Play games if you want to keep a sharp mind in old age, a new study suggests.
People who regularly play non-digital games scored better on memory and thinking tasks in their 70s, a new study reports. The exact nature of the game wasn’t important; be it cards or board games, they all kept you sharp.
And in case you’ve missed out so far, fret not — the team found that taking them up later in life will still make a difference. People who increased game playing during their 70s were more likely to maintain certain thinking skills as they grew older.
The players of games
“These latest findings add to evidence that being more engaged in activities during the life course might be associated with better thinking skills in later life,” says lead author Dr. Drew Altschul, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.
“For those in their 70s or beyond, another message seems to be that playing non-digital games may be a positive behaviour in terms of reducing cognitive decline.”
The team worked with more than 1000 people aged 70 who were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study, a group of individuals who were born in 1936 and took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947. The team tested them on their memory, problem-solving, thinking speed, and general thinking ability. These participants then took the same tests every three years until the age of 79. The participants were also quizzed on how often they played games like cards, chess, bingo or crosswords at ages 70 and 76. Finally, they factored in the results of intelligence tests taken by the participants when they were 11 years old and lifestyle factors, such as education, socio-economic status, and activity levels.
Participants who spent more time playing such games after the age of 11 showed less cognitive decline in thinking skills (particularly memory function and thinking speed) in their seventies, the team reports. “Increased games playing between 70 and 76 was [also] associated with less decline in cognitive speed,” the study reads.
“In our Lothian sample, it’s not just general intellectual and social activity, it seems; it is something in this group of games that has this small but detectable association with better cognitive aging,” says Professor Ian Deary, Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology and the paper’s second author.
“It’d be good to find out if some of these games are more potent than others. We also point out that several other things are related to better cognitive ageing, such as being physically fit and not smoking.”
The findings show that although cognitive decline is to be expected as we age, it’s not inevitable. Our lifestyle choices can mitigate part or most of this decline, and non-digital board games can help keep our brains ‘fit’. This study should help inform people on the behaviors that are associated with better cognitive outcomes later on in life, the team explains, noting the benefits of staying physically fit and healthy, not just mentally, towards that goal. The study ties in with previous research tying cultural activity to better emotional regulation in old age.
While the study’s sample is limited to a certain cohort in Scotland, so the findings may not necessarily translate to other generations in other parts of the world, the old adage “healthy mind in a healthy body” seems to stand true. But a board game night once in a while definitely helps.
The paper “Playing analog games is associated with reduced declines in cognitive function: a 68 year longitudinal cohort study” has been published in The Journals of Gerontology.