Do Brain Training Games Improve Cognitive Function?

October 23, 2022

animated charachter with brain puzzle and pen

If you have ever played one of those computer or app-based games that claimed it would increase your brain function, you would not be alone. One of the most popular of these games, Lumosity, is used by over 100 million people globally.

But do these brain games really work? The data on this has been very mixed. Back in 2014 there were a couple of large groups of scientists from all over the world who tried to answer this question by looking at the published scientific literature. One of these groups, which consisted of 70 researchers, penned an open letter disparaging the games as ineffective, claiming these types of games did nothing to prevent or slow cognitive decline. Then, just a few months later, another group of 133 scientists who looked at the very same body of research literature, claimed just the opposite effects!

It turns out that at that time, there had never been a thorough, comprehensive review of the brain-training literature, and each group of scientists was using their own standards to evaluate the studies, many of which had been poorly designed. Then a couple of years later in 2016 the FDA got into the act and delivered a $50 million dollar judgment against the makers of Lumosity, stating the company’s advertised benefits of improving player’s cognition were not backed up by scientific evidence.

Some of the confusion over all this is because of problems with the statistics and the way the studies are carried out. While some studies have shown some small improvements in memory and other areas, you are probably better off using your time on things that have a stronger scientific backing.

The Harvard Health Letter recommends six proven things you can do and all essentially come down to this: if you want a healthy brain, you need a healthy body. Here are the six recommendations:

One - Eat a plant-based diet, or at least increase your intake of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Two - Exercise regularly. Walk three or four times a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a brisk pace.

Three -Make sufficient, quality sleep a priority. Get to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. Get 10 to 15 minutes of early morning sun on your face without sunglasses to set your master biological clock for the day and to ensure a good night’s sleep that evening.

Four -Get stress under control. Taking time each day for 20 minutes of meditation can be very helpful. This can be something as simple as sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and focusing on your breath as it goes in and out. When thoughts arise, as they will, simply bring your attention back to your breath.

Five -Get social! Don’t take your social relationships for granted but nurture them. Social interaction is crucial for brain health. When you get an invitation to participate in something with others, say yes, even if it’s online. Communicate on a regular basis with your immediate family and friends.

Six - Challenge your brain. Take a class to learn something new. Join a group to participate in something you’ve never done, such as geocaching, a group cooking class or even an drama class. The trick is to get out of your comfort zone.

Many so-called brain training games are fun, but don’t count on them to keep you in good cognitive health. Taking care of your body is the best way to take care of your brain!

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