Mind Games That Make You Feel Good

These days, you don't need to be a ten-year-old boy to play videogames. Research has proven that a variety of games can boost intelligence, reduce stress, and improve overall happiness. Here are a few mind games you're sure to enjoy.

When you imagine the typical videogame addict, you probably think of a ten-year-old boy hunched in front of a jumbo TV screen in his family’s game room. And while young (and young-at-heart) men do make up a large percentage of the audience for videogames like Halo, Doom, and Guitar Hero III, you might be surprised to know who else is getting pretty good with the console: Their grandparents.

We know your dear old Granny probably isn’t spending her idle hours playing Grand Theft Auto IV (though we’re not ones to judge), but these days, thousands of senior citizens are getting into videogames of a different variety. All across the United States, hundreds of nursing homes have begun providing their residents with videogames like Nintendo’s Brain Age – and it’s not just a way to keep them busy: Brain teaser games like these can keep their minds sharp and active well into the golden years. In a recent study from Australia’s University of New South Wales, Dr. Michael Valenzuela confirmed, “it is a case of ‘use it or lose it’. If you increase your brain reserve over your lifetime, you seem to lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

No matter how old you are, it’s safe to say that playing brain games can do wonders for your own mental agility as well. Sure, the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle isn’t a bad place to begin – but if you want to really whip your brain into shape, here are a few great programs that will boost your memory, concentration, and coordination, and maybe even make you smile, too.

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! is a popular game developed by Nintendo for use on their handheld DS console. Inspired by the research of Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima (who appears as a floating head on the screen), the game features a range of Sudoku puzzles, math calculations, memory questions, and numerous other tests. By working through a variety of exercises, players can test their “brain age” to see how their mental abilities compare: The ideal “brain age” is 20, because mental skills tend to decrease after that point. However, as thousands of senior citizens are discovering, you can build your brain back up to its former glory – all it takes is a little daily training. If you don’t want to shell out for the DS console just to play Brain Age, try Radica Brain Games, a similarly-themed standalone game available for just $17.99.

Rather stick with something you can play on your computer? There are plenty of options there, too. MindFit Brain Exercise Program features a range of quick exercises and puzzles, which are designed to be played for 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week. In a clinical study, senior citizen volunteers who used the MindFit program regularly were found to have improved their attention spans, memory retention, and spatial skills by as much as 18 percent. And at Happyneuron.com, you can pick from a wide variety of brain-boosting games and puzzles, focused on increasing memory, attention, language, and reasoning abilities. Just a few minutes a day with a game like “The Squeaking Mouse” or “Basketball in New York” could push you into Einstein territory in no time.

While all these games can help improve your mental skills, they won’t do much good if you’re too miserable to enjoy your newfound brainpower. Fortunately, there’s another computer game that will help you find the bright side of life: MindHabits Trainer. In the game, you’ll be shown a series of photographs. Most feature frowning, bored, or angry faces, while only one photo in each group shows a genuine smile. It’s your job to find that one smiling face in the gloomy crowd.

True, it sounds like a simple task, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to boost your mood and de-stress. In a study at McGill University, test subjects with one of the most stressful jobs around – telemarketing – played the game for a few minutes every day before work for one week. Compared to a control group that did not play the game, the subjects reported higher self-confidence levels and made more sales, and their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, had gone down by 17 percent. Check out the free trial at their website – after a few minutes playing “find the smile,” you’re sure to be sporting a pretty huge one yourself.