These wooden chess pieces belonged to my great grandfather, David Gottfried, who was a cahmpoin player in Newark, NJ back in the early 1900s.

For many, retirement presents a golden opportunity to finally embrace free time – now the question is, what to do with it. Some have a dream novel to write, others want to see the world – and some want to explore the challenge of a brand new skill or hobby. If you’re looking for a little game, distraction or activity to make you more intelligent, here are five fantastic hobbies guaranteed by science to make you smarter.


1. Playing Chess. Competitive, inexpensive and endlessly challenging, the game of chess is a great hobby that’s been proven to make you smarter – by requiring you to exercise both sides of your brain at once. Studies have shown regular chess playing raises IQ levels in college students, stimulates creativity, improves memory, strengthens concentration, decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s and even helps grow dendrites (tree-like branches that conduct signals from other neural cells. The bigger they are, the more signals you’ll pick up).

writer2. The Written Word. Reading and writing both have tremendous benefits for one’s cognitive abilities and creativity – and it’s thought to keep the brain young. Not only does it relieve stress, it also stimulates your cerebral cortex by building new synapses and strengthening the existing ones. Reading develops your vocabulary, verbal intelligence and your memory. When producing something for others to read, you receive other awesome benefits, like improved ability to focus and express ideas cohesively, and you gain fantastic amounts of knowledge. Learning so many new things offers benefits all its own, making you a more interesting and intelligent person to be around.

3. Exercising. Scientists all over the world almost unanimously agree that exercising is good for your brain. It reduces stress, releases the feel-good neurotransmitters and improves blood circulation to the brain. It even makes parts of your brain bigger – researchers at the University of British Columbia discovered that even simple aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus – the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. So, whether you want to run a 5K or try out Pilates, now’s the time to commit to exercising regularly.


4. Playing a musical instrument. When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active, but when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. Playing an instrument is definitely your go-to hobby for getting smarter, as it requires both hemispheres of the brain to work together and it requires rhythm, coordination and dexterity. If you need any more anecdotal proof, many of our famous favorites played a tune or two – from Einstein to Charles Dickens to Steven Spielberg. For some, playing music can even feel like meditation…

5. Meditation. Harvard Neuroscientist, Sara Laza, conducted research to find the connections between the mind and body during meditation. Her findings show that subjects who meditated regularly had thickened parts of the brain responsible for learning, cognition, memory, empathy, compassion and many more.

Have you taken up a hobby in retirement that has improved your quality of life? Share your story by sending an email to


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