Countless activities can help make you smarter, from brain training to sessions in a classroom. But are there ways to improve your intelligence without even having to think about it? The happy answer is yes!
From dancing to doodling, here are five mindless daily activities that research shows are improving your intelligence. Brilliant—literally.
Whether you dance professionally, recreationally, or for no other reason than to move to the beat, there’s good news for happy feet: Scientists have found that dancing has several positive neurological effects on the human brain.
Columbia University neurologist John Krakauer tells Scientific American that dance activates the brain’s sensory and motor cortexes—the parts of the brain responsible for the planning and execution of voluntary movement. These regions of the brain, along with other parts such as the cerebellum, cooperate to control how you move in general. Dancing, in effect, strengthens these neuronal connections.
Another study by researchers at North Dakota’s Minot State University found that Latin-style dance, such as Zumba, improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making.
“Recent research in neuroscience, psychology, and design shows that doodling can help people stay focused, grasp new concepts, and retain information,” writes Sue Shellenbarger, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. She discusses how doodling gives us the ability to express ourselves at times when our brain is most active. Many highly intelligent people, including Bill Gates, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ronald Reagan, all happened to be doodlers. Are you among them?
03. Listening to Music
Listening to music is a way of activating the brain, a type of cognitive arousal. What has come to be known as the Mozart effect is the concept that listening to just ten minutes of Mozart’s music increases memory skills. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that doing so “increased the abstract reasoning ability of college students, as measured by IQ scores, by eight or nine points compared with listening to relaxation instructions or silence respectively.”
While researchers don’t attribute listening to Mozart as a sustainable contributor to one’s general intelligence, they do confirm that it carries short-term benefits for cognitive retention and performance.
04. Playing Games
According to recent research, playing games that require certain mental demands improves brain health markers including cognitive ability, brain function, and brain structure. Strategy games such as Clue, Scrabble, and chess have been found to improve brain capacity.
The beauty of board games is that they are beneficial for all ages. But mental activity involved in playing games has an exceptional influence on those who are older. Studies have found that “participating in mentally challenging leisure activities such as reading and playing board games may help elderly people stay mentally sharp.” For people who are 75 or older, games may even have the power to help prevent dementia.
Sleep isn’t just integral to your physical health but your mental health as well. “Sleep serves to reenergize the body’s cells, clear waste from the brain, and support learning and memory,” John Peever, director of the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory at the University of Toronto, and Brian J. Murray, director of the sleep laboratory at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, tell Scientific American.
Sleep supports learning and memory by allowing your mind to recharge after a long day. Research from Loughborough University has shown that a lack of sleep actually results in rigid thinking, reduced verbal fluency, perseveration (to the point of redundancy or ruminating), and an impaired working memory. There’s perhaps no better way to cultivate your intelligence than to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re struggling to get enough Zzz’s, read our expert’s guide to catching up on missed sleep.
Each of us has the opportunity to sharpen our intellect without having to do much intellectual thinking. For the nappers, the gamers, the doodlers, the music-lovers, and the dancers: Rest assured that you’re benefiting more from some of your favorite activities than you think.
Photo Credit: Bao Nguyen