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Just as weightlifting builds muscles, many experts agree that doing brain exercises helps strengthen your mind as you age. But beware – digital diversions are everywhere – even for older adults. Research shows that Americans ages 60 and over have increased screen time by nearly 30 minutes a day over the past decade.

While scrolling through news feeds and playing mobile games might be mentally stimulating, spending hours falling down a digital rabbit hole can disrupt sleep, cause headaches and eye strain, and other physical problems. Shutting down your smartphone, tablet, and computer to do old-school puzzles and games is an easy trade-off that curbs screen time and helps boost your brainpower. Follow these ideas to get started!

Crossword Puzzles, Sudoku, and Word Finds

Playing mobile word games is undeniably fun, but traditional newspaper subscribers may argue that there’s something special about the look, smell, and feel of actual newsprint. Sitting down with a pencil or pen to do the local paper’s daily or weekly crossword puzzle engages multiple senses, cuts screen time, and gives your brain a workout.

A Harvard Health report suggests that brain exercises like crosswords “may help sharpen certain thinking skills that tend to wane with age, such as processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making, and short-term memory.” Likewise, doing number puzzles like Sudoku flexes memory functions, engages logical reasoning skills, and helps increase concentration.

If you don’t get the paper, you can buy crossword, word finds, Sudoku, or Variety books with hundreds of different puzzles at a newsstand, supermarket, or bookstore. Tackling new mental challenges is also good for brain health, so be sure to try several and mix up puzzles you love with ones you’ve never tried!

See the Big Picture with Jigsaw Puzzles

Doing a jigsaw puzzle engages multiple cognitive functions. To put pieces in their proper place and reveal the final big picture, you must recognize patterns, discern colors and shapes, use your memory and even “rotate” pieces in your mind to determine where they do and don’t fit. The more complex a picture is and the more pieces a puzzle has, the more your brain will work to solve it. Plus, putting a puzzle together with family and friends is a fun way to connect! Doing puzzles related to your hobbies and interests – like Disney characters, fields filled with colorful flowers, different breeds of dogs, or anything else you like – can make the project visually stimulating and more fun.

asian woman doing a crossword

Photo by ALPA PROD/Shutterstock

Beat Boredom with Board Games

There’s no better way to beat the digital doldrums than having a game night with family and friends – virtual game nights count, too! Classic games like Checkers, Dominos, and Chess involve strategic thinking to defeat your opponent. Word-related board games like Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords, and Dabble help stimulate memory, sharpen focus, and promote learning new vocabulary. Whether you’re using deductive reasoning to guess whodunit in Clue or attempting to broker a property trade in Monopoly, the wide array of game night options can provide hours of fun social interactions while you exercise multiple parts of your brain.

Play Your Cards Wisely

Playing card games like Poker, Bridge, Pinochle, Euchre, and Rummy have brought players together around a table to shuffle, cut, deal, and hope for a favorable hand for decades. Games like these require strategy, math skills, reasoning, logic, decision-making, and more! If you’re not feeling up for a virtual card game with others, Solitaire will forever be a tried and true favorite.

Overall, staying mentally fit is an essential part of a healthy, active lifestyle. Try out any of these brain exercises as a fun way to take a break from electronic devices and give your brain the workout it needs! 

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