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Chess isn’t the only thinking person’s game. Source: Online College Courses

When we think about games that give us a mental workout, games like chess and Sudoku are the first ones that pop into mind. And it’s a long-proven fact that chess is a brain booster. But not everyone is into chess, or Sudoku for that matter.

So, for those who don’t know their bishop from their knight, what other kinds of games can we play to increase both our IQ and learning potential? Here are five that you might find a little surprising.

Darts

If you think that darts is a game played in bars and smoky games rooms, then you’re right: it often is. But the surprising fact is that darts is a brain booster for several reasons.

First off, the obvious. Playing darts helps your math skills but in a slightly different way from other games. Usually, games involve the addition of points and tallying your score is straightforward, but with darts, you start at 501 and work your way down to zero. Simple enough, but when you consider doubles and triples, figuring out your score on the fly can get a little tricky.

Let’s say, for example, that a player starts at 501 and throws a triple 17, 19 and a double 7. So that’s 501 – 51 – 19 – 14, and if you can figure all that out without a calculator and in just a few seconds, then you’re better at math than we are. The answer is 417 (just in case you were wondering).

The fast nature of the game also requires that players tally their scores as quickly as possible, so they know what they need to score on their next turn. It’s also great for hand-eye coordination (you don’t want to injure anyone), relieves stress and improves focus and concentration. Not bad for a game that’s “just” throwing darts at a board, right?

But it’s not just games like 501 that you can play. There are quite a few games, and the rules of each are simple enough to master, but if you’re like us, you may need a calculator at first.

Jigsaw Puzzles

When was the last time you finished a jigsaw puzzle? And no, we’re not talking about that Barney six-piece puzzle you helped your daughter or nephew finish. Jigsaw puzzles are traditional toys that are enjoying a bit of a comeback, and it’s not just because they look nice framed and on the wall. The jigsaw puzzle, while not quite a game as such, is still deserving of a place on this list for the fact that it’s a superb workout for the mind.

Remembering all the pieces improves short-term memory
Photo by Scouten, CC BY

Sitting down with a jigsaw puzzle clears your mind and helps improve your ability to focus and maintain concentration levels by allowing you to use both sides of your brain. It’s also great as a short-term memory booster as you continuously recall where you saw that piece just a moment ago. Many doctors like to encourage their Alzheimer and dementia patients to take it up as a hobby.

Some research even goes so far as to say that puzzles, in general, help reduce the buildup of brain plaque, which, in turn, reduces the risk of both Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s fun, boosts your brain and can help you in later life? Sounds ideal.

Blackjack

It’s well known that playing card games of any kind are good for the brain, but there’s only so much “Snap” and “Go Fish” you can do to boost your brainpower. No, if you want a card game that gives you a real mental workout, then poker is the way to go. And while many assume that it’s a game of luck, in fact, it’s not. Blackjack requires skill in no small amount, and to be a decent player, you’ll need to practice, but why is it so good for the brain?

It stimulates your brain like no other card game because you must play with a strategy in mind. You’re always thinking and planning and never just sitting there waiting for a roll of the dice. It also improves memory function and helps to develop new brain cells, and that can only be a good thing.

Yes, Twenty-One is a brain workout that we would put on a par with chess. But if you want to get the most out of the game, then you should at least understand the basics. There’s over a dozen of variations to try out, but learning the basic rules of Blackjack is a good place to start. It’s actually quite easy to get familiar with the game and feel like James Bond when playing with your friends.

Billiards

Much like darts, billiards is another game reserved for bars and those smoky games rooms. And like darts, it’s another game with surprisingly mental health benefits and a few physical ones, too.

While it’s missing the math workout you get with darts, billiards still promotes tactical thinking and helps maintain those focus and concentration levels. It’s also great for hand-eye coordination and improves cognitive skills. Of course, to enjoy the brain-boosting power of the game, you may have to take it easy on the beers. Beer and billiards go together like, well, like beer and billiards. But reducing your alcohol intake by even just a little bit will increase your chances of enjoying the mental health benefits of the game.

Whether it’s nine-ball or eight-ball, the rules of billiards are easy enough to remember, but if you’re unfamiliar with the game, then do a little homework and learn how to play before you hit the pool hall.

Bingo

It’s the game of the older generation, and it requires no brainpower at all. Well, at least half of that statement is true. Yes, it’s a game often played by seniors around the world but playing bingo does require a keen mind.

Played by seniors, bingo is a game of speed
Photo by Edwin Torres, CC BY

It may not be the extreme type of mental workout that poker or darts are, but its brain boosting effects go a long way to explain why older people feel invigorated after a game. And while it may be a game of chance, it still pays to know the rules before playing.

But if you’re not a keen chess player or the thought of adding numbers in a box makes you cringe, don’t worry: there are other ways to give your brain the workout it needs. Get a dartboard for the house, go play pool with your friends or, if you’re inclined, sit down with a jigsaw puzzle. Whatever game you decide, you can enjoy yourself knowing that you’re setting yourself up for a nice retirement.

Trust us, your older-self will thank you for it in 30 years’ time.


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