We tend to think of exercise as something that pertains to the body, while we don’t consider the mind as something to “work out” directly. And yet, in the same way that we lift weights to build muscle and do cardio exercises to stay fit, there are certain things we can do to keep our mind sharp. These may include taking courses, reading books, practicing math, and the like –– but you can achieve similar goals by playing the right games!
With that in mind, we wanted to look at a few games (of both the physical and video game variety) that can “work out” your brain and keep you feeling sharp.
Bridge is a popular card game in which your goal is to work with a partner (typically in a two-versus-two setup) to gather “tricks,” or sets of cards. It’s a fairly simple game conceptually, but as with a lot of card games, there’s more to it beneath the surface. The game requires both verbal and non-verbal teamwork, a strong sense of social signals, and intense concentration and recall. All of this together can certainly be said to amount to a mental workout; you might just find that a regular bridge hobby fine-tunes your ability to pay attention and focus on complex tasks.
Here’s another card game that, taken as a carefree hobby, can be quite simple. In order to become a truly good poker player though, it’s not enough to learn the basics. Players have to understand dynamic scenarios, opponent psychology, and probabilities. Ultimately, people who learn to win consistently at poker manage all of this largely by exercising adaptive strategic thinking. They have to play a balanced range and adjust their approach as the game unfolds –– all of which trains the mind to strategize and adapt under different conditions and fresh challenges. In short, the game makes you better at making decisions under pressure.
3. Settlers of Catan
One of the most well-known German-style board games, Catan involves playing as a group of settlers that have to build roads and towns within a limited number of spaces and with finite resources. The game requires players to decide what to build and where, all while negotiating with other players in order to access the materials they need. Like Monopoly, the game requires planning ahead and analyzing the potential consequences of every play. As a result, it helps people develop analytical skills as well as strengthen memory.
4. League of Legends
If you’d rather opt for a screen than a deck of cards or a game board, League of Legends is one of the most popular video games in the world, with hundreds of thousands of fans tuning in just to watch others play in tournaments. When playing the game though, team members control a particular character or champion who tries to defend their base from a continuous flow of enemy minions, turrets and other champions. In order to perform well in online matches under these circumstances, players have to be good at performing multiple tasks simultaneously, while sticking to an overarching strategy.
It can help to improve your multitasking skills –– to the point that studies have actually found that expert players have better executive control, and are able to switch their attention between different tasks and control their impulses.
5. Super Mario 64
Finally, we’ll wrap up with a true classic! This beloved Nintendo 64 game was praised back in the day for its innovative use of 3D graphics, but it has also been the subject of multiple studies. Most notably (and a little shockingly), Super Mario 64 has been associated with increased grey matter in the hippocampus, an area related to visuospatial skills, as well as the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli. In other words, playing this game might actually train you to be more aware of your surrounding environment.
Playing games is an excellent hobby. They allow us to bond with our friends, keep our minds away from boredom or negative thoughts, and relax. But if the right game is played consistently, it can also help to exercise and sharpen the mind in any of a number of interesting ways.