The idea that you can exercise your brain as you would your physical body is a relatively new concept that goes hand-in-hand with researchers’ increased understanding of the brain and brain-related diseases, such as dementia. However, whether or not brain games are as beneficial as the hype suggests is still up for debate.
Which Games are Brain Games?
According to the book “Train Your Brain” from Puzzler Media Limited, brain games are divided into two broad categories—verbally-themed games, such as crossword puzzles and anagrams, and analytical, with sudoku and many variations of sudoku being an ideal representative of the more mathematical side to brain games.
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That being said, technically any crossword puzzle or sudoku book that can be picked up at Wal-Mart can be classified as brain exercises, and there are a few of these games in “Train Your Brain.” However, Puzzler Media Limited is a bit more creative with their games and with the whole book.
There is a crossword puzzle called “Codeword” and the player must decipher the code in order to complete the puzzle. There are logic puzzles; matching pictures that may be oriented in two different directions; “Number Jig” games, in which the player must figure out which number in the given group will not fit in the grid; and many more. In order to get the most out of the exercises, it is suggested that the person time themselves.
The book is designed like an exercise program. It starts off with simple puzzles. In the verbal category, the first exercise is a word search, and in the analytical category, sudoku is the second exercise. By the time the reader gets to puzzle 118 of 190, they are the one filling out the word search in an empty grid with a list of words, one of which will not fit in the puzzle. Each “workout” steadily increases in difficulty, similar to how a runner would start training by walking.
Which Parts of the Brain Actually Benefit from Exercise
For the sake of this article, the human brain can be divided into three parts: the lower brain, mostly in charge of keeping the body alive; the middle brain, taking much of the responsibility for emotion and hormones; and the high brain, which is in charge of logical thinking. The brain games would primarily help the high brain.
The high brain, or cerebral cortex, is divided into four parts: the occipital lobe, or visual center; the temporal lobe, which mostly processes speech production and comprehension; the parietal lobe, which helps with sense of touch; and the frontal lobe, which handles reasoning and logic, all according to “The Brain: Beginner’s Guides.”
Obviously, logic games and puzzles like sudoku would utilize the frontal lobe, not including the act of seeing. Crosswords and other verbal games would make use of the temporal lobe and frontal lobe. Ironically, according to the National Geographic, the aged brain is more likely to fare better in crosswords because of the older brain’s tendency to remember vocabulary better than a younger brain.
All parts of the brain are active most of the time no matter which game you play. Every game requires the visual and language centers just to understand the rules. Reading and comprehending this article uses the cerebral cortex. Visiting with friends and family and catching up on their stories would be just as beneficial as the brain games as far as exercising the brain.
So why all the hype about brain exercises?
According to the Huffington Post, increased cognitive activity keeps the brain working better as a person ages. The article doesn’t just cite brain games as increased cognitive activity, but being social and doing physical exercise increases cognitive activity as well. Completing the puzzles in a brain games book uses more brain power than watching TV, and the completion of the puzzles gives a person the sense of winning something, an added bonus to the mental workout.
Perhaps these mental exercises are a bit less about which games Puzzler Media Limited can conjure up and more about being aware of your own cognitive and overall mental state, in order for you to keep yourself as healthy as possible.
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