Do Memory Exercises Work?

A Healthier Michigan

| 3 min read

From crosswords to Sudoku to logic puzzles, there are plenty of exercises, apps, and games used for both entertainment and improving memory. There are many products and games marketed as memory aids or mind-sharpening pastimes explicitly, especially for older Americans. Do these exercises really help with memory or have a noticeable effect? There are some benefits to common games and exercises associated with memory or cognitive function.

Common memory exercises and their benefits

While not always solely used for memory training purposes, many games and pastimes have studied benefits on the mind and brain health.

Chess, Go, and Mahjong

Traditional board games such as chess, go, mahjong, and many more can contribute to a slower decline in cognitive function in those over the age of 50, according to a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. These games, often enjoyed socially, can also help to curb symptoms of depression in older adults, according to the same study.

Word and number puzzles and games

In a 2018 study of more than 10,000 adults over the age of 50, word and number games can have positive effect on cognitive function and the trajectory of patients’ cognitive decline. Adults who never or rarely spent time playing word or number games had the lowest scores in many cognitive functions. 

Video games

Video games can get a bad rap, but they do have actual benefits on cognitive function and memory. A 2020 study using popular games, including Super Mario and Angry Birds, found that 30 minutes of focused video gaming every day for four weeks aided participants in memory function in the hippocampus. 

Physical games, sports and exercise

Physical exercise is important to whole-body health, improving mental health and brain function as well as benefiting you physically. In one 2022 study, even if seniors did not reach the recommended 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) of physical activity a week, they tested better in cognitive and memory function with higher levels of activity. Working on both mental puzzles or games and performing physical exercise at the same time can help seniors stay independent and improve the ability for multitasking, according to a 2021 study in the Journal of Gerontology.

Ways to aid memory and neurological health

Besides memory games or word and number puzzles, there are plenty of ways to try to improve your memory and cognitive function. Here are some changes you can incorporate into your daily routines to try to improve your memory and cognitive function and to boost your brain health in general.

1. Eat brain healthy foods.

Overly processed foods and added sugars can actively contribute to brain dog and cognitive stress. Make sure to be conscious of your diet and to try a brain-healthy diet for improved memory or less cognitive stress or dysfunction.

2. Destress and keep stress levels down.

Stress can influence memory and cognitive function negatively, and stress has been linked to long-term neurological changes in the brain, according to a 2022 study.

3. Get good sleep.

The quality and amount of sleep you get affects how well your brain functions and your memory, as well. Both too little sleep and too much sleep can negatively affect memory, according to Harvard Medical School. Improper sleep can even add years to your brain age, according to a 2020 study from the American Geriatrics Society.

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