Can I be honest with you?
Most of the brain-boosting hobbies you’ve heard of are useless.
They require tons of time, and you’ll die of boredom years before becoming a pro.
Yes, you’d like to become a virtuoso on the violin. You’d love to run a marathon. And it’d be amazing to speak Mandarin.
But frankly, you don’t have an extra hour each day to devote to learning a new skill.
But still. You want to become smarter in your free time.
The good news? Plenty of hobbies improve reasoning skills and memory without taking much time. Even better, all are supported by research (even a weird study that involved stepping on poker chips—more on that later).
Start one or more of these in the few spare minutes you have—and skyrocket your intellect.
1. Make a fist every day
No, literally. Make a fist. It makes you smarter.
Multiple studies show a strong correlation between your grip and mental ability.
In the paper “Getting a Grip on Memory”, researchers found making a fist improves cognitive performance.
Specifically, clenching the left hand improves right hemisphere brain function, and vice-versa. Just making a fist before a job interview question might help you think more clearly.
There’s a long-term benefit to improving your grip strength, too.
Over the course of eight years, researchers tracked 550 people aged 79 to 87. They measured the grip strength and nonverbal reasoning of the participants three times during the study.
The surprising conclusion: grip strength and memory were “significantly correlated” in old age.
We already know physical activity improves your mind, but you don’t have to sweat for hours on the crunch machine.
Just develop your grip strength.
2. Acquaint yourself with this drink
Want to be the guy or gal everyone goes to for beverage recommendations?
Become a hot chocolate expert.
According to research published in Neurology, drinking hot cocoa may improve cognitive function. In the study, sixty older people drank hot chocolate twice a day for 30 days.
Healthy patients didn’t change during the brief study period, but those with blood flow problems improved memory and thinking skill.
Researchers believe an antioxidant in cocoa called flavanol led to the boost. The caffeine in cocoa can help too, provided you drink it after developing a skill. A study in Nature Neuroscience found caffeine enhances long-term memory after learning.
Sugar helps, too. It improves performance on demanding mental tasks according to an article in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Hot chocolate is perfect for your brain. Who knew?
3. Do more web surfing and YouTube browsing
Research has shown internet browsing, even when you’re not trying to learn, might just be valuable.
One study showed that in older individuals, the internet could stave off the effects of mild cognitive impairment.
Researchers tracked how participants took part in various activities, including surfing the web, playing computer games, and making online purchases. The people who participated in these types of activities reduced the risk of cognitive impairment in later life.
In another study, researchers split older adults into two groups.
One group could watch a 20-minute montage of America’s Funniest Home Videos from YouTube. (To be precise: “100 Falling People, Part 1” and “100 Falling People, Part 2,” according to the paper.)
The other group sat in a room alone and was not allowed to read, talk, or use a cell phone.
The result? On a later test, the humor group’s learning ability improved by 38%, and their delayed recall improved by 44%.
So yes, hilarious videos of people falling over can make you smarter.
4. Pour yourself a glass (or three)
There’s a large body of research proving smart people drink more.
Experts analyzed alcohol consumption and IQ across 99 countries and found a distinct correlation. The study focused on countries from Azerbaijan to Zambia, and controlled for factors like income and religion.
Still, the effect was evident. If you have a high IQ, you are “more likely to consume alcoholic beverages.” But just because smart people do it, doesn’t mean you will become smarter.
Or does it?
One study showed that if you drink one to three glasses of champagne each week, it might boost your memory and slow aging. Another study showed that older people who drank in moderation had better episodic memory compared to non-drinkers.
Have a toast—to your brain!
5. Start running (but don’t wear these)
Want an exercise hobby that helps your intellect? Go running. But run without shoes.
In a study conducted at the University of North Florida, researchers instructed 72 people to jog along a 200-meter circular track. Oh, and poker chips were strewn across their path.
Participants ran four laps: twice wearing shoes and twice barefoot. In one lap of each, researchers told participants to step on the poker chips. In the other, the researchers removed the poker chips.
Participants scored better on a working memory test after running barefoot and stepping on the poker chips. Researchers concluded your brain works harder when considering where to place your feet, especially when you can feel the consequences.
Want to increase the benefit? Run in nature.
A separate study compared participants who walked in nature to those who walked in the city. Results showed participants improved their performance on a memory test by 20% after spending time in natural surroundings.
6. Hone your debate skills… on Facebook
Arguing about the president on Facebook is worthwhile? Yes, and you might boost your brain by making it your hobby.
A recent study showed we have an exceptional memory of what happens on social media.
Participants looked at Facebook posts and two control items. The results were astonishing: people recalled items on Facebook better than real faces and actual books.
The recall difference was equal to that between amnesiacs and those with an able memory.
Debating could help improve your mind even more. A different study of eight- and nine-year-olds provides a clue.
The children learned and practiced “exploratory talk,” in which you challenge ideas and provide reasoning. In other words, you create and defend an argument. The kids’ scores saw dramatic improvement on a nonverbal reasoning test after this debate practice.
7. Go to the mall, and shop for this
You know a new outfit makes you feel better.
Just recently, science discovered it makes you think better, too. In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers showed how you dress changes how you think.
In the study, participants wore a lab coat while doing a task that demanded their full attention.
When researchers said it was a doctor’s coat, people did better than when told it belonged to a painter. The researchers termed the effect “enclothed cognition” to describe the way clothes change how we think.
What about shopping? According to Gary Small, M.D., director of UCLA’s Longevity Center, mall shopping can stimulate different parts of your brain.
Walking around, talking to others, and comparing prices combine to boost your cognitive abilities.
8. Start this sport-that-isn’t-a-sport
Want a hobby none of your friends will expect?
Look no further than a study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills.
Researchers divided participants into three groups. One group watched a lecture, another did yoga, and a third climbed trees.
The researchers wanted to see if learning or moving in isolation improved brain function.
But neither of those groups performed as well as the tree-climbing folks.
Why? Researchers believe the secret is moving while responding to stimuli. Climbing a tree, for instance, while making sure that teetering branch isn’t about to send you tumbling.
The truth about brain-boosting hobbies
Yes, true mastery of any hobby can be difficult. Many of those activities take years or even decades.
But when you choose the right hobbies, it’s much easier.
Start today and round up a friend to start with you. Without spending years or even hours, research says you’ll become smarter.