8 Hobbies That'll Make You Smarter
Rohan Peterson for Vogue Australia
Remember the good old days when school let out at 3 p.m. and you rushed to slide into your soccer uniform or grab your tennis bag? Once a week you might have had a piano lesson or a chess master meeting, and every Friday was ballet or tap dancing (which you may or may not have ditched immediately). Those early-life extracurricular activities spurred your body and mind and peppered your college applications with proof of your “well-roundedness.”
Sadly, those extracurricular activities often fade away post-college, when ten-hour workdays are bookended by rushed gym time and Netflix-induced comas. But what if we could fill the slivers of our free time with mind-expanding activities that improve our cognitive ability, energy, and thirst for knowledge? It turns out that we can. The following activities vary in input, but all have an expansive effect on our brain activity.
Whether you opt for a dance class DVD like Ballet Beautiful or Tracy Anderson’s dance cardio or, better yet, sign up for a live dance session like Zumba or Body by Simone, you’re in for a mind and body treat. We won’t lie: The first 10 minutes are difficult. The choreography may seem impossible to replicate and the relentless jumping up and down will have you out of breath in no time, but stick with it. Learning choreographed dance moves improves your intelligence by keeping your exercise active, instead of passive. You aren’t just going through the motions, like in a cycling class; you are paying attention to the beat, making decisions about your movement, and trying to memorize dance steps.
A 2012 study showed that Latin-style dance like Zumba “improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making.” More research confirms that dance “helps reduce stress, increases levels of serotonin, and helps develop neural connection, especially in regions involved in executive function, long-term memory, and spatial recognition.”
Cooking is a lesson in multitasking. You are constantly measuring with precision, making quick decisions, and improvising when necessary. It’s also a creative exercise, especially when you regularly mix up your menu. We recommend inviting friends or family over for cooking dates, an interactive, brain-stimulating way to share dinner with others.
Playing music strengthens the brain’s corpus callosum— the link between the left and right side of your brain—thereby stimulating the analytical and creative sides of your mind simultaneously. Regardless of your age, flexing your corpus callosum helps improve your problem-solving abilities, memory, and overall brain function, so give those piano lessons from your youth another whirl.
Continuing your education as an adult is always a great way to increase your brainpower, but studying a new language has a profound effect on your cognitive muscles. “Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age,” writes Gray Matter for The New York Times. Science also proves that being bilingual “positively affects your skill to monitor your environment and to better direct your attention to processes.”
Regular journaling can benefit you in many ways. First, it improves your emotional intelligence. If you spend just five to 10 minutes a day journaling about your state of mind, recounting what happened that day, or just stream-of-consciousness writing, you will be able to see emotional patterns in yourself and better manage your own mood fluctuations. But journaling also helps improve your intelligence.
Try writing 400 words each day about what you learned. A few moments of reflection on the information you’ve absorbed will not only help you remember it but can also trigger new ways of synthesizing data. Extremely successful venture capitalist Marc Andreessen recommends keeping a “done list” to improve happiness, confidence, and overall intelligence. “Using this technique means that each time you do something, you get to write it down and you get that little rush of endorphins that the mouse gets every time he presses the button in his cage and gets a food pellet,” he tells Inc. Think of the done list as the ultimate brain energizer.
Rohan Peterson for Vogue Australia
Let’s be honest: Streaming TV shows is the addiction of choice for millennials. With an automated “play next episode” function and ever-growing library of online content, the temptation to rewatch Gilmore Girls or get sucked into the next season of Orange Is the New Black is all too strong. But you don’t need to go cold turkey with Netflix to strengthen your mind. Just befriend a new genre—documentaries. Some of our favorites include Black Fish, Making a Murderer, Cooked, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Documentaries open your eyes to other cultures and other people, allowing you to see the world through a different perspective. They can also invigorate your drive by showing you what other people have accomplished.
Courtesy of The Chriselle Factor
This one is obvious. Read as much as you can, and you will increase your intelligence exponentially. The reality is few of us actually read more than our inbox or Twitter feed, and according to Inc., 42% of college graduates have not finished a book since finishing school. Expand your mental capacity by reading the newspaper every day (even if it’s on your phone) and then reading a physical book before bed.
So, do you think you’ll pick up any of these new hobbies?