Exercising Your Mind: 5 Games That Can Boost Your Brain

Exercising Your Mind: 5 Games That Can Boost Your Brain

We've come a long way from the days of Charles Atlas. Folks these days know that the conditioning of our neurons and synapses is as important as the condition of our tendons and muscles. There's many physical ways to do this of course – exercise properly, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, take the appropriate supplements, and stay hydrated. The brain, of course, is the controller of all our cognitive functions. But as winter draws in, it's natural that we'll be spending more of our time indoors, and it might be a good time to look at new mental workouts to keep the gray matter firing on all cylinders.


Far from the scare stories of the 1980s and 1990s when parents worried that video games would maladjust their kids' mental states, it's accepted these days that video games can help with cognitive functions. Nintendo brought brain training games to players aged 3 through 103 with games like Brain Age and Dr Kawashima's Brain Training on the Wii – the console which in turn, lured older generations to video gaming in their droves. Shooters like Call of Duty and fast paced platformers like the Super Mario Bros. series can help with reaction times. If there's no longer a Wii hooked up to every TV, casual gamers can still play puzzle games on their phones. There are many apps with different versions of classics like Scrabble andTetris and an almost unlimited amount of trivia and quiz games.


Brought to the West in the early 2000s, Sudoku quickly took the world by storm. Sudoku competitions were televised in the UK, while there were nearly 30 Sudoku games in the iOS app store by the time Apple released their 'official' version in 2008.

Some people are attracted to Sudoku because it promotes deductive reasoning, some because it ties in with the human brain's natural instinct to look for patterns and order. More still, because it's a great way to kill some time in waiting rooms or public transport. While it isn't as ubiquitous as in its heyday, many newspapers still publish Sudoku boards daily, and large compilation books of Sudoku boards are a mainstay of dollar stores. As far as easy access to a quick mental workout goes, Sudoku ranks very highly.


Ever wondered why 'card sharp' is such a common phrase? One could argue that there's plenty encouragement to up your skill level in a game where money's at stake! However, even in friendly games round a kitchen table, or on virtual stakes apps like Zynga Poker poker's a great vehicle for mental stimulation.

The brain has to think on the hop with poker – calculating the odds that you have the best hand as each new card is dealt. Remembering (if they did) which cards other players showed as they folded if you're looking to stay in the hand. Watching other players' style to try and ascertain patterns. There's a lot of multi-tasking going on in a poker player's head. Additionally however, this particular game can teach emotional intelligence. Even those hoping to become pro poker players are often reminded to regularly and honestly assess themselves. When there is money on the table, it's very useful to be able to master one's strengths and weaknesses without the ego getting in the way.

A large part of live games is ability to read others body language while making sure you have enough discipline not to have any 'tells' that might unconsciously sink you.


Jigsaw puzzles may be particularly good for brain boosting as they can exercise both sides of your brain at once. There's no hard and fast way to complete a jigsaw so you'll need both the logical left side and creative right side of your brain to finish the picture. Additionally, jigsaw puzzles utilize the power of concentration, and that's as true if you're enjoying some quiet time on your own, or having to focus as the whole family chip in their ideas of what pieces go where.


Like Sudoku, crosswords are accessible to everyone; they're in newspapers, compendiums and online. And like Sudoku you can choose your level of challenge – you'll find crosswords everywhere from kids' comic books to the famous New York Times puzzle. There's some evidence that crosswords can help with memory and again, like Sudoku, there's a fair amount of deductive reasoning to be performed in eliminating potential words to ascertain the correct one. Crosswords can even broaden cultural horizons – the Glasgow Herald's notoriously tricky 'Wee Stinker' would divert from British English to American English to Scots to baffle those brave enough to attempt it. Those who do will testify that ability to overcome frustration is an important brain function also!
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