Be Smarter: 7 Simple Mental Exercises
that Will Keep You Sharp and Smart

See also: What is Mindfulness

What does it take to be smarter?

Closing your eyes, learning new things, and meditation are just a few of the very simple things you can do to be smarter.

While many wrongly assume that it takes a lot of money (and expensive investment in educational materials) to be pretty smart, research shows that there are some very simple exercises you can perform regularly from the comfort of your home that will make you smarter -- and it won’t cost you a thing to perform these exercises.

In this article, I share seven simple mental exercises that will keep your brain sharp and make you smarter:

1. Develop a Meditation Habit

So many studies have been conducted to assess the health benefits of meditation; meditation is known to relieve stress, bring about restorative effects, and even help with depression. However, not many people know that meditation can also make you smarter.

A study by researchers from UCLA who used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of a group of long-term meditators found that their brains were generally larger than that of non-meditators. Another study that scanned the brains of aging people who regularly mediated also found that they did not lose their gray matter as fast as people who did not mediate.

So, if you’ve not been meditating, it might be a good idea to start now; not only is it good for your mental health, it also has serious cognitive benefits!

2. Learn to Play Chess

If you’ve not been playing chess, you should probably start doing so now. While most people generally assume that chess is a “smart game,” the reality is that there are more cognitive benefits to playing chess than many realize.

Many studies have been conducted to assess the impact of chess on the brain and people’s smartness, and they’ve generally agreed on this: regularly playing chess positively impacts mental acuity and also impacts problem-solving skills, an understanding of cause-and-effect, and people’s ability to anticipate events.

So, while chess is generally seen as a game that smart people play, it is also a game that people can play to become smarter.

3. Learn a New Language

You know that cool guy or gal that can speak three, four or even more languages? Well, you can be him or her!

Not only will learning a new language make you appear pretty cool, there’s science showing it is going to make you smarter -- and this can carry over into other activities you do.

Swedish scientists decided to monitor brain activity when learning a new language by using brain imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiology to monitor brain activity. The study observed young adult military recruits who were made to learn Arabic, Russian, or Dari intensively and compared them against another group who studied hard in general but did not learn new languages.

MRI scans showed that certain parts of the brain increased in size in those learning a new language, while the brains of those students learning other subjects remained the same size.

If you’ve tried learning a new language before then you know that it can be quite challenging. However, it’s good to know that it can be quite rewarding as well. So, if you’ve not learned a new language in a while, you probably should if you want to be smarter.

4. Learn to Play Solitaire

Learning solitaire can help with intelligence as it involves strategic thinking, problem-solving, and planning skills, which can enhance cognitive abilities and mental agility.

In solitaire, the player aims to move all the cards to foundation piles following specific rules, with the ultimate goal of arranging the cards in ascending order by suit, testing the player's ability to analyze and make decisions based on the available card movements.

5. Make it a Goal to Learn Something New Every Day

While this might seem so simple to the point it feels there is no need to say it, I’d like to ask: did you learn anything new today? How about yesterday? Or last week?

Very few of us consciously make an effort to learn something new every day, yet this can be one of the easiest ways to exercise your brain and become smarter.

According to researchers, every single time you learn something new your brain forms new connections and neurons that affect existing neural pathways -- which essentially impacts on how smart you are.

But what happens when you don’t learn anything new? Researchers have found that not learning anything new slows down your brain and makes it less responsive, essentially making you dumber.

There are so many ways you could learn something new today: it could be by reading books, a magazine, or any form of content. Also, thanks to the Internet and technology, platforms like Ted and Khan Academy contain millions of hours of content on a variety of topics and their apps are not only free to install on your mobile devices so you can have them on the go but they are considered some of the best brain training apps. There is certainly no excuse not to learn something new, no matter how busy you are.

6. Try Performing Tasks with Your Eyes Closed

Who would have thought that closing your eyes can make you smarter? Except it can!

Several studies have found that performing common tasks with your eyes closed can actually enhance your cognitive abilities and make you smarter. In fact, in one study people were given a number of assignments and were split into two groups; the first group had to complete the tasks with their eyes closed while the other group had to complete the task with their eyes open. The research found that people who had to complete tasks with their eyes closed scored nearly double the score of those who had to complete tasks with their eyes open.

So, think about all the simple regular day to day activities you have to do: for example, brushing your teeth, eating, typing, writing, etc. In a lot of cases, even if just for a limited time, you do these tasks with your eyes closed you’ll get smarter in the process.

That said, it is important to never engage in potentially dangerous activities (such as climbing the stairs or moving between rooms) with your eyes closed and when alone. The potential dangers of an accident from doing this is just not worth the extra smarts you’ll get!

7. Take Up a Creative Hobby

With the obsession with work and being able to put food on the table, very few of us actually have time to take up a creative hobby. Taking up a creative hobby, however, is one of the easiest ways to become smarter.

In one of the most comprehensive studies on the impact of art on people’s mental ability, a two-year study at The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art found that student visitors to the Museum generally demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills compared to their peers. Another study found a correlation between practicing an art form and cognitive development in students.

There are so many creative hobbies you could take up: this could be an interest in music or composing, drawing, design, or even writing -- you could even get paid for it!

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In Conclusion

The above brain exercises are quite simple and easy to perform, and you do not necessarily have to buy fancy devices or spend money to do them.

About the Author

Segun Onibalusi is a freelance writer and web consultant who has been featured in leading publications that include TheNextWeb and The Huffington Post.