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Four (Semi)Lazy Ways to Boost Your Brain

Here are some easy techniques you can use to exercise your mind.

Illustration by John Holcroft
Illustration: John Holcroft

Clocking time at the library isn’t the only way to improve your brain. In fact, it can be pretty easy. Here, four newfound techniques from local researchers, presented in order of how little effort is required.

Play Video Games

Sloth factor:

The science:
Screen time often gets knocked for numbing your brain. But DePaul University’s Deep Games Laboratory creates video games that do the opposite: improve mental health. In one, you learn anxiety-coping strategies by helping a girl defeat the “shadows” that haunt her sleep. Hey, it’s cheaper than Xanax! (You can play the games free at deepgameslab.com.)

Gossip with Pals

Sloth factor:

The science:
Researchers at Northwestern Medicine found that “superagers”—people 80 and over who are as sharp as those 20 or 30 years younger—have an above-average number of close friends. The key, though, is meaningful relationships—so make time for thoughtful conversations, not just strings of emoji.

Drink Kale Smoothies

Sloth factor:

The science:
Fire up the Vitamix: Eating at least one serving a day of leafy greens could slow cognitive decline by as much as 11 years, according to a Rush University study. The key nutrients? Lutein, folate, and beta carotene. And no, popping a pill containing them isn’t likely to have the same effect—but if you don’t like kale, noshing on lettuce, spinach, or collard greens works, too.

Go for a Jog

Sloth factor:

The science:
Meatheads, rejoice! The secret to a bigger brain—literally—just might be more gym time. Northwestern researchers tracked a group of people for 30 years, starting in their early 20s, and found that those with better cardiovascular health as young adults—that is, those who followed a healthy diet and exercised regularly—had more gray and white matter in their 50s. Now, pumping iron doesn’t actually make your noggin grow. But it does help prevent it from shrinking, which is key to good cognitive health as you age.

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