Stimulating the Brain with Brain Games

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The brain is a powerful vital organ. Apart from the voluntary and involuntary processes it handles, the brain can store information. It can keep memories. Eventually, the brain uses all this data to solve problems.

There's beauty and power with what the human brain can do, but it can only run at its optimum if we keep it healthy. One way to do it is through brain games.

Defined as any activity that stimulates one's thinking, brain games, brain teasers or puzzles have been found by Harvard Health to improve and maintain one's brain health.

Word puzzles like crosswords or fill-ins like this product at Penny Dell Puzzles; Sudoku and other traditional games like chess. All these can contribute to the stimulation of the gray matter, according to Harvard Health's Dr. Julie Brody-Magid. The same results can be seen in learning an instrument or another language.

For example, crosswords, that one puzzle old or just wordy people often play, stimulates the mind in a multitude of ways. Sometimes, you just try to answer according to the numerical order. As the game goes on, however, and when boxes and boxes are filled up, you scan from left to right to see which words might form and if they're the right word you're looking for. You quickly rack your brain on synonyms for the clue "memory aid", which by the way is "mnemonic". You skim and scan and skip and process information faster and faster. Some crosswords are just simple puzzles; some have a touch of the political, which you'll realize after you finish the whole thing.

Though there are debates about the long-term effects of brain teasers in the fight against dementia and Alzheimer's disease, these games help build up a person's cognitive reserve, which can be used and spent on quick-thinking activities, said Dr. Brody-Magid. Said reserve might also help make the mind resilient to memory loss, she added.

Video games and brain stimulation

Video games are a different kind of brain games, and some video games apparently help with improving brain health according to another study.

The study from the University of Montreal's Gregory West shows growth in the hippocampus–the part of the brain associated with stress regulation, memory, and spatial navigation–in people who played Super Mario-like games. Those who played action games, though, lost gray matter in the said area. West recommended people to play 3D platformer games or logic puzzle games to further stimulate the brain.

Perhaps one of the better-known applications of video games in improving brain health comes from the Tohoku University's Ryuta Kawashima. The Japanese neuroscientist is the face of the Brain Age line of books and video games. He believes that the modern world is making human brains duller and less stimulated with the increasing reliance on computers and gadgets. By solving puzzles and simple arithmetics, constantly stimulating the brain, a person can help improve the health of the brain. In some cases, they can also reverse some of the effects of dementia, although some dispute this claim.

The importance of brain health can't be understated. In the long run, constantly stimulating the brain can help it stay in its peak condition for a long time. From puzzles to brain teasers, to video games, to your basic stimulating activities like reading, there are many things you could do to always keep your mind sharp and healthy.