Skip to main content

Will Working Puzzles and Playing Strategy Games Preserve Your Brain?

If you do it right, puzzles and games might just save your brain.
There are millions of players of strategy games, memory games, word games and puzzles. They want to know that working crosswords, solving sudoku, playing bridge, mahjong or chess will help preserve mental acuity. Some are counting on it.

Cognitive Reserve
Cognitive reserve is the term developed after researchers found instances of examination of the brains of individuals that showed signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but, while alive, the individual had exhibited no signs of dementia.  We want to build cognitive reserve, and there is evidence that puzzles can do that. One key-and positive-study from 2011 found that solving crossword puzzles delayed onset of memory loss by 2.5 years, and may have had much longer beneficial impact.
NIH Research
The National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research funded a study on brain-training and cognition. That study is related-admittedly indirectly-to our question of games, puzzles and brain health. In that study, 2,800 volunteers underwent different kinds of brain training. One group did memory training like recalling words from a list. Another did reasoning work, such as identifying patterns, finding the next item in a series and so on. The third did speed-of-processing drills, such as identifying objects on a computer screen shown for increasingly shorter periods. The study followed up on participants’ capabilities at regular intervals. At ten years, those who had been in the reasoning group or the speed of processing group still outperformed a control group.
Since the participants weren’t actually playing games or solving puzzles, I won’t argue that it is direct proof. But training on reasoning and pattern-spotting is akin to many games and puzzles. Here’s how it would work on the brain: solving puzzles or winning a game causes the brain to produce dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter-that is, it transmits signals between neurons. Dopamine pathways play a role in reward behavior, and dopamine is associated with cognition, movement, pleasure and attention. Increases in dopamine may help motivate us to move, achieve goals and find work rewarding. Therefore, producing more dopamine would, in turn, cause us to do more (healthy) things.
And We Know Loneliness Is a Killer
In previous posts, I’ve covered some of the research on the physical damage that loneliness and isolation does to the brain, and the importance of involvement with friends and family to brain health.
Traditional strategy games like chess, checkers, and go require two players. And there are thousands of games from the ancient such as dominoes and mahjong to classics like Life, Monopoly and charades. Further, there are new ones created every year. Most of those games require four or more players. Playing strategy games like chess and Six Making, which we offer, require planning and reasoning. So do card games like bridge and poker. Games like mahjong can be played just for fun, or very seriously. The result of playing those games is more (healthy again) social interaction.
My Conclusion
If playing a game is the principal reason someone makes regular connections with friends, then games are indeed beneficial to brain health. And if the fun part is combined with serious concentration six moves ahead in Go, or remembering if the ten of hearts has been played, the evidence leans to being good for building that bigger brain.

www.bigbrain.place offers fun stuff that is good for your brain

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: What Matters Now by Gary Hamel

Interview of Eric Schmidt by Gary Hamel at the MLab dinner tonight. Google's Marissa Mayer and Hal Varian also joined the open dialog about Google's culture and management style, from chaos to arrogance. The video just went up on YouTube. It's quite entertaining. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Cover of The Future of ManagementMy list of must-read business writers continues to expand.Gary Hamel, however, author of What Matters Now, with the very long subtitle of How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, has been on the list for quite some time.Continuing his thesis on the need for a new approach to management introduced in his prior book The Future of Management, Hamel calls for a complete rethinking of how enterprises are run.

Fundamental to his recommendation is that the practice of management is ossified in a command and control system that is now generations old and needs to be replaced with something that reflects an educat…

7 Ways to Fix Your Gut and Help Your Brain

Author Peter Andrey Smith titled his article on the relationship of the brain to the intestines, and, in particular, the tiny creatures that live in our intestine beautifully: “The tantalizing links between gut microbes and the brain”. If the human brain is the frontier of medical science, the microbiome, those tiny creatures that live in our intestinal tract, is Jupiter. The linkage between what goes on in the gut and the brain is indeed tantalizing, and the subject of research worldwide. There are over 1,000 different kinds of those things living inside us. There are hints that having the wrong mix of gut microbes, or the absence of any particular type, is linked to asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and more. Further, antibiotics, illnesses and other factors can deplete the population. Here are seven things we can do to help keep our little creatures happy and healthy.
Eat the right stuff. There is evidence that the right diet helps keep …

Get REM Sleep; Manage Fear

A good night’s sleep may help you manage fear and risks better.

A study just posted in Journal of Neuroscience describes the importance of a good night’s sleep to controlling strong emotions, especially fear. Previous studies in this area attempted to discover what happens in the brain after a frightful experience.  These prior studies, for example, show how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects sleep. A team at the Rutgers University Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, led by Itamar Lerner, has taken a different approach. They wanted to see if there is a relationship between adequate sleep and prevention or management of the brain’s reaction to subsequent stressful events. Research Team Lerner is a Postdoctoral Fellow in sleep research. Along with fellow researchers Neha Sinha-also doing Postdoctoral research-in her case in brain imaging, Shira Lupkin and Alan Tsai, they used new technology that allows mobile tracking of sleep habits over a period of time, not j…