The intricate wiring of 100 billion or so neurons in a human brain makes the connections in your computer look like a kid’s toy.
Those neurons are interconnected in ways that are intensely complicated and hard to analzye. So when researchers go about studying the brain’s relationship to the rest of the body and to our overall health, the results can be messy and complicated.
And controversial. Like the theory that a high IQ indicates how long you’re likely to live. . .
Studies suggest your intelligence – as measured by an IQ test – not only shows how smart you are, but is correlated with life expectancy.
On the one hand, I find this theory intriguing. Statistics gathered on people’s IQs seem to show that your “Intelligence Quotient” can be a good predictor of life expectancy. But on the other hand, this idea could discourage some people.
If your IQ is inherited in your DNA – hotly disputed by some people who find the idea offensive – then your health and longevity are pretty much predetermined. Not much you can do about it. Your IQ cards have been dealt to you and you have to play them.
Of course, this all-or-nothing-view is fallacious. Many factors besides IQ affect longevity (assuming IQ affects it at all).
Scottish Study Finds a Connection
The idea that you inherit your IQ and that it correlates with your inherited health along with how long you can expect to live seems to be supported by a study in Scotland that analyzed the IQ test scores of just about every Scot born in 1936.
On June 4, 1947, every Scottish child born in 1936 who was attending school that day was given an intelligence test. More than 70,000 children took the test at the same time. The original motive for testing was to gather and study IQ data for a whole generation of Scots.
But about 70 years later, researchers at the University of Edinburgh decided that these statistics could be used to see if IQ was related to the health and longevity of the test takers.[i]
So, the Edinburgh scientists decided to take a look at what had happened to these 70,000 children over the course of their lives.
They found that by 2015, a higher IQ score on that 1947 test was linked to a 28% reduced chance of dying from a lung problem, a 25% lowered chance of dying from coronary heart disease and a 24% reduced chance of dying from a stroke.
They also discovered that higher IQs were associated with fewer deaths from dementia, cancers linked to smoking and digestive disease.
But they note that “it remains to be seen if this is the full story or if IQ signals something deeper, and possibly genetic, in its relation to longevity.”
Changing Your IQ
In looking at the research about IQs and health, though, I found a couple of things that make me question whether your IQ on a test when you’re 11-years-old necessarily predetermines your future brain and body health even if it is a good indicator about what might happen to you.
For instance, other research shows that getting extra schooling can raise your IQ. A study in Sweden on more than 300,000 boys born in the 1950s who were given extra schooling shows that the added education did, indeed, increase their IQ scores.[ii]
However, the Swedish scientists found that the prolonged education seemed to reduce the boys’ “emotional control” – the ability to keep emotions appropriately in check. This ability includes things like not losing your temper when out in public or not gloating when you ace a test and a friend does poorly.
According to the Swedes, research shows that emotional control may be even more important than IQ in determining how well your brain and body function and survive as you get older.[iii]
With all that in mind, for those of us concerned about our health and mental capacity, there are things we can do to raise our IQ, improve emotional control and potentially increase our longevity and cognitive function. . .
- Take fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fats. A study in Asia indicates that taking daily doses of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, one of the omega-3 oils) improves IQ and lowers the risk of memory loss in older people.[iv]
- Go for daily walks or get some other form of exercise at least a few times a week. Physical activity maintains a better blood supply to the brain and may help regenerate new neurons.[v]
- Get a good night’s sleep every night. A wide range of research shows that sleep is crucial for keeping your memory working efficiently.[vi]
- Practice meditating a few minutes a day. Research at Michigan State University shows you can develop better emotional control by doing about 20 minutes of mediating daily.[vii]
Of course, there’s nothing you can do today to change what your IQ was when you were eleven-years-old. But if you value your health and mental sharpness, there’s plenty you can do to keep your IQ higher today and your health better tomorrow.