16 ideas to keep your mind sharp — and earn some money

Graduates learning to cook

Just because you’re out of school doesn’t mean you should stop challenging your brain. Keep your mind sharp with these brain exercises from 5-to-9.

It’s 5 o’clock and you’re finally heading home after a busy day at work, ready to set your mind on anything other than tomorrow’s to-do list. What do you feel like doing? The easy answer may be relaxing on the couch with your favorite TV show. However, challenging your mind to work differently than it does during your day job is great for your mental health, memory, and general well-being.

Here are 16 ideas to keep your mind sharp without adding stress.

1. Educate while you commute. Avoid turning your mind on autopilot while driving to and from work. Practice active listening by subscribing to a few intriguing commute-length podcasts; some good ones to start with include Planet Money, Listen, Money Matters!, and You Need a Budget.

2. Volunteer. Volunteering your time to a cause you care about is a great way to help others and make a difference. It can also be a way to meet new people, network, and discover your city. Beyond having emotional and mental benefits, volunteering may even improve your physical health.

3. Close your eyes and clear your mind. Start or finish a stressful day practicing yoga or meditation. Harvard scientists have found that long-term meditators have more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which helps with memory and decision-making.

4. Learn a new language. Dedicate time each day to learn a new language and actively seek out opportunities to practice, such as volunteering with groups who teach English as a second language.

5. Move your body. Research shows picking up a challenging new hobby may be one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp. Sports — especially golf and tennis — are great because they challenge cognitive function in conjunction with physical skill. On days when you feel especially sluggish, head out for a jog or swim before work and you’ll likely end up with more energy.

6. Start a passion project. A passion project is something that gives you sense of satisfaction, and something that excites or inspires you. It could be blogging, cultivating an Instagram feed on a particular topic, or restoring an old car. Your passion project could very well end up becoming your full-time job (and dream career!).

7. Get chatty. Studies show that being a better communicator can improve your well-being and your career prospects. Join a professional communications group like Toastmasters or your city’s young professional organization.

8. Pick up a side gig. Make a little extra money while pursuing a passion or interest. Try things like becoming a pet sitter or coaching a local youth sports team.

9. Strum to a new beat. From the guitar and piano to the banjo and ukulele, choose an instrument that interests you and sign up for lessons. On a budget? YouTube is a great resource to learn the basics (and some impressive songs to perform at your next party).

10. Take a class. When is the last time you signed up for a class for the sole purpose of learning something new and not worrying about your grade? Look to your local community college for a variety of educational night classes, or visit your town’s website to learn about art classes they might offer, like ceramics or woodworking. Bonus points if you learn how to do something you may otherwise have hired someone for, like cooking. According to Harvard Health Publications, activity that involves using your senses — especially your sense of smell — jump-starts your memory. Another plus? You’ll save money by cooking and not eating out.

11. Join a book club. Book clubs are a great way to meet friends and engage your imagination, as long as you’re OK with weekly homework assignments. Search sites like MeetUp.com for book clubs near you, or try online book clubs where you can converse with book lovers from around the country.

12. Learn to do your own taxes. Good with numbers? Challenge yourself to learn how to do your own taxes and avoid paying for an accountant or e-filing services year after year.

13. Subscribe to a newsletter. Stay up-to-date with current news with daily reading material from TheSkimm or NextDraft. Get a daily history lesson right from your inbox by signing up for the History Channel’s This Day in History newsletter.

14. Grab your friends for trivia night. Challenge your memory on a variety of topics and socialize with friends by heading to weekly trivia at a local restaurant or hangout — or host your own.

15. Start a DIY project. Save money furnishing your apartment and put your creativity to the test by creating something that you can display in your home, like a custom headboard or a one-of-a-kind side table.

16. No-spend challenge. So this won’t exactly put money in your pocket, but it will prevent money from leaving it — and challenge your creativity and problem-solving skills. Take on a no-spend challenge and see how many free activities you can find and enjoy with friends.

Want to read more about volunteering and making an impact?

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