Playing games for health

Siski Green

How bridge, sudoku and board games boost both body and mind

Turn off the television to reduce dementia risk

Those old board games collecting dust on a shelf could be key to keeping your mind pin-sharp. Give them a regular airing and, say the authors of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, you'll reduce your risk of developing dementia.

The study, which was undertaken at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, checked the effects of playing board games on elderly patients and found a significant decreased incidence of dementia in those who enjoyed a spot of playtime.

Turn on the TV instead of sitting down to a session of Monopoly or Cluedo, however, and your brain will be fighting a losing battle. Chinese researchers assessed the cognitive abilities of more than 5,000 people aged 55-plus over a period of five years found that watching TV increased cognitive impairment.

Play free games online

Researchers at the McGill University in Montreal claim their game Wham! actually increases self-esteem. There's no money-based objective behind the claim - you can play online for nothing. And the researchers have shown that playing Wham!, which consists of photos of smiling people which you click on to a time limit, creates a sense of positive feedback, leading to feelings of acceptance and increased self-esteem. Click on to grow your own ego.

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Video games are the key to better memory

Get yourself an action-packed video game and in time you may well be able to find those elusive car keys without having to search the entire house. Scientists at the University of Toronto in Canada assessed two groups' ability to search for and find an object; their results showed that study participants who regularly played video games were far quicker at locating the target than those who didn't play.

Get yourself a Nintendo Wii and you'll give yourself even more of a brain boost. This gadget has a motion-sensitive remote control, which means that if you want the character you're playing in the video game to swing their arm, you simply move your own.

Scientists have shown that active rats have healthier DNA and hardier brain cells than their couch-potato cousins and there's every reason to believe the same is true for humans. "Muscle activity is a cue to keep a synapse in the brain stable," says Professor Jeff W Lichtman, of Washington University School of Medicine in the US. "If you lose activity, you lose receptors. Regain activity, and you'll get those receptors back."

Beat the pain of chemotherapy

Playing video games can distract from pain and discomfort during medical treatments, says Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University. Griffiths has spent 15 years studying the psychological effects of video games and he maintains that the degree of attention needed to play distracts the player from pain. Studies show that children undergoing chemotherapy have benefited from being given video games to play with during painful treatment.

Play contract bridge and increase immunity

Playing contract bridge increases your immune cell count, according to a study by a University of California-Berkeley researcher. Professor Marian Cleeves Diamond says that her data - based on 15 years of research into rodents' brains - shows brain activity affects the immune system. She put her theory to the test by assessing women's blood samples before and after they'd played a one-and-a-half hour bridge set. The levels of white blood cells called T-cells increased significantly in those who'd played.

Solve sudoku and make your brain active

A simple game of sudoku could trigger the activation of 'survival genes' in your brain, making cells live longer and helping to fight disease. According to a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh, unused genes in brain cells are activated during stimulation like that caused by completing the puzzles. "We've found that a group of these [survival] genes can make the active brain cells far healthier than lazy, inactive cells," says Giles Hardingham, study author.

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