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Playing board games helps keep your brain younger in old age, 68-year study suggests

Maybe Monopoly’s not completely bad, after all.

Two elderly men playing chess
Image credit: Vlad Sargu / Unsplash

A study conducted over seven decades has suggested that playing analogue games such as board games and card games may help to slow cognitive decline - in other words, playing board games may help keep your brain younger for longer.

In a study that looked at the cognitive function of a group of more than 1,000 people in Scotland at ages 11 and 70, then ages 73, 76 and 79, researchers Drew M. Altschul, PhD and Ian J. Deary, PhD found “consistent evidence that playing more analog games is associated with significantly less relative cognitive decline from age 11 to age 70, and also less cognitive decline from age 70 to age 79”.

Altschul and Deary noted that there have been previous studies suggesting that playing analogue games on a regular basis helps keep the brain healthy, but added that past studies hadn’t been able to fully look at how participants’ cognitive function had changed from their youth as a result of playing games or account for other possible factors of reduced cognitive decline. As the result of their comprehensive study, the researchers said that in their own findings, “64% of the relationship between playing games and later life function appears to be due to playing the games themselves”.

In their study entitled Playing Analog Games Is Associated With Reduced Declines in Cognitive Function: A 68-Year Longitudinal Cohort Study, Altschul and Deary investigated how often participants played games “like cards [and] chess” - though it’s worth mentioning that they also counted “bingo or crosswords” as forms of ‘game-playing’. At age 70, they reported that a third of the participants played games “every day or nearly every day”, with a fifth of the group playing “less than once a year or never”.

They found that playing games has “particularly strong positive relationships with general cognitive function and memory” between the ages of 11 and 70. Playing games between the age of 70 and 76 also showed positive benefits, but only in the case of their brain’s “speed”.

Even those that reduced their game-playing after the age of 70 continued to see benefits of reduced speed decline, even compared to participants that increased how often they were playing games after that age.

According to Altschul and Deary, the findings mean that playing games may have other health benefits in later age, too, due to previous research suggesting links between improved cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia, diabetes, depression and other mental and physical health.

So, this weekend, maybe break out that copy of Dixit, Catan or Carcassonne - or heck, even Monopoly - for another play, and know that it’s doing you good.

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