The best brain games for keeping the mind sharp

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Games are sometimes judged as simple distractions that serve to kill time and lower productivity. This, however, ignores the multitude of positive benefits that games of all types can have on our mental faculties and cerebral dexterity. Here we delve into the positive benefits particular games can offer in keeping the mind a well-oiled machine.

Video games specifically are regularly held up as an unhealthy pastime for young people, keeping them sedentary and indoors. In particular, they have been accused of lessening people’s attention span; however, studies have shown that they can often have the opposite effect. From a collection of 116 scientific studies, the overall pattern has shown that video-game players display improved sustained and selective attention which allows them to stay focused on demanding tasks for longer.

Video games also help to improve hand-eye coordination through quick, reactive movements in response to developments on screen. It was also noted that there was an enlargement of the right hippocampus in tracked video-game players, which indicated sharper visuospatial skills (i.e. an improved perception of the spatial relationships between objects). Video games, despite criticism in some quarters, can certainly have a positive impact on motor skills and problem-solving.

More traditional games can also help to keep the mind sharp and perhaps more suited to the less technologically savvy. Bingo, for example, has been shown to have positive brain-stimulating effects which helps to slow cognitive decline. It is a simple game, but it helps to improve short-term memory retention whilst its relatively fast pace helps to keep concentration levels high. The online availability of bingo gives players easy access to its benefits without the need to travel to a brick-and-mortar hall, and the wide range of variants available online keeps the game fresh and interesting.

Perhaps the most famous brain game of all is Sudoku; the Japanese puzzle game which involves filling a table of 9×9 squares with the numbers 1-9 without any vertical or horizontal overlap. The game requires the player to think several steps in advance and this improves the ability to plan and organize as well as retaining numerical information in the short-term. It is a test of logic and forces the brain to adapt to each different puzzle, the mind is kept sharp with some studies even suggesting it can help to prevent dementia in later life. 

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An article on brain games would not be complete without mentioning the oldest cognitive tester of all: chess. The grand, old game has been played for centuries and offers players practically endless possibilities with more potential moves available than there are atoms in the visible universe. There is always more to learn and strategies to develop, which helps to develop a critical mind that is able to think several steps ahead.

Games can be more than just fun and offer a myriad of additional benefits that may not be obvious. Next time you feel guilty for ‘wasting’ too much time playing games, consider the positive impact it could be having on your cognitive abilities. Games can be much more than simple frivolities.

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