10. First Person Shooters
First person shooters often get a bad rap, mostly because of the level of violence associated with them. There is no denying that some of them are utterly, gratuitously violent, but there is also some proof that they may help make you smarter.
A study from 2015 showed that when people played 3D games, like first person shooters, they had increased development in their prefrontal cortex, right hippocampus, and cerebellum, all of which are used for complex human actions, like spatial memory, navigation, and hand-eye coordination. In another study, researchers had one group play a puzzle game and a second group played first person shooters. They found out that the group that played the first person shooters were more likely to avoid distraction better and had improved selective visual attention, meaning they better able at processing visual information than people not playing the puzzle games.
9. Moderate Drinking
A large study from 2010 conducted in Norway, which followed 5,033 men and women over the age of 54 for seven years, came to an interesting conclusion: it turns out that moderate drinking is linked with better brain activity. They found that women who drank four or more glasses of wine within two weeks had better brain functionality than women who had no drinks at all. They also found that wine was especially helpful, compared to other alcohols.
This type of study also correlates with prior studies that show that moderate drinking not only helps with cognitive functions, but it also helps combat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, it is important to point out that this is moderate drinking, and chronic heavy drinking has detrimental effects on the brain. So as long as you keep it moderate, feel free to have a bottle of wine every so often.
Sex has long been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing stress, and it may aid in helping burn calories. But it also may be good for your brain.
The findings of the first study is one of those good news/bad news type of deals, depending on your feelings towards commitment and monogamy. Findings from an Italian study suggests that sex does make us smarter, but only when you have sex with a new partner. Researchers found that nerve growth was significantly higher in couples that just started dating and were in love, versus people in long term relationships.
But there is good news for people who are in a long term relationship. Two other studies using rats and mice concluded that sex helped mental performance and increased neurogenesis, which is the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, an important part of the brain where long-term memories are formed.
So, as if you needed another reason to have sex besides it being, you know, sex, it could actually make you smarter and improve your long term memory. And if you’re having enough sex to consider it a hobby, well, good for you.
Scrabble was invented in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed architect living in Jackson Heights, New York, whose last name is pretty hilarious. Butts, you guys. Scrabble is difficult to master, because someone needs a large vocabulary and pattern recognition in order to do well in the game. After all, where you place your tiles is just as, if not more, important than the word you spell. Since the game is challenging, it has the ability to help increase the brain power of people who play it.
Researchers at the University of Calgary found that visual word recognition, which is the ability to recognize a word nearly effortlessly and is a skill that is thought to be developed between childhood and adulthood, is actually flexible in adulthood and can be improved with practice. One way to do that is to play Scrabble. During the study, the researchers noted that competitive Scrabble players were faster to pick out real words versus nonsense words and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, they were also able to recognize words when they were written vertically. This indicates that, with practice, even into adulthood you can still grow your vocabulary and maybe, one day, you’ll be able to understand what the hell is going on in Infinite Jest.
6. Reading Fiction
It is understandable that reading non-fiction would make you smarter because it increases your knowledge about real events, places, and people. But does fiction have any benefits? Well, it turns out that people aren’t innately built to read, at least not in the same way we’re naturally wired to understand something like oral language. Instead, everyone who reads has to create “reading circuits” in the brain. These circuits can be weak or strong, it all depends on how much exercise the circuits get.
Two studies from York University in Toronto, Ontario, found people who often read fiction have better empathy skills, understand other people better, and are better able to look at a worldview other than their own. The reason is because when someone “deep reads,” meaning really sitting down and reading something as opposed to scanning or superficial reading, the same part of their brains are active as if it were happening in real life; meaning that reading quality fiction is one of the best ways to improve your emotional IQ.
5. Playing Tetris
Tetris, the world’s most popular video game, known for its addictive gameplay, was first programmed in 1984 in the USSR; not exactly a place known for its fun and games. Nevertheless, once the game started to gain popularity, the Soviets set up a company and sold the rights to the game to Nintendo in 1987. When Gameboy was released, Tetris was the debut game. Since then, 180 million copies of the game had been sold.
A study from 2009 found that when someone starts playing Tetris, the brain consumes a bunch of glucose, which is a fuel for the brain. But after practicing Tetris over a short time,the brain used less and less glucose each time they played. The reason is because the glucose thickens due to gray matter neurons becoming more interconnected, making it easier to solve problems. People who played Tetris for 30 minutes every day saw improvement in their overall brain function.
So the next time you get caught playing a game of Tetris at work or school, you can now say (preferably in a condescending tone that implies the person of authority is an idiot) you’re trying to improve your mind power to be more a productive worker/student, and go back to playing the game.
4. Playing Chess
Chess seems like the epitome of what smart people do. Whenever you see a smart characterin a movie or a show, they are seen playing chess, or at the very least they talk about or allude to chess. While it is a bit cliché, there is a lot of truth behind it because chess utilizes a lot of mental skills like visualization, planning, adapting, and the ability to read your opponent. Well, one reason that people who play chess are smart is because playing chessactually does make you smarter.
Studies performed on Chinese chess masters found that their brains had better network connectivity, which improves their learning and memorization skills. Even at a resting level, the chess masters’ brains were working more than novices. Besides just helping with memory and learning, chess also helps people with problem solving skills and understanding cause and effect. Like many other hobbies on this list, this can also help amateurs if they simply dedicate themselves to routine practice.
3. Exercising and Playing Sports
Everyone is probably familiar with the stereotype that jocks and athletes are dumb. But, it turns out that may not be true because it has long been well known that exercise leads to greater brain acuity, which is mental sharpness, and team sports contribute to intelligence and good brain health.
Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School discovered that endurance exercises activates a molecule called irisin, which is responsible for activating genes involved with learning and memory. Exercising also fires up the hippocampus, which is involved in the storage of long-term memory; this includes all our knowledge and experiences. The hippocampus also has a major role in declarative memory, which is used to recall things like facts or events.
Besides exercising, there are also some mental benefits to playing team sports as well. Studies have found that athletes who play team sports have an increased cortical thickness in areas of the brain that track movement. Athletes were also shown to have better working memories, are more creative, and are better at multi-tasking. The good news is that this isn’t just true for athletes. With a bit of practice, non-athletes show increases in their brain power as well.
A study from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City had a group of senior citizens, who were 75 and over, perform an assortment of different mental and physical activities to see how it would impact their mental acuity. Some of the activities included crossword puzzles, playing cards, playing tennis, golfing, swimming, and dancing. Out of all those, they found that dancing was one of the best things you could do to improve cognitive functions. They also concluded that this is effective for people of all ages, and it just doesn’t benefit the elderly. Besides strengthening their mental acuity, another interesting side effect that the researchers found was out of all the physical activities, only dancing helped prevent dementia.
Researchers believe dancing helps with acuity because dancing, unlike the other physical activity, uses spatial awareness and pattern recognition. This causes neural pathways in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus to connect, making the brain stronger.
1. Playing a Musical Instrument
And you can’t have dancing without music, right? Generally, when we’re doing a mental task, like reading or doing math problems, specific parts of our brain light up, but when we listen to music, it’s as if there are fireworks going off because our brain lights up in multiple areas. That is because when we hear music, different parts of the brain interpret different aspects of the music, like melody and rhythm, and then it is blended into what we register as music. Amazingly, music’s effect on the brain is even more pronounced when someone plays an instrument.
According to the above video from Ted-Ed, playing an instrument is like giving your brain a full body workout. There are a number of mental processes going on at once, meaning that many brain segments, all over the brain, are being used at once. Music utilizes many parts of the brain, especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortexes. Finally, learning to play an instrument is based on disciplined and structured practices and that type of routine is ideal for improving brain strength.
Pastimes that Make