Dr. Michael Valenzuela, the author of the book “Maintain Your Brain” claims that mental exercise is extremely important to keep your brain strong and resilient.
She explains the above argument by drawing an analogy with physical exercise.
Dr. Valenzuela states that mental exercise helps in maintaining the health of your brain just like physical exercise helps in sustaining a healthy heart.
Further, research also says that cognitive exercise alone does not contribute much in terms of maintaining good mental health.
But, it can go a long way in enhancing the mental health of an individual when cognitive training is combined with a social dimension and physical exercise.
Typically, it is believed that solving crosswords and other word games alone may help to keep the brain functioning well.
However, Dr. Valenzuela states that doing crosswords and word games alone may just help a part of your brain to function well.
Thus, you need to engage in different activities in a social, non-threatening, cooperative environment to stimulate other functions of your brain. These may include memory, creative thinking, problem-solving, logical reasoning, etc.
So let’s take a look at the games and puzzles that enhance the overall functioning of your brain.
Also Read: Best Puzzles For Adults
Games and Puzzles To Improve Brain Power
I. Jigsaw Puzzles
One of the fundamental challenges that our modern world encounters is the increasing number of neurocognitive disorders. Thus, there is a need to adopt measures for its early prevention.
One such measure is engaging oneself in solving jigsaw puzzles on a consistent basis.
Solving a jigsaw puzzle is an activity that challenges your cognition especially with respect to the visuospatial cognitive domain.
It is a low-cost and intrinsically motivating leisure activity relative to other cognitive activities. Further, you can solve a jigsaw puzzle all alone or with others and without the need to operate digital devices.
Besides this, it is a cognitive intervention that can improve your visuospatial cognition, everyday functioning, and psychological outcomes.
It may contribute towards delaying the onset of common challenges that individual encounters in neurocognitive diseases such as mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
Scrabble is a popular board game in which the players form words out of seven randomly drawn lettered tiles in alternate turns.
As per research, individuals who spend more time playing scrabble make both word and nonword decisions more quickly.
The study further showcased that scrabble experts used brain regions that were not typically associated with meaning-related aspects of word recognition. However, such regions were associated with working memory.
This means that individuals who were experts in playing scrabble used visual information over word meaning to perform Lexical Decision Task (LDT).
Thus, the study concluded that scrabble experts use different types of information as well as brain areas during lexical processing.
Sudoku is a logic-based puzzle that typically requires players to place the numbers one to nine in boxes within a partially completed 9 × 9 grid.
Further, each number can appear only once within a row, column, and each of the nine 3 × 3 sub-grids.
Also, sudoku puzzles commonly have a unique solution. To complete the puzzle, you need to develop strategies to recognize the numbers you can fit in each of the boxes without repeating any single number.
As per a study, Sudoku puzzles showcase as a cognitively stimulating activity for delaying cognitive decline.
Further, it has a role to play in maintaining cognitive faculties like enhanced visual attention and task-switching abilities.
Chess as a game allows the transfer of cognitive abilities as it involves high-level cognitive and problem-solving abilities.
You make use of your cognitive abilities like memory, perception, creativity, and anticipation while playing chess.
Further, studies showcase that the participants who played chess were observed to have improved spatial reasoning, long-term planning, decision-making, memory, cognitive development, strategic, creative, and critical thinking skills.
This is because playing games like chess actually stimulate the growth of dendrites that send out signals from the brain’s neuron cells.
Further, as the dendrites increase, the neural communication within the brain improves and becomes faster.
Also, it activates both sides of the brain and increases the IQ of the individual.
Lumosity is an online brain training and neuroscience research company that offers a brain training program.
This program consists of more than 40 games in areas like memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing, and problem-solving.
As per a study, a test group trained with Lumosity five days per week for fifteen minutes each day improved in performance across a host of cognitive assessments after 10 weeks.
There is a gradual decline in key cognitive domains including memory, learning, language, and processing speed as an individual gets older.
In particular, episodic memory is an important area that gets impacted with increasing age. Also, there exists a strong association between age and grammatical reasoning.
A study showcased that older subjects having a high level of experience with crosswords weakens the negative effects of age on memory and perceptual speed tasks.
Thus, solving puzzles like crosswords demand the ability to compare the information concealed in a puzzle with the information already stored in memory.
Furthermore, it also helps you to combine such information and develop innovative ideas to solve the given puzzle.
VII. Happy Neuron
Happy Neuron is an online platform that creates tools for cognitive stimulation, rehabilitation, and remediation in children, teenagers, adults, and seniors.
It has a rich library of over 200 customizable activities and unique algorithms for analyzing performance and coaching.
Further, the platform offers specific solutions designed for all sorts of individuals including children, adults, seniors, patients, health professionals, and aging professionals.
These solutions are designed by experienced and expert individuals. Such individuals engage themselves in constant research and design a wide array of exercises in the cognitive science field.
VIII. Card Games
As per research, mentally challenging card games such as bridge are quite appropriate for older people as it offers intellectual and social stimulation on a routine basis.
This is because while playing such intellectual card games, players need to use their memory, visualization, and sequencing skills. As a result, the player’s immune system gets stimulated.
A study showcased that patients performed better as they engaged themselves in playing such card games and were socially active.
In other words, they were less likely to get depressed. As a result, the patients slept better, exercised more, and had a better life in general.
It’s all bout challenging your brain in order to undergo mental exercise.
As per research, individuals are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease if they engage themselves regularly and frequently in mentally challenging activities like playing dominos.
Dr. Restak claims that playing fun games like dominoes is a good way to boost your working memory.
This is because such games require the player to use his observation skills like looking into things in great detail.
Further, such games also increase awareness and alertness, associate the past with the present, and increases the IQ of an individual.
Mahjong is a social game as it involves three or more people. It is a Chinese board game that involves intense strategy and skill.
As per research, middle-aged and elder Chinese adults who regularly broke out their tile-sets experienced a decrease in depression.
This is because it’s a game that challenges your memory and as a result makes it sharp. Further, it involves social participation that helps in subsiding suicidal thoughts and maintaining overall mental health.
The thinking process involved in solving puzzles is a combination of imaginative association as well as memory. And such a combination helps us to view patterns or information that a given puzzle conceals.
Thus, Increased participation in puzzles was associated with better performance on grammatical reasoning, spatial working memory, and episodic memory tasks.
Also, there exists increasing evidence indicating that the combined effect of education, occupation, and regular completion of cognitive leisure activities help in reducing cognitive decline over the full life course of an individual.