This Pastime Can Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age

man plays board game to fight dementia
Photo by Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock.com

The type of games that you probably loved as a child offer a great way to keep your brain sharp in old age.

People who regularly play nondigital games — such as card or board games — score better on memory and thinking tests in their 70s than those who do not, according to a recent study out of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

And here is even better news: Those who suddenly increased game playing during their 70s also were more likely to maintain certain cognitive skills. So, it’s never too late to dust off your copy of Monopoly, or to learn bridge.

For the long-term study, which was published in The Journals of Gerontology, psychologists tested more than 1,000 people born in 1936 beginning at age 70 in the following skills:

  • Memory
  • Problem-solving
  • Thinking speed
  • General thinking ability

Researchers repeated the tests every three years until the study participants were 79.

At two ages — 70 and 76 — participants also reported how often they played nondigital games such as bingo, cards, chess or crosswords.

Those who played more games later in life experienced less decline in thinking skills from age 70 to 79. This protective effect was particularly evident in memory function and thinking speed.

The researchers noted that their findings were just the latest in a line of evidence suggesting a link between engaging in activities throughout life and better thinking ability in old age.

In a university announcement about the study, coauthor Ian Deary says:

“It would be good to find out if some of these games are more potent than others. We also point out that several other things are related to better cognitive ageing, such as being physically fit and not smoking.”

More ways to boost your brain

Protecting your brain probably wasn’t top of mind when you were 25. But it’s a safe bet that your interest in brain health has increased as the candles on your birthday cake have multiplied.

One way to help keep your brain firing on all cylinders is to keep the right company. People who are free of dementia and thriving in their community report a history of strong, positive relationships with others, as we report in “5 Secrets to Keeping Your Brain Sharp as You Age.”

You’ll find more tips for keeping the fire burning in your mind by reading “The 5 Best Foods for Brain Health as You Age.”

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