7 Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

PHOTO: According to new study ping pong improves your hand-eye coordination and gives you a dose of brain-boosting social interaction.
Sean Justice/Getty Images

It happened again: You spaced during an important meeting at work. You forgot to feed the neighbor’s cat. You tossed your cell in the freezer.

We all get bogged down by the occasional brain fog, but by practicing a few surprising memory tricks, you can fight back and build your brain up to be stronger than ever—and avoid another icy iPhone.

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Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

Shower with Your Eyes Closed

Strip down, hop in, and shut your peepers. Searching for the handle, shampoo, and soap while making mental notes of textures gives your brain a workout. In fact, doing anything with your eyes closed is an easy way to refine your focus and memory, says Ron White, a two-time winner of the USA Memory Championship. So if you’re feeling a little skittish about a blind shower, try it in your kitchen instead. Close your eyes and poke around for a specific item in the cupboards or on the shelves. “It will break your routine and engage your senses.”

Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

Dance to "Blurred Lines" at Your Buddy's Wedding

Busting a move not only activates the cerebellum—a part of the brain that helps with things such as forethought and judgment—but also produces brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps neurons communicate more effectively.

“Dancing is social, and social interactions will help neural circuits,” says Gary Small, M.D., director at UCLA’s Longevity Center and co-author of The Alzheimer's Prevention Program. “It’s also physical, which gets your heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to your brain cells. And it helps you learn coordination.”

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Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

Act Like a Lefty

Or if you’re already a southpaw, take matters into your right hand. Performing simple tasks such as eating or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand forces your brain to relearn a common activity in a new way.

“Over time, when you use one hand to do certain tasks, it becomes hardwired and there is almost a reflex component to using that dominant hand,” says Allen Sills, M.D., associate professor of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt Medical Center. “When you use your non-dominant hand and you have to activate and engage many different brain regions, it lays down new memories and new wiring."

Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

Become a Ping Pong Champ

Take a cue from Forrest Gump and work on your table tennis game. Ping pong improves your hand-eye coordination and gives you a dose of brain-boosting social interaction, says Daniel Amen, M.D., a brain-imaging researcher and founder of Amen Clinics.

“When it comes to mental exercise, the really important thing is doing things that your brain doesn't know how to do,” says Dr. Amen. “If I just keep doing something that I already know how to do, it’s not that helpful. But learning different things is what really exercises your brain.”

Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

Hit the Mall

Although shopping can do a number on your wallet, it provides surprising benefits for your brain, Dr. Small says.

“You do a lot of mental and physical activities when you go shopping. You’re walking, you’re engaging with people, you’re making calculations,” he says. “Each of these exercises will stimulate different parts of your brain and provide a cross-training effect.”

But stay on budget—overspending can cause stress and actually shrink your brain, says Dr. Small. (Keep age-related brain concerns at bay.

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Brain Tricks That Can Make You Smarter

Go to Clown College

According to a 2013 study in the journal Nature, learning how to juggle can actually make areas of your brain grow. After non-jugglers practiced the tricky activity for 3 months, they showed an increase in gray matter in the mid-temporal area and the posterior intraparietal sulcus—portions of the brain responsible for visual and motor activity.

“Taking on a new task that involves some motor activity, pattern recognition, and spatial orientation will activate multiple regions and reawaken dormant areas of the brain,” Dr. Sills says.

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