Many people believe that you can’t grow smarter once you’re out of school. That’s not true. What you do daily can, in fact, increase your intelligence. Fun leisure activities may not make you Albert Einstein, but you will find yourself with better memory and greater concentration and focus. Everybody should have a hobby, so why not pick one that makes you smarter?

1. Read everything you can find.

Reading is an activity that requires little effort but brings maximum results to your wellbeing. If you’re not already a regular reader, pick up something that interests you — be it The Hunger Games, The New York Times, Vogue, or the latest Stephen King novel. Reading exercises parts of the brain that deal with problem-solving, determining patterns, improving memory, and inspiring the imagination.

2. Play a musical instrument.

Not only is playing an instrument useful for making music, but it also changes your brain for the better. Playing music helps language, math, and analytical skills, as well as creativity and motor skills. The corpus callosum, which links hemispheres in your brain, becomes stronger by making new connections. This part of the brain aids in memory and problem solving, as well as improving normal brain function.

3. Meditate regularly.

Meditation has always had a reputation as a mystical practice requiring entrance into a secret temple to learn. It’s not. In fact, it’s one of the simplest things you can do for your mind that requires no money or equipment. Benefits of meditation include having a better handle on your thinking when you’re not meditating, as well as focus, concentration, and stronger memory. Meditation helps everyone of every age to build new gray matter.  

4. Take your brain to the gym.

Though our brain is an organ, it’s best to think of it like a muscle. Muscles need regular exercise to change, strengthen, and grow — and so do brains. Crossword and logic puzzles and games of strategy like chess make our brains take in new information and build new connections.

5. Learn a new language.

Another way to strengthen your brain is to learn a foreign language. Studies show that people who are bilingual are better at solving certain kinds of puzzles over those who are monolingual. Bilingual people can also focus better on multiple tasks because the portion of their brains that involve reasoning, planning, and memory are further developed.

6. Test your cumulative learning.

Cumulative learning is knowledge you have accrued over a series of years, say, math skills, for example. When in school and “cramming” for a test, that information is quickly forgotten once the test is complete. That knowledge only had a one-time purpose. Cumulative learning is learning new information, as well as re-learning it (which is another reason why learning a new language is so effective for building your brain). Start taking notes in your life or your workplace, jotting down bits of knowledge you discover or observations you see daily or in books. Keep filling up the pages and then go back and re-read it, strengthening your memory of the observations, adding new information where you can. You’re putting cumulative learning into full effect that way.

7. Write down your feelings.

While you are journaling things that you’ve learned and observed, jot down how you felt when you discovered them, or your daily emotions in general. What are things that make you glad, sad, or mad? What are your hopes? Journaling can also help you with stress relief, as well as your organizational skills.

8. Travel to new places.

It was once said that travel is broadening, meaning that it expands your mind. Not only can travel help to reduce stress, but experiencing new cultures and places increases your intelligence. 

9. Cook a variety of meals.

Learning to cook new kinds of food or meals is a bit like learning to play a musical instrument or a new language. Try cooking your favorite dishes in a whole new way, jump into a new recipe you’ve never tried, or just try winging it in the kitchen. Doing so will help you pay attention to details and hopeful yield some delicious results, too. Becoming smarter while having a well-fed tummy is a win-win situation.

10. Move your body.

Exercise is not only good for your muscles, bone density, and cardiovascular system; it’s also good for your brain. Better blood flow to the brain equates to better brain function. Exercise has been shown to increase brain cells, too. And you don’t have to exercise alone. Playing a sport makes the brain more flexible and increases connective tissue for problem solving, coordination, mental capabilities, and confidence. 

11. Adopt a pet.

Over the years, scientific research has proven that pet ownership can benefit mental health. In fact, many mental institutions, hospitals, and nursing homes are recruiting animals like dogs and cats for animal-assisted therapy. If you don’t have a pet, trying adopting one. Even low-maintenance animals like hamsters or fish can help. The brightly colored fish in a tank, along with the gurgling sounds of the water, can have a calming, meditative effect.

Remember, hobbies can give you more self-confidence, be a creative outlet, give you something to look forward to, make you passionate about something, and make you smarter. Having fun and increasing your health is the best combination possible. Go on, grab a hobby that improves your brain. It’s the smart thing to do!