Improve your brain health by playing video games

Pressing buttons to collect coins, defeat invading aliens, or rescue a pixelated princess from an evil castle is probably not on your to-do list for today. Video games are often considered frivolous: they’re fun, yes, but spending your time that way isn’t exactly productive, is it? In fact, it turns out that playing video games in your adult life can be good for your brain, helping to improve memory and slow cognitive decline. Here’s why you should grab a checker and claim an actual win.

What counts as a video game?

Video games come in many shapes and forms. We’re not just talking about those who need an expensive console that you plug into your TV. Those are video games, but also free ones mind games you play on your cell phone while waiting in line at the DMV, much like the Solitaire you play on your computer to pass the time. The field of video games is so vast that people of all experience levels and ages can enjoy it, regardless of the equipment they own or not. In reality, 2021 research shows that 42% of people aged 56 to 65 had played video games in the previous six months, and more than half of that number – 53% – were women. Overall, the study determined that 10% of the group’s free time was spent playing games. So if you’re wondering what a player looks like, maybe you just need to look at yourself in the mirror.

Studies on video games and brain health

You may have heard of the ability of video games to improve hand-eye coordination. But an even more compelling reason to play video games is their potential to improve cognitive health. Researchers conducting a study in 2020 recruited people between the ages of 60 and 80 to play Super Mario (a three-dimensional game played on a game console) and Angry Birds (a two-dimensional mobile game). Participants played these games for 30 to 45 minutes a day for four weeks; after two weeks, the researchers found that their recognition memory — a memory that involves recalling previously observed events, people, and situations — had improved significantly. Over the next two weeks, Super Mario players’ memory improved even further. (Since both types of gameplay had a positive effect on adult memory, you don’t need to feel guilty about playing on your phone.)

Another study from the University of Iowa showed that participants aged 50 to 65 slowed cognitive decline for up to four years by playing a simple video game on their personal computer for two hours a week for five weeks. The game, called “Road Tour”, required players to identify cars that were shown to them for a short time among fast-moving images. Those who played the game for 10 hours improved their cognitive health by three years, and those who played four overtime gained a further year of improvement. If you want to know more about this game, now called “Double Decision”, and see a demo, go to developer’s website.

What video games should I try?

There are tons of video games available in the market, and their price ranges from free to expensive. Some of them require video game consoles, like PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo Switch to play, while others only require an internet connection and a computer or mobile phone. They also vary in difficulty/excitement levels – so if you prefer to keep busy virtual gardens in colorful villages to take down opponents in a high-stakes scenario, there are still plenty of games to enjoy. Since console games differ in terms of availability, I’m going to recommend some options for mobile and desktop games.

On your phone:

Route crossed: With colorful graphics, fun characters and simple gameplay, cross road is a frog-style game where you try to help your character – a chicken – cross a busy road. We still don’t know why the chicken crossed the road, but we can at least establish how. This game is free to download from App store for iOS and google play For Android.

Hidden people: This game is like a modern-day Where’s Waldo, but made even more difficult, because it’s in black and white. hidden people shows you the “people” you need to find and gives you a small hint as to where they may be hiding. You are then shown funny, charming and doodle-esque environments with a multitude of activities and people, the aim being to find your people hidden among them. This game costs $4.99 on the App store for iOS and $1.49 on google play For Android.

Monument Valley: This award-winning puzzle game was designed to be as beautiful as it is entertaining. In Monument Valleyyou help your character, Ida, navigate beautiful and intricate three-dimensional structures and optical illusions inspired by artist MC Escher. Puzzles combine with a story of forgiveness to create emotion and a cognitively stimulating experience you won’t soon forget. Monument Valley is available for $3.99 on the App store for iOS and google play For Android.

On your computer:

You can download Steam, a platform that gives you access to almost all recently released computer games, including free-to-play indie games and more expensive mainstream games. But there are also several websites that allow you to play online games at no cost.

Arkadium: This site has several free games, like Mahjongg, crosswords and sudoku. You might have to watch ads to play it for free, but it seems you don’t need to create an account to play many games.

Mind games: Like Arkadium, This site offers many free games like word searches, solitaire, memory games, etc. You can subscribe to play ad-free, but you can also play for free if you’re willing to browse.

These are just a few of the options available for fun and brain-boosting games. Explore some websites, as well as the app store on your phone, and figure out what kind of games you like to play. You could take your brain health to the next level in the process.

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