From sudoku and paper crossword puzzles to specialized applications in brain training, game options for the brain are plentiful. People of all ages use these games to improve mental functioning and prevent brain aging.

According to Rayner et al (2001), brain training can help improve memory, response time and logical skills, although research shows that the relationship between brain training games and improved cognitive function is complicated. If you want to exercise your brain and have fun too, try these games and activities that can improve your concentration and mental fitness.

Sudoku

According to Polat et al (2012), sudoku is a number placement game that is based on short-term memory. To complete a Sudoku puzzle, you have to look ahead and follow clues of consequences: if you put a 6 in this box, that should be an 8 and this a 4, and so on. This type of planning helps improve short-term memory and concentration.

You can play Sudoku online, in an app or on paper. Look for regular Sudoku in your newspaper, buy a book with a collection of puzzles, or download a free app for your phone or tablet.

Sudoku puzzles are available in various degrees of difficulty. When you're just starting out, play the easy games until you learn the rules. If you play on paper, use a pencil!

Lumosity

Lumosity is one of the most established brain training and mental fitness programs. You can sign up with a free account to play three games a day, or choose the subscription service for more deals. Either way, you can keep track of your results and improvements.

Lumosity's fun games, tests, and brain training and mental fitness activities are backed by science. You can play them on the website or download the free apps for iOS and Android. Lumosity also has a mindfulness and meditation app called Lumosity Mind.

Crossword puzzles

Crossword puzzles are a classic trainer of the brain, which accesses not only verbal language but the memory of many dimensions of knowledge. There are many ways to do crossword puzzles, both online and offline. If you receive a daily newspaper, you will almost always have a crossword puzzle there. Or, you can pick up a crossword book that specifically suits your skill level and interests.

You will also find many crossword puzzle options online or through free or inexpensive apps. The AARP website offers a daily crossword puzzle that is free for everyone, whether or not they are a member of the group.

Elevate

You'll have to download an app to play Elevate's 35 (and more) brain training games, which have a markedly educational character. It's free (with in-app purchases) and both the iOS and Android versions have tens of thousands of five-star reviews.

Elevate's games focus on reading, writing, speaking, and math, and you can customize your training to focus on the areas you prefer. As with most other brain games, you can track your progress to see how your skills improve.

Peak

Peak is another app option (available for iOS and Android) that offers brain games to help you work on concentration, memory, problem solving, mental agility and more cognitive functions. If you're a competitive person, you may be motivated to see your performance in front of other users. The app is free, but a cheap subscription unlocks more features.

Happy Neuron

Happy Neuron divides its games and activities into five critical brain areas: memory, attention, language, executive functions, and visual/spatial functions. Like Lumosity, it customizes training to suit you, tracks your progress, and games are based on scientific research.

You have to pay a monthly subscription fee to use the site, and its simplified version of the application is only available to Android users. However, Happy Neuron offers a free trial offer so you can see if you like the approach.

Braingle

Braingle's free website, which claims to have the world's largest collection of puzzles, offers more than 15,000 puzzles, games and other wit games, as well as an online community of enthusiasts. You can even create your own puzzles to get your brain to exercise to the fullest. Braingle has a wide variety of offerings, including optical illusions, codes and ciphers, and trivia testing.

What if...?

According to Ackerman et al (2010), this is the simplest form of a mind game. When you play "What if...?", you think of unusual things that could happen. Next, you reflect on what you should do about it. For example, if you live in a country with earthquakes, you can think about what to do if there is an earthquake.

I've seen people in high-risk professions, such as the police, firefighters and the military, use this to prepare their minds for what might otherwise surprise them. I've seen business planners use it to figure out what they'll do if they have an embarrassing incident, if an act of God that makes distribution impossible, or if they end up with unconsevered success.

Think about what might happen. Think about how you would become aware of the situation and what you would do next.

If/Then

Similarly, the "if/then" is a simple mind game and a powerful planning tool. Identify a situation or something that could happen. It can be something simple, like "If it rains outside..." or more significantly, such as "If two members of my team contract the COVID virus at the same time...".

Then, think about how to respond. Sometimes, it replaces the word "when" with the word "if".

WOOP

WOOP is formally known as "mental contrast"." It will help you check the viability of your goals and figure out how to achieve them. Here are the steps.

Desire: You may want to lose weight, or be ascended, or run a marathon.

Result: Describe what it will be like, how it will feel or how it will sound when you achieve your goal. It can be the entire end goal or something you need to achieve along the way.

Obstacle: What do you have to do or what stands in your way to achieve your goal?

Plan: How are you going to overcome that obstacle? What happens at this point is that you either realize that the obstacle is more than you can handle, or you develop a miniplan to deal with it. It can be a "if/then" plan.

The mental contrast was developed by Professor Gabriele Oettingen. He's written an entire book about it, but the best explanation I've seen is in Eric Barker's book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

WOOP allows you to put things in order. You can gather in a single process your "what ifs" and "ifs" and reality tests. You may not want to do it very often, but it's a great mind game.

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Bibliographic References

Rayner, K., Foorman, B. R., Perfetti, C. A., Pesetsky, D., Seidenberg, M. S. (2001). How psychological science informs the teaching of reading. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2, 3174.

Polat, U., Schor, C., Tong, J. L., Zomet, A., Lev, M., Yehezkel, O., Levi, D.M. (2012). Training the brain to overcome the effect of aging on the human eye. Scientific Reports, 2, 278.

Ackerman, P. L., Kanfer, R., Calderwood, C. (2010). Use it or lose it? Wii brain exercise practice and reading for domain knowledge. Psychology and Aging, 25, 753766.

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