Fun for the Brain: Games That Preserve Cognitive Skills

The brain is an amazing organ that scientists are still trying to understand. But one fact is clear: Our brains need exercise as much as our bodies do in order to stay healthy into older age.

The good news is that brain exercise doesn’t have to mean doing crossword puzzles. In fact, it can be as fun as playing video and computer games, watching comedy, dancing and, yes, even sleeping.

This is the first piece in a short series in which we’ll offer you fun, quick suggestions to help you maintain brain function – memory, perception, learning, and creativity – as you age.


Gaming for Brain Fitness


Researchers are studying why aging so often brings loss of “executive function,” which involves the brain processes of attention, perception and problem solving. Some studies show this decline beginning in middle age, while others show it starting as young as age 28.

How Gaming Helps As part of their research scientists are asking why playing videogames improves cognitive skills in older people. Among the answers: Learning and practicing challenging tasks can actually change the brain. Video and computer games fit the bill because they are “adaptively harder” – in other words, they keep challenging us up to the edge of our abilities via increasingly demanding levels.  Playing a game can also increase:

  • visual acuity
  • spatial perception
  • working memory
  • reasoning

Which games? A new study from the University of Iowa found that adults age 50 and older who played just 10 hours of a game called “Road Tour” delayed declines – specifically, declines in brain-processing speed and agility – by between three and seven years. “Road Tour” (recently renamed “Double Decision”) involves identifying a type of vehicle and road sign, then finding them repeatedly through an increasing array of possibilities, at increasing speeds, and with distractions in the form of rabbits, thrown in.


Game Recommendations


Beyond those adorable Angry Birds, here are some popular games that will challenge your brain and entertain you:

  • On your computer  Double Decision and four other free, clinically-proven brain fitness games are available at (requires subscription).
  • On your iPad  Bubble, W.E.L.D.E.R. and Pocket Planes are free bestsellers available for download in the Game Center of the App Store. (Click here to learn how to download and play games on your iPad.)
  • On the Wii Just Dance 4, Mario Kart Wii, and Zumba Fitness 2 are available for purchase on

Watch this video about how games affect the brain:

Click here to read more about the University of Iowa Healthy and Active Minds study.

Are you already a gamer?  Which games do you like best?

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