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07/27/2016

Seven Games That Improve Mental Health

Kids today never go outside. Millennials are the epitome of laziness. All they EVER do is sit on their behinds, and waste time on social media on their smartphones and computers.

At least, this is exactly what the authors of many clickbait articles would have you think. It is indeed true that many children today do not spend quite as much time outside or playing physically active games as their parents, guardians, and teachers would like, but the one thing that we are missing is that children are more active today than ever before—and not just physically, but mentally.

The (R)Evolution of Creative Gameplay

For every begrudging moan that children today have morphed into couch potatoes, there is at least one kid inadvertently working on their cognitive and motor skills through a variety of both traditional and unorthodox means.

These include both old-school outdoor and board games (which have surprisingly been rising in popularity each year this past decade), as well as through a wide variety of intriguing new technology-based apps and games available for free or cheap across a plethora of smartphone, tablet, and computer platforms.

Contrary to what the aforementioned hand-wringers would have one believe, this is actually an excellent development. Participating in a healthy combination of these sorts of activities can harbor a great deal of mental and physical health benefits for kids, adults, and the elderly alike.

In this vein, let us take a look at some of the most popular games, and the myriad mental health benefits they offer to players across all ages and demographics.

The (R)Evolution of Creative Gameplay

Indoor Games

Pictionary

Pictionary is essentially charades, but with drawing. Translating words accurately into pictures and vice versa stimulates short-term memory, visualization, and organization of scattered thoughts into a cohesive unit. Drawing itself improves close-up hand-eye coordination and enhances creative thinking abilities.

Uno

One of the most beloved American card games, Uno has made its mark as the “Monopoly of card games,” due to its uncanny ability to wreak relationship havoc on family and friends who play!

Each participant starts out with seven cards featuring various colors and numbers; the object is to get rid of all your cards first by putting down one card at a time that corresponds with the color or number of the card put down by the player before you. Scattered within the deck are wild cards that can change gameplay, skip players, or reverse the order in which participants play.

Uno requires you to pay full attention at every moment, not just when it’s your turn. Frequent gameplay forces your brain to react to, and recognize colors and numbers, enhancing pattern recognition abilities. Furthermore, Uno forces you to strategize which cards to put down when, a skill that greatly hones your reasoning and logical thinking skills.

Chess

One of the oldest strategic games in existence, chess—and early versions of it that originated in India—has been around since as early as the third century A.D. Here are some of the unique ways in which the world’s most famous board game improves cognitive ability:

Chess works both halves of your brain

One study in Germany discovered that, when asked to name both geometric shapes, and chess moves and positions, participants who regularly play chess saw brain activity fire up on both sides of the brain. What’s more, playing frequent rounds of chess for four months can produce significant gains in IQ scores!

Chess can prevent early onset Alzheimer’s disease

One of the most effective ways to delay the progress or onset of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and myriad other neurodegenerative diseases is simply to exercise your brain more. Playing chess is very similar to working out your brain; adults over the age of 75 who take up playing chess greatly reduce their risk of developing dementia. How’s that for motivation?

Monopoly

Although Monopoly made its debut in 1935, 71 years of gameplay have only increased the popularity of the quintessential American board game.

Monopoly is a classic exercise in role play; players move along squares on the board with a representative game piece. Every participant starts out with a certain amount of money, and can make or lose thousands in cash, depending on how well they play, with the primary objective being to bankrupt your opponents and thereby become the richest player.

Due to the myriad complexities introduced by family house rules, rookie investment mis-takes, and chance cards that can send you to jail or grant you the ability to purchase the most expensive and lucrative properties, one round of gameplay can take hours—but that’s all part of the fun!

As one can imagine, there exist a great many cognitive benefits to gathering your friends and family for a Monopoly night as often as possible. Here are just a few:

Monopoly can teach and hone mental math skills with big numbers.

The standard Monopoly board starts off each player with a certain number of five hundred, one hundred-, fifty-, twenty-, ten-, five-, and one-dollar bills. Throughout the course of the game, players are constantly exchanging crazy amounts of money.

Participants usually maintain a general picture of how much money they possess, and often find themselves making mental calculations as they plot out strategies to buy, sell, mortgage, or rent properties. Keeping track of such large amounts of money ensures that you are constantly running numbers in your head, thereby flexing those mental math skills.

Monopoly teaches resilience.

Let’s face it. The Monopoly board serves as a microcosm of real-world finances; just as there exist plenty of opportunities for you to make it big, there are equally as many opportunities for you to crash and burn. Landing a Chance card that sends you to jail can handily teach even the youngest players to adapt to sudden negative changes.

If you want to win at Monopoly—or at least stand a fighting chance of bringing down the most likely winner—you need to be resilient. This often involves not giving up, when all seems lost, and searching for second chances in investments and deals you may not have thought of initially.

Monopoly creates a habitually frugal brain

Let’s face it. The Monopoly board serves as a microcosm of real-world finances; just as there exist plenty of opportunities for you to make it big, there are equally as many opportunities for you to crash and burn. Landing a Chance card that sends you to jail can handily teach even the youngest players to adapt to sudden negative changes.

Furthermore, it is never too early to begin teaching a child the importance of such habits as financial planning, saving, and budgeting. The key to winning Monopoly is to accumulate more wealth than everyone else on the board, and even the youngest players will soon learn that one of the most failsafe ways to do this is simply to save their money.

Scrabble

At the outset, Scrabble appears to be a very niche area of gameplay; after all, who really wants to spend all their time making words? Nevertheless, the crossword puzzle game has become one of the most popular board games in the world since its release in 1938.

Fans on the go can play against friends or other enthusiasts online through the Scrabble or Words With Friends smartphone apps. Easy to set up and clean up, the mental health benefits of regularly playing Scrabble are immediately obvious. The following are some of the best:

For younger kids, Scrabble can teach refined motor skills

Unlike many other games, Scrabble requires a more intense level of dexterity than average; the board is divided into hundreds of tiny squares, many of which retain the ability to lower or increase your word’s original score count.

Each letter tile needs to fit as precisely as possible within the squares on the board in order to help maintain accurate scores and to help players visualize and place their words. Playing Scrabble on a regular basis can thus help kids hone their motor skills and hand-eye coordination on a smaller scale.

For younger kids, Scrabble can teach refined motor skills

Unlike many other games, Scrabble requires a more intense level of dexterity than average; the board is divided into hundreds of tiny squares, many of which retain the ability to lower or increase your word’s original score count.

Each letter tile needs to fit as precisely as possible within the squares on the board in order to help maintain accurate scores and to help players visualize and place their words. Playing Scrabble on a regular basis can thus help kids hone their motor skills and hand-eye coordination on a smaller scale.

For younger kids, Scrabble can teach refined motor skills

If you are playing to win, each letter is worth a certain number of points. Many board spaces increase letter or word value by two or three times, meaning lots of mental addition and multiplication if you are racking up the big points.

Outdoor Activities

Badminton

Badminton is often viewed as a lighter, backyard form of tennis, but this is simply not the case. Badminton in and of itself is a highly competitive and taxing sport that you can easily play without a formal court. The following are some of the greatest benefits of regularly taking up the game:

Badminton hones your intelligence, productivity, and reflexes

Playing badminton automatically forces you to become more alert and focused. After all, the only way to improve your scores is to keep your eyes locked on the shuttlecock. Badminton greatly improves your concentration, as well as hones your body’s agility, strength, and ability to handle both physical and mental stress.

Badminton improves your mood

Playing badminton automatically forces you to become more alert and focused. After all, the only way to improve your scores is to keep your eyes locked on the shuttlecock. Badminton greatly improves your concentration, as well as hones your body’s agility, strength, and ability to handle both physical and mental stress.

Baggo

One of the most popular and beloved American outdoor games for children, adults, and families, the classic Baggo game carries a great deal of mental health benefits for those who play it regularly outdoors during the warm summer months. It can be played indoors, too, so there is no need to pack it away for the winter.

The bean bag toss is one of the simplest games in the world, and it takes little to no time to set up. Players set up two large boards across from each other, at a slight incline from the ground, so that each resembles a ramp.

Each board has a large hole carved into the top of it (on the angled level). This hole is the target into which participants aim to sink their bean bags. These bags are approximately the same size as the hole—which is usually about six inches in diameter—and are filled with light items, such as beads, to weigh them down.

Purchasing a Baggo game set from a company that specializes in this game guarantees your boards and bean bags will be durable and long-lasting. You can even order your own customized sets of boards and bean bags, or purchase boards crafted with screen inserts or specific themes that appeal to you and your family.

The benefits of playing Baggo greatly transcend the obvious positives (namely, burning calories and improving hand-eye coordination). In fact, the game can vastly enhance your child’s cognitive development:

Baggo can help your child meet Common Core (and other education) requirements

This is particularly true in the realm of mathematics and algebra. Players of Baggo have to keep track of their scores, and there is a lot of crazy addition involved, due to the different scores you earn based on where your bag lands. Children who frequently play Baggo over the summer keep their math and counting skills sharp, come the school year.

Baggo can refine social developmental skills

The game needs at least two players, and can host up to four, helping young children develop important collaborative skills with other family members and friends who play with them.

Furthermore, the simple and competitive nature of the game will effectively help growing kids learn how to win and (arguably more significantly) lose by following good sportsmanship—as well as the importance of never giving up. After all, the only way to get better at a game is to keep practicing.

Baggo is a fun way to instill a sense of healthy competition in children, as well as implement the seeds of self-confidence.

Summary

These are just a few of the games with which you can greatly enhance your cognitive abilities. Many of these are classics that come with a modern twist that make them fun for the whole family. Now, go and work out that brain, and we dare you to tell us you didn’t have a blast in the process!

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