When looking for everyday hacks that will make you smarter, few of us look to our leisure time first.
But the reality is the activities we participate in for fun – namely our hobbies – are exactly the activities we can use. They’ll improve our knowledge, brain function and even our abilities to deal with social situations. (You know, what psychologists call our “emotional intelligence.”)
We’re here to give you a leg up. Here’s our list of seven hobbies that will boost your brain power.
Everyday Hacks for Your Brain – 7 Hobbies That Make you Smarter
Playing a Musical Instrument
For years, people have said that listening to classical music makes you smarter. This has lead to classical CDs for newborns. It’s even lead to mothers playing Mozart for their infants before birth.
But recent studies have shown measurable effects on IQ for people who play musical instruments. In fact, researchers have seen increases in IQ, in both children and adults, by as much as 7 points.
Playing music seems to activate multiple parts of the brain at the same time. Playing an instrument increases hand-eye coordination. It also strengthens memory and hearing.
And, because playing music is structured and requires attention and discipline, musicians become better at planning. They also have increased attention spans.
Everyone with a parent or a teacher has heard that they should read more. And for the very reasons that they pushed you to pick up a book – reading does, in fact, make you smarter.
The good news is getting smarter by reading isn’t all about diving into textbooks and dry biographies. “Book smarts” is only one kind of intelligence recognized by psychologists. Reading fiction has been found to be important in increasing emotional intelligence.
Seeing characters that you relate to handling emotional situations can help you. You’ll recognize your own emotions and cope with interpersonal situations more effectively.
Writing may seem to go hand in hand with reading as a way to hack your intelligence. But writing provides different (if complimentary) skills to reading.
Writing forces you to organize your thoughts into coherent and cohesive messages. These messages must be understood by other people. This requires you to structure your ideas, as well as string thoughts together that, to an outsider, might seem unrelated.
Also, when you’re writing you have to process the knowledge you have. You also have to understand your feelings about the subject you’re writing about, in different ways.
When you read something, you can passively take in the information. With writing, you have to actively participate and engage with the ideas you’re presenting.
The Internet has brought far more to humanity than just cat memes and social media. Because of the democratic nature of the Internet, anyone can access knowledge on almost any subject.
Even better, you can get that knowledge delivered to you the way you like.
If you’re partial to courses, there is an overwhelming amount of them available on the Internet. They’re both paid and free, from universities and training companies.
Sites like edX offer courses from Berkley and MIT on subjects from Introduction to CSS to Supply Chain Management. Harvard offers the Open Learning Initiative, with courses that include expected subjects like algebra and world literature. They even offer cooking classes.
Courses not your thing?
Want something to listen to instead? Try podcasts. Podcasts are great because they allow you to learn things while doing other stuff, like driving or exercising (another way to improve your intelligence).
You can browse podcasts on Google Play and iTunes, or on podcast apps like Stitcher, who even provide lists of the top podcasts.
Playing Video Games
You might be surprised to see this one on the list. Studies have shown that playing video games actually increases brain function.
Playing video games requires new connections to be forged in the brain. People who play games make decisions faster. They also improve their sensitivity to color. This helps to improve vision. Even kids with dyslexia read better after playing video games.
And contrary to popular belief, playing video games can even make you better in social situations and happier. According to a study done on 5,000 kids by Oxford University, moderate amounts of video games led to more well-adjusted children.
While we’re at it, let’s challenge a few more preconceptions about hobbies and the brain. Physical activity is another great way of boosting the old gray matter.
Regular exercise has been shown to bathe the brain with a protein known to help with concentration, memory, learning and focus. Sitting a lot appears to have the opposite effect on the brain.
Exercising also increases blood flow to your whole body. This includes the brain and gives you all the oxygen and nutrients you need to keep learning and improve cognitive function.
We’ve all had a hard time thinking after a night of bad sleep. Exercise helps us sleep better and reduces tension. This gives your brain the rest it needs to function at its peak.
And this isn’t just about improving the health of your brain to make it work better. Playing a team sport makes your brain more flexible and better at reacting.
Even talking about sports can make you smarter. The part of your brain linked to planning and actions is activated when discussing a sport, according to a study done at the University of Chicago.
Last, but certainly not least, is meditation. Unlike many of the other hobbies in this list that involve some kind of activity, meditation requires the exact opposite. Through quieting of the mind and focused thought, meditation improves mood and concentration.
But it goes beyond those obvious benefits into the very structure of the brain. For years, neuroscientists thought that once the brain pathways were set as an adult, you never gained new ones. So, if through and accident or psychological condition brain pathways were lost, it was long believed you couldn’t ever get them back.
But thanks to a study done at the University of Wisconsin, we now know that those are outdated notions about the brain.
In this study, the brain activity of Buddhist monks was compared to that of non-meditators. What they found was that the monks had higher levels of gamma brain waves than those who had never meditated before.
But, after a week of meditation training, the non-meditators showed an increase in gamma brain waves. As a result, the study concluded that meditation promotes what’s called neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to grow and change.
This makes meditation not only a hobby that makes you smarter but a practice that has made scientists smarter, too.
How do you “get smart” at home? Let us know – we’re always looking for new everyday hacks to up our games.