33 Easy Daily Habits That Will Make You a Smarter Person
It takes just minutes a day to hone your mind like a knife.
Want to be the person who always delivers a killer comeback, who can repeat pi to the hundredth digit, or who can effortlessly hold court on everything from Foucault to Fellini? Well, there are countless ways you can work toward those goals that take just minutes a day. Don’t believe us? We’ve rounded up science- and expert-backed habits that will make you smarter in no time. Read on to hone your mind like a knife!
Start every day with breakfast.
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day—especially when it comes to your cognitive capability. According to a 2016 review of research published in Advances in Nutrition, eating breakfast was positively associated with improved performance on memory, attention, and executive function among children and adolescents. So crack a few eggs tomorrow morning and feed your brain!
Get into yoga.
Namaste your way to a sharper brain by adding some asanas to your regular routine. One 2018 study published in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience revealed that regular yoga practitioners had more gray matter (that’s the stuff that, to put it briefly, contains neuronal your brain cells) in their hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and executive function.
Practice deep breathing.
The art of doing nothing can yield major improvements when it comes to your brain. According to a 2018 study published in Scientific Reports, performing mindful breathing exercises improved study subjects’ cognitive functioning on tasks that incorporated both visual attention and spatial working memory. Say it with us: In… Out…
Tackle a crossword.
Even if your crossword style is more People than New York Times, doing word puzzles can help keep your mind sharp. According to a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, among about 19,000 cognitively fit adults between the ages 50 and 93, those who regularly did word puzzles performed better on 14 measures of cognitive fitness than those who did them rarely or never.
And add some number problems to your regular routine.
Still enthused about your usual Sudoku puzzles? Keep at ‘em to keep your mind sharp as a tack. The results of a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry revealed that individuals over 50 who did number puzzles at least once every day had better cognitive performance than those who didn’t.
Nap when you need to.
A little daytime sleep goes a long way when it comes to your overall brain power. According to a 2018 review of research published in the journal Sleep, older adults who took daytime naps typically exhibited cognitive benefits, including improvements in memory and logical reasoning.
Stretch it out.
What feels better than a good stretch? How about knowing that you’re getting smarter when you do it? According to a 2017 study published in the Indian Journal of Basic and Applied Medical Research, stretching increased hippocampal activity and boosted levels of the “feel-good” hormone, dopamine, in adolescent study subjects.
Take a few moments to meditate each day and you might just become smarter and more calm. According to a 2011 study published in Psychiatry Research, mindfulness practice increased the density of gray matter in key parts of the brain, including the left hippocampus and cerebellum.
Play video games.
Your parents may have tried to curb your World of Warcraft time in high school, but playing video games may actually make you smart in the long run. A 2017 study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that playing both mobile and console-based video games significantly improved individuals’ cognitive function. Game on!
Make time for cardio.
Whether you’re hitting a spin class or hopping on the elliptical, a little exercise can do a world of good for your body and brain. “Research suggests that performing physical exercise approximately four hours after learning can improve the retention of associative memories and modulates the consistency of retrieval of information,” says Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. “Physiologically, exercise improves neural plasticity by triggering the release of chemical factors such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic function), in the brain. This is especially helpful in the later stages of memory consolidation, which is why it is best to wait a few hours to work out.”
Crack open a book—even if it’s not exactly literature.
Even if your literature preferences sway more Stephenie Meyer than Leo Tolstoy, reading for pleasure can positively enhance your cognitive ability. According to a 2016 study published in The Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research, students who read for pleasure had increased test performance across a variety of academic subjects.
Hang out with a friend.
Looking to sharpen your brain? Try spending more time with the people you love. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that, among elderly subjects, those who participated in regular social activities also exhibited higher cognitive functioning.
Put on some classical music.
Your preferred gym playlist may get you pumped up for a grueling sweat session, but if you want to get your brain equally energized, try adding some Beethoven or Bach to your rotation. According to a 2015 study published in Conscious Cognition, elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment had increased brain activity in areas related to problem solving, cognition, and memory after listening to classical music, like Mozart’s K448.
Reminisce about the good times.
Want to unleash your inner genius? Try thinking about good times you had in the past. According to a 2014 study published in the Iran Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, reminiscing improved elderly study subjects’ cognitive capabilities, including memory.
Play some brain-training games.
Brain games aren’t just for kids—they can have some pretty impressive effects for adults, too. According to a 2018 study published in Medical Science Monitor Basic Research, healthy adults who played brain training games for 15 minutes each day over a three-week period increased their motor speed and improved their attention.
Indulge in an acupoint massage.
Targeted massage does more than just loosen stiff muscles—it can also boost your brain power. According to a 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, regular acupoint massage was associated with greater cognitive function in older adults.
Spend some time with your furry friends.
Cortisol, a stress hormone, has been associated with reduced cognitive function across pretty much every cognitive domain, including hand-eye coordination, processing speed, visual memory, executive functioning, verbal memory and learning, and language. The good news? A 2019 study published in AERA Open reveals that just 10 minutes spent petting a dog can lower those cortisol levels once again.
Practice an instrument.
Even if you’re not exactly ready to take first chair at Carnegie Hall, practicing an instrument can have some profound effects on your cognitive capacity. A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology revealed that playing an instrument for more than half an hour each week is associated with greater verbal and intellectual ability among children.
Bust a move.
Practicing that fancy footwork does more than just embarrass your kids. According to a 2018 review of research published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, adding a little dance to healthy older adults’ routines was positively associated with both the maintenance and improvement of cognitive function.
A little gum can make a big difference in terms of your cognitive ability over time. According to a 2010 study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, study subjects who chewed gum had greater alertness, better moods, and improved reaction times.
Enjoy a glass of wine (now and then).
Wine isn’t just good for your heart—it’s pretty good for your brain, too. According to a 2010 study published in Acta Neurologica Scandinavia, moderate wine consumption was associated with improvements on cognitive tests among a group of more than 5,000 healthy adult men and women. Unfortunately for craft beer and cocktail connoisseurs, however, the same couldn’t be said for other types of alcohol.
Crack a few jokes.
Laughter really is the best medicine, especially when it comes to your brain. According to a 2014 study published in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, watching a funny video improved learning ability and reduced delayed recall among older adults.
Snack on some chocolate.
Good news, chocoholics: Your snack of choice could make you smarter. According to a 2017 review of research published in Frontiers in Nutrition, cocoa flavonoids are associated with improved cognitive performance, even for adults with memory issues.
Drink more water.
Grab your water bottle before you head out the door and you might just enjoy all-day brain-boosting effects. According to a 2018 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, dehydration can negatively affect cognitive performance ranging from motor coordination to attention span. So when in doubt, drink up.
When the temperature dips, make sure you’ve got plenty of gear to keep you warm—your brain depends on it. A 2012 study published in Ergonomics exposed a group of 10 young men to 50-degree air and then 77-degree air. Researchers found that the subjects’ cognitive function—including memory, executive function, and reaction time—lagged in the colder temperature and stayed low for an hour after they’d warmed up.
Ask questions about the world.
While knowing everything might be nice, asking when you need help can benefit your brain in the long run. “Be curious about things and make no assumptions. Instead, ask questions to truly get smarter,” suggests licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist Dr. Catherine Jackson, founder of Dr. J’s Holistic Health & Wellness. “Smart people are curious to know about many things, big and small, and seek to learn new information constantly.”
Try one new thing every day.
“Learn a new language. Cook a new recipe. Try a new thing you have never done. It doesn’t matter what it is,” says Jackson. “Learning something new expands your brain and your knowledge. It allows you to stretch your abilities and grow. When we stop learning, brain cells die. Keep new neural connections in your brain by learning something new daily. For example, if you’re learning a new language, commit to learning just a few new words per day.”
Take a break from technology.
“All of the smart devices are making us less smart,” says Jackson. “Most people sit and watch TV for hours—which is time that could be used for other things. And when we use other devices, like a cell phone or a tablet, it’s often to scroll constantly through social media or play games that provide little help to us to learn and grow.”
To mediate the effects of electronics overload, try using your devices to listen to audiobooks and do online learning in between those binge-watch sessions.
Channel your inner artist.
Creativity and cognitive function go hand-in-hand—a good reason to do something creative every day if you can find the time. According to a 2016 study published in Art Therapy, making art reduced subjects’ levels of salivary cortisol, which is associated with reduced cognitive function.
Say “thank you.”
Express your gratitude regularly and you might just enjoy some brain-boosting benefits. According to a 2016 study published in Neuroimage, the expression of gratitude actually changed study subjects’ brains, lighting up areas distinct from those associated with other similar feelings, like empathy.
Whether you prefer painting your nails or taking a long relaxing bath, practicing daily self-care can make you smarter over time. A 2012 study published in Neuron suggests that repeated stress can trigger cognitive impairment, so there’s no time like the present to start giving yourself plenty of time to decompress.
Load up on magnesium-rich foods.
Eat more magnesium-rich foods like spinach, avocados, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and dark chocolate and you might just find yourself a little brighter for it.
According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a brain health, diet, and nutrition expert and the author of 365 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power, “particular brain receptors important for learning and memory depend on magnesium for their regulation.”
Go to bed earlier.
Bad news, night owls: A 2019 study published in Sleep reveals that people who typically go to sleep late and wake late had reduced attention when compared to their early bird counterparts. “Studies have shown sleep to improve learning, memory, and creativity,” notes Dean. So when you can, hit the hay earlier. And if you want to get more rejuvenating rest starting tonight, Here Are the Best Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep After 40.
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