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How Playing Games Improves Brain Health

Could a deck of cards improve your health?

By Mariko Zapf

Monopoly, bridge, mahjong, and backgammon are nice ways to pass time, but they could also be helpful tools for aging well. That’s because brain-boosting activities can support your cognitive health—your ability to think, learn, and remember. And cognitive health is an important factor in your overall well-being.

Plus, the social interactions that we enjoy while playing a game with friends or family help our mood and our outlook.

Group of 4 people gathered around a table playing a game

Why Games Are Good For Your Health

“Mental stimulation makes us happier and less prone to depression, which in turn can lead to cognitive issues and memory problems in older adults,” says Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, cardiologist, geriatrician, and Associate Chief Medical Officer at Clover Health.

So dust off The Game of Life, because games do a world of good by exercising our working memory, executive function, and logical reasoning.

And be sure to think outside the board: cards, puzzles, even games that don’t require any accessories are great options, too!

Dr. Dharmarajan also reminds us that mental exercise doesn’t mean timed chess tournaments or Sudoku for math whizzes. “It means different things to different people. Cross-stitching, reading, writing letters, and word searches (find one on page 61!)—there are countless ways to engage your brain.”

“The actual activity is less important than just getting started and using your brain in a way that, for example, watching TV doesn’t,” adds Sophia Chang, MD, MPH, internist, and Chief Clinical Informatics Officer at Clover Health. With the colder months of winter keeping many of us indoors, what better way to keep our brains busy than with games, trivia, crafts, or puzzles? 

A woman in a blue, white and red shirt showing her chess board in front of a laptop

Games to Play Remote 

Thanks to the pandemic, many of us embraced video conference platforms like Zoom

and FaceTime to visit with friends and family virtually. Why not use those platforms to start some friendly competition?

  1. Chess: The classic strategy game is easy to take to the digital realm. Head to to set up an account and then challenge a friend to a match over Zoom. Or video call your buddy, set up your respective boards, and speak your moves as you go.
  2. Battleship: This childhood favorite makes a great option for remote fun with the kids in your life! You and your playmate simply need your own versions of it.
  3. Heads Up!: Play this game virtually by first downloading the app to your smartphone or tablet and then joining a video call with fellow players. To play, hide your self-view in Zoom so you can’t see your own face. Then hold your smartphone up to your forehead, facing out. The Heads Up! app will reveal a word. Your friends shout out clues about the word until you guess correctly. You have 60 seconds to guess as many words as you can.

If Heads Up! feels too complicated, go old-school with a round of charades. 

Two people with excited expressions sitting down with video game controllers in their hands

Digital Games For Adults

Think online games are just for the young? If so, think again. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of people 50 and older who played video games increased from 40.2 million to 50.6 million according to research by AARP.

  1. Video Game Consoles: These systems are costly— ranging from $150 to $300 (and that’s without the games!). But they do offer the convenience of viewing games on your TV screen. Plus, you can play on your own or with a buddy (either virtually or in person).

Currently, the most popular game consoles include Nintendo’s Switch and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro. Go-to games include:

  • Super Mario Kart, the classic car racing game
  • Animal Crossing, a simulation game where you create your own paradise on a deserted island
  • Just Dance, a fun—and challenging—way to get grooving in your living room
  1. GameApps: Downloadable games for your smartphone or tablet are cheap, mobile, and simple to set up. Popular options that are available for free and on both iOS and Android platforms include: 
  • Wordscapes, a word puzzle game
  • Elevate, designed to improve focus, memory, and speed
  • 2048, an easy-to-follow numbers puzzle game 

Want more brain game ideas? Find easy exercises to keep your mind active here

This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Clover Living magazine. Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to Clover Living magazine for free (if you aren’t already subscribed) here.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan.

Published on 1/24/22

Photo credit: Getty