fat diet is also recommended to boost performance - as is working with classmates or colleagues, as opposed to alone, and reading aloud.
A happy confident and optimistic nature also helps the brain - as does avoiding negative, depressed people and those who regularly moan.
The book recommends that, instead of trying to find perfect happiness, people should instead seek a new concept - known as BLISS.
This involves body-based pleasure, laughter, involvement, satisfaction and sex - which all enable the mind to perform well.
Mr Horne added: "Mix with people who make you laugh, have a good sense of humour or who share the same interests as you, and avoid people who whinge, whine and complain, as people who are negative will make you depressed."
Research shows that most people only use three to four per cent of their total supply of brain cells.
But a study of undergraduates who followed the book's advice showed that many experienced a large increase in cognitive fitness - enough to make the difference between getting an average job and a top job.