These Doctor-Approved Brain Games Will Sharpen Your Memory
It's common to exercise at the gym or set aside time for a quick workout at home each day, but scheduling regular sessions to exercise your brain should be a crucial part of your routine, too. "Cognitive exercise is important for maintaining good cognitive functioning throughout your lifespan, and it may help prevent or slow any current or further decline," says Dr. Hayley Kristinsson, a neuropsychologist at UCI Health's Department of Neurology.
But what does cognitive exercise look like, exactly? It typically involves any activity that requires memory, visual and spatial skills, executive functions, attention, or language—and brain games offer some of the most fun ways to work these muscles. Beyond providing genuine enjoyment, though, these games are effective. Dr. Gerardo Zavala, II, a neurosurgeon at Neurosurgery & Spine Consultants, says, "The importance of brain games in general is to keep our minds sharp, active, stimulated, and challenged on a daily basis."
Researchers are still learning exactly how brain games affect cognition, and Dr. Kristinsson says that research is mixed regarding their ability to prevent neurological disorders like dementia. But we do know that they stimulate the brain to work in new ways, which is key for a healthy mind, Dr. Kristinsson explains. Plus, they're interesting and amusing. "Utilizing our brains to solve problems is part of being a human being and we should take advantage of the gift of being able to do so each and every day," Dr. Zavala says. To help you do just that, we asked neurology experts for their favorite brain games and rounded them up below.
You're likely familiar with Sudoku, the logic-based puzzle revolving around numerical patterns, but did you know it's a top brain game amongst neurologists? "Sudoku improves memory and concentration, while also promoting the concept of bridging the gap between the whole picture and the individual parts of a problem you're attempting to solve," explains Dr. Zavala.
Shop Now: Funster 1,000+ Sudoku Puzzles, $12.95, amazon.com.
Soduko for Kids
Ask any doctor: You're never too young to learn something new, which is why setting your kids up with their own age-appropriate Soduko booklet is always a good idea. This one is best for youngsters ages six and up.
Shop Now: My First Soduko Volume I, $6.99, walmart.com.
Dakim BrainFitness is an online program that offers more than 100 different exercises and games to boost sharpness, cognition, and memory—its hailed as a "personal trainer for your brain." While the program is marketed towards people 50 years and older, all ages can benefit from the exercises. "It's a program that has undergone a lot of research, and the games are enjoyable while also challenging you to think in new ways," says Dr. Kristinsson. "The exercises allow you to practice skills that are directly applicable to your daily life, such as improved ability to remember names."
Shop Now: Dakim BrainFitness, $14.95 per month (with a free three-day trial), dakim.com.
MemTrax Memory Test
MemTrax Memory Test is a free online quiz that exercises your short-term memory with image-based questions. If an image shows up on your screen more than once, all you do is tap the picture or hit your space bar, and your brain gets a great workout in the process. "This is an excellent, validated memory assessment tool used by Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA)," says Dr. George Perry, member of AFA's Medical, Scientific and Memory Screening Advisory Board and neurobiology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Just as a coach or trainer provides personalized physical exercises, HAPPYneuron administers custom brain exercises. This online program was designed to stimulate your five main cognitive functions (memory, attention, language, executive functions, and visual and spatial skills) through supervised sessions. "HAPPYneuron is unique in that it offers personalized coaching to help you determine which brain games are most appropriate for you," says Dr. Kristinsson. "You are able to tailor the program to meet your needs, and the personal guidance helps keep you motivated." Your coach will also track your performance to help you set goals.
Shop Now: HAPPYneuron, from $14.90 with a free seven-day trial, happy-neuron.com.
If you need a screen break, a game of chess makes for an excellent cognitive exercise. Dr. Zavala recommends the board game because it requires logical reasoning. "Chess allows us to strategize and have moments of forward-thinking clarity, while at the same time improving memory and overall cognitive abilities," he explains.
Shop Now: Amerous Magnetic Wooden Chess Set, $29.99, amazon.com.
Chess To Go
Take your love of the game on the road, with this chess set (which can easily become checkers if you're traveling with kids or grandchildren).
Shop Now: Pendleton Roll-Up Chess and Checkers Set, $35, urbanoutfitters.com.
One of the more popular websites for cognitive exercises is Luminosity, which Dr. Kristinsson suggests for its genuinely fun content (they offer more than 50 games!) and scientifically-supported strategies. "I like Luminosity because it has numerous peer reviewed research studies examining its effectiveness, and the different exercises are based on research from multiple disciplines," she says. "It offers a wide variety of different exercises in a number of cognitive domains—and the games are actually fun." Luminosity offers both free and paid subscriptions, plus it helps you easily track your progress and check out average scores among your peers.
Shop Now: Luminosity, $14.95 per month, luminosity.com.
Another effective exercise that doesn't involve an app or computer is a 1,000-piece puzzle—a brain game that Dr. Zavala recommends to all ages. "1,000-piece puzzles allow us to develop our spatial awareness abilities and problem-solving skills, both as adults and children," he says. So find a puzzle that depicts any image that interests you, then have at it!
Shop Now: MasterPieces Inc Oranges 1000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle, $21.99, target.com.