How playing games can keep your brain healthy

Although the gaming industry is now one of the most lucrative in the world, and developments like eSports have given gamers the opportunity to transform their passion into a profitable and rewarding career, playing games is still often seen as a “lazy” activity.

Sure, if we’re procrastinating for hours with yet another round of Candy Crush Saga, or spending all our free time in front of a screen, then we definitely need to be mindful of our habits and the time we waste distracting ourselves. However, short bursts of gaming on a regular basis can actually have a positive impact on brain health.

Video games do more than just provide entertainment

Today’s video games are a world away from the platform scrollers and arcade favorites of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Titles like The Last of Us are as visually compelling and gripping as TV shows like The Walking Dead, while playing online games like Fortnite or Call of Duty with different players from across the globe provides a real sense of community and socialization.

But video games can do much more than simply keep us entertained; in the past few years, over 100 scientific studies have been conducted that determine the positive ways in which playing such games can change the structure of our brains, as well as how they perform.

Playing video games regularly can significantly impact the areas of the brain responsible for visuospatial skills, causing it to grow and become much more efficient. In one study, a group of volunteer gamers who agreed to follow a set gaming schedule displayed growth in the right hippocampus region, and had a greater awareness of the spatial and visual relationships between different objects in their daily lives.

Game playing has been proven to affect attention span too, with gamers having much greater capacity for selective and sustained attention than non-gamers.

Poker is a great all-round game for the brain 

Poker players are renowned for their unflappable demeanor and exceptional strategic skills, but playing the game can be incredibly useful for the layperson too. Poker is a multi-layered and complex discipline, the mechanics of which involve specific rules governing both gameplay and hand rankings. There’s a lot of information to learn and absorb before even playing the game, and every single game will require players to continually make decisions and evaluate their situation.

In fact, poker is one of the few games that can positively affect all six key cognitive brain functions: visuospatial, critical thinking, memory (including both short and long term), language, and calculations.

Poker is also highly linked to Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to transform itself. Playing regular games of poker, even as a beginner player, helps form new neurological pathways in the brain. The more the person plays, the stronger these pathways become through a process called Myelination, which is crucial to maintaining a well-balanced central nervous system.

On top of that, poker also helps players develop important life skills, such as discipline and focus, patience and concentration, and effective decision making, so it’s a great all-rounder of a game to play.

Classic puzzles can still give your brain a good workout

Of course, in the days before video games and online poker tournaments became the gaming norm, we were quite content to tackle a jigsaw puzzle, or sit down with a few crosswords and wordsearches to solve. Even here in the digital era, these classic puzzles are still a fantastic way to get a good workout for the brain, and they can become a pastime for anyone, since there are no age restrictions and you don’t need to be online to give them a go.

Partaking in puzzles like a crossword or sudoku activates both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, since both reasoning and imagination are required to solve them, and memory skills are also triggered, giving way to “whole-brain activation”. Certain types of puzzles can also be relied on to stimulate specific regions in the brain, such as logic puzzles and riddles. Even the humble jigsaw offers a whole host of brain-boosting benefits, including stress-reduction and mindfulness.

Just like we all know how important it is to exercise on a daily basis to keep our bodies strong and our mental wellbeing in check, playing games is mentally stimulating and keeps that ol’ grey matter active and sharp.