The link between improved cognitive functioning and brain exercises is a complicated one. However, research does indicate that it exists and that individuals who engage in brain training have better memory, quicker response times and more impressive logistical reasoning skills than people who do not. Research also suggests that brain training can stave off aging of the muscle and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
That said, not all brain games are created equal. If you really want to give your brain a workout, engage in these five exercises on a regular basis.
Lumosity is one of the oldest brain training apps available today, and one of the best. The mental fitness tests and brain training games are backed by science and designed to stimulate the brain and improve working memory on a daily basis. They’re also designed to teach you to pay attention to the details that matter, such as those that will help you solve the puzzle at hand, while ignoring those that don’t.
If you download the free version of the app, you can access up to three games per day. The subscription service, however, gives you access to a broader range of offerings.
Sudoku is a numbers placement game that requires you to place the numbers one through nine within a grid of 9 x 9 spaces. This 9 x 9 space is broken up into smaller, 9 x 9 grids. The object of the game is to get the numbers one through nine within a single, smaller grid and without repeating numbers in any single row, column or square. Because winning requires thinking several spaces ahead, Sudoku helps to improve both concentration and short term memory.
You can place Sudoku via an app, online or on paper. In fact, there are books of Sudoku at almost every grocery store and newsstand. Games vary in complexity. When starting out, look for the easy puzzles and use a pencil. As you learn the rules and become better at thinking ahead, advance to the next level and consider using a pen.
3. Crossword Puzzles
Crossword puzzles are a timeless brain training exercise that force you to use both your retained knowledge and your verbal language skills. Crosswords come in varying degrees of difficulty and boast thousands of themes, ranging from Egyptian culture to sports history. You can access puzzles via an app, online, through books or even in your daily newspaper.
4. Change Words
In this game, you pick a beginning word and an ending word of the same length, and you change one letter of the first to achieve the latter. With each change you make, you must create a real word. As an example, try to change the word “Wall” into “Firm.”
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Do this with increasingly longer or more complicated words.
5. Happy Neuron
Each of Happy Neuron’s activities and games are designed to focus on one of five areas of the brain: attention, memory, executive functions, language and special/visual. The app personalizes training for each user depending on said user’s initial brain strength baseline. The app keeps track of users’ progress and creates a curriculum based on that. Happy Neuron does offer a free trial, but after that, users must pay a monthly subscription fee. The app is only available on Android.
Brain training is crucial to maintaining optimal cognitive function as you age. The good news is that, with the above games and exercises, this type of strength training can be fun and free, and it won’t require you to break a sweat.