Like physical health, the state of the brain also naturally declines with age, resulting in reduced cognitive functions. That’s why most experts suggest stimulating brain activities, such as brain games, to keep the brain active and engaged. Doctors often recommend exercise to older people as a way to boost brain health.
Today, we’ll look at brain exercises as a method to preserve and improve cognition.
Brain Games vs. Brain Training
People frequently use these terms interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Brain games are something more fun, such as playing sudoku or chess. There aren’t enough scientific studies to prove the impact of brain games on cognitive health, but if any brain-stimulating activities are done repeatedly, they may have some effects.
On the other hand, brain training is more systemized and often facilitated by a health professional. It’s mostly also done online and involves completing a series of assessments to enhance overall cognitive ability.
If you compare the two, brain games are similar to hobbies that you can do any time you want, while brain training is like going to the gym, working with an instructor, and doing strength training consistently.
Brain training isn’t as fun as brain games, but it has enough evidence of its positive influence on cognitive functions. Nevertheless, both have a similar purpose of improving various facets of cognition.
Impact of Aging on the Brain
The brain is made up of more than 80 billion neurons. These neurons create networks that help the brain to communicate (with the help of neurotransmitters) with the rest of the body to do daily tasks.
Aging changes the brain naturally and weakens neural networks and connections. Around age 60 to 70, some brain areas shrink, particularly the hippocampus and frontal lobe, which are responsible for most cognitive functions. The shrinkage in these areas reduced the overall volume and mass of the brain.
Do Games Improve Brain Health?
There’s no reliable evidence that brain games can enhance brain health. Most scientific evidence on improved cognition points toward brain training, but even the results are divided.
One study on healthy participants and older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that mental training during late adulthood could preserve and boost cognition. The study consisted of two cognitive training modules designed to help subjects relearn a declined ability.
However, another study of 60 cognitively intact participants who played brain training games daily for 45 minutes found no meaningful improvements in their cognition even after one month of playing games.
More published studies have contrasting outcomes from engaging in brain training games and programs, with some analyses showing a favorable effect on the brain while others without any impact.
Incorporating Brain Training And Brain Games into Your Lifestyle
Most researchers agree that incorporating brain-boosting activities into other healthy lifestyle routines, like a balanced diet, physical exercise, and getting enough sleep, is a great way to maintain general brain health.
Here are familiar games good for the brain:
- Jigsaw and crossword puzzles
- Playing cards
Hobbies are also a form of brain exercise as they make you think, focus, and pay attention, and they are also excellent options for harnessing cognitive skills. Some examples are:
- Drawing and painting
- Learning a language
- Playing music
- Knitting and crocheting
- Yoga and meditation
Not only are these meaningful activities good for mental health, but they also promote relaxation and help reduce stress.
Benefits of Brain Training and Brain Games
Even if there’s no solid evidence that games change the brain for the better, engaging in activities that challenge your mental ability consistently may have slight benefits. Here are some possible benefits of brain games:
- Improved focus and concentration
Board games, such as chess, force you to use many mental functions simultaneously, such as working memory, concentration, tactical thinking, and problem-solving.
You need to recall the rules, analyze the opponent's movement, and figure out your next winning move. It's a highly stimulating brain game that increases focus and concentration.
- Stress relief
Stress, especially chronic stress, weakens the immune system and has been linked with dementia. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosed mental health condition related to stress, can increase a person's risk of cognitive impairment by up to two times.
Games and hobbies are natural remedies to help you relax, keep calm, relieve anxiety and stress, and improve your mood.
- Enhance brain functions
Online brain training programs, such as BrainHQ and Cognifit, offer individualized brain training regimens for older adults.
These programs include assessments that gauge various brain functions, such as memory skills, problem-solving, coordination, planning, perception, and more. Training results can also tell which areas of cognitive functions need some improvement.
- Helps improve social life
Doing mental activities in pairs or a group contributes to better social skills. Engaging in social activities also lowers the risk of loneliness, isolation, depression, and other psychological problems detrimental to the brain.
One study found that 60-year-olds who saw their friends almost every day were 12% less likely to develop cognitive impairment later in life than those who only saw their friends every few months. Joining fun group games can support an active social life, which is an essential segment of a meaningful retirement lifestyle.
Brain Games Have Brain-Helping Benefits
Brain games use a different approach to supporting brain health. Even if most experts often recommend brain training because of the scientific evidence behind it, the challenge of brain games like chess and puzzles and the interactions with other players can be a tremendous source of enjoyment and social support for older people.
Games boost creativity and don’t feel as restrictive and structured as brain training. Older people love games because they’re fun and flexible. Nevertheless, the goal of both mental activities is the same, so combining brain games and training may provide a more balanced approach to training cognitive functions.
Want to learn more ways to improve brain health? Read our article Simple Ways To Improve Memory And Brain Health for some valuable tips.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
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