IQ is not the same throughout your life. Like physical fitness, the amount you workout, stay active, and push yourself alters your overall intelligence. Your brain gets better at thinking if you make it.

A higher IQ can get you more than admission to Mensa and bragging rights on online-dating sites. IQ, measured by a battery of tests of working memory, spatial skills, and pattern recognition, among others, captures a wide range of cognitive skills, from spatial to verbal to analytical and beyond. Twenty points is “a huge difference,” says cognitive scientist Cathy Price of University College London, who led the research. “If an individual moved from an IQ of 110 to an IQ of 130 they’d go from being ‘average’ to ‘gifted.’ And if they moved from 104 to 84 they’d go from being high average to below average.” Her study was conducted on people ages 12 to 20, but given recent discoveries about the capacity of the brain to change—a property called neuroplasticity—and to create new neurons well into one’s 60s and 70s, Price believes the results hold for everyone. “My best guess is that performance on IQ tests could change meaningfully in adult years” too, she says. “The same degree of plasticity [as seen in young adults] may be present throughout life.”

So how to best utilize that plasticity? Memory and attention:

“There is some controversy over whether brain training can enhance cognition,” says neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University, who shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries about the cellular and molecular basis of memory. “But if you really work on memory by, for instance, memorizing poetry—Shakespearean sonnets work—it probably improves some aspects of cognitive function.” …

The other brain element you can train in order to raise your IQ is attention. Neuroscientists have shown over and over that attention is the sine qua non of learning and thus of boosting intelligence. Only if you pay attention to an introduction at a party will you remember that cute guy’s name. Effects on attention may explain why stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall help some people some of the time with, especially, recall (hence those drugs’ popularity among students cramming for a test). Both stimulants raise the brain levels of dopamine, the neurochemical that produces motivation and a feeling of reward, which make it more likely that the task at hand will rivet your attention. Similarly, action-based games such as Space Fortress and strategy-heavy games such as Rise of Nations have been shown to improve both memory and attention switching. Another way to the same end, says UCL’s Price, is “passion.” If you don’t care about what you’re reading, seeing, or hearing, it won’t be retained.