Mind, this concept, whose exact meaning and operation continue to be the subject of speculation and debate today, both scientifically and philosophically, refers to the set of cognitive abilities that a man has. The mind is what allows us, among other things, to have our own identity, solve simple or complex problems, detect and process different information, and adapt to the environment.
However, these capacities are not stable from birth to death. For this reason, it is of great importance to contribute to developing the mind as much as possible. Therefore, this article is dedicated to discussing a series of strategies and games to exercise the mind.
A matter of brain plasticity
As we have mentioned, intellectual capacities are not an invariable element throughout life but are modified based on our life experiences, the environment around us, and the level of environmental stimulation to which we have access.
This modification is mainly made possible by brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to change its structure depending on the needs of the organism and its pattern of functioning, allowing the restructuring of the thinking organ through the creation of neuronal synapses. This creation of new neural networks and strengthening of the old ones allow learning and consolidating new knowledge, allowing from acquiring a new skill to overcoming and recovering normal functioning after brain injury.
Although plasticity is much higher during growth stages such as childhood and later declines, it is a feature that continues to exist in all ages.
Neurogenesis: The ability to renew neurons
However, to promote neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons) and strengthening or expansion of synaptic or neural networks, it is not enough to perform a specific exercise on one occasion, but rather the modification of one’s abilities and behaviors requires a routine practice that allows the automation of new behavior sequences and strategies, joining our habitual repertoire.
What this means is that regular practice is necessary to improve or maintain our mental capacities, accompanying all this with an adequate diet and a healthy lifestyle. And, of course, an excellent way to make the neuron networks that populate our brain become flexible and easily adaptable to the new challenges of everyday life is to use games to exercise the mind: these will make our brain get used to creating a rich and varied network of interconnections, which will allow us to have greater mental flexibility.
Thirteen games to exercise the mind
Let’s see below a series of games to exercise the mind.
1. Mathematical training
The use of mathematics as a strategy to exercise the mind is known to many, including activities such as sudokus and other traditional games. However, this time, the game is based on choosing a completely random number (for example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and other numbers (for example, 6, 7, 8, and 9) to elaborate a series of mathematical strategies to reach the starting number. For this, you can use addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. It can be complicated by requiring the use of specific elements, such as requiring the use of square roots or more complex elements.
2. Find the pairs
Another game to exercise the mind, especially visuospatial memory (ability to sense, analyze, synthesize, manipulate and transform visual patterns and images), is the matching card game. It is based on displaying on a table a set of pairs of identical cards after shuffling them (the type of deck or even images if they are available is not important, although it is recommended to use images that are easy to remember). The game consists of visualizing the set of cards face up, the aim is to memorise the pairs, afterward, turn them all over.
Then you have to turn over one of the cards and then remember where the pair is located and also turn it over. The game continues until all pairs of cards are found. This strategy for exercising the mind can be made more difficult by making the images to remember more complex or increasing the number of cards as the game ends and begins again.
This exercise is intended to train the memory by adding a creative component. The game consists of creating a list of simple words, with a maximum of seven items. This list will be read by all the participants, and it can be read aloud by one of them, or each participant can have ten seconds to memorize it. The game in question consists of each participant going to repeat the list of words in the same order in which they were read out in the list, adding at the end of it one more word of their choice.
The next individual has to remember and say out loud the list plus the word added by the previous person and, in turn, add another, and so on. The strategy to exercise the mind is based on the retention of information, with a component of distraction when having to imagine one more word and needing to pay attention to incorporate the new words. Specifically, working memory is exercised, especially auditory.
4. Find your symbol
This memory exercise game is based on sustained attention maintenance. It can be used with symbols, words, letters, or numbers. To carry it out, you have to use a varied set of symbols and signs to search for one or several specific items carefully. In addition to attention, in this game, you can observe the subjects’ processing speed, if you measure the time it takes to complete the task.
5. Word game: word association
This game requires multiple participants. The first participant says a word, with the next participant having to answer another, which begins with the same syllable as the one ended by the previous individual. It can be made more interesting by adding rules such as the next word belonging to the same lexical family or subject area, or even trying to give the whole the shape of a story. Processing speed and mental agility are improved, as well as creativity.
6. Find the differences
To reinforce concentration; the ability to respond to stimuli, and the ability to focus on details, the game of finding differences is very useful for exercising the mind. Its operation is based on the location of a certain number of differences between two apparently identical images.
Carrying out a game as well-known as a puzzle, is also more than a valid strategy for exercising the mind. Specifically, it serves to exercise manipulative and visuospatial skills, having to operate with the situation of the pieces and place them correctly so that the pieces fit. To increase complexity, you can gradually increase the number of pieces needed, or go to three-dimensional puzzles such as Rubik’s cubes.
8. Making a story
This strategy for the exercise of the mind is simple but very useful. It tries to stimulate creativity by elaborating on a short story in which a series of specific words chosen beforehand have to appear. These words may be known by the person performing the exercise or may be unknown. The challenge is greater both if they do not resort to external help (a dictionary, for example) or if they do, allowing the development of strategies for facing difficulties.
This type of strategy to exercise the mind is pleasant and enjoyable for both adults and children. It is based on solving riddles from the use of logic and creativity of the participants. Lateral thinking is also encouraged if questions used do not have a simple solution or are completely correct or incorrect, trying to generate new strategies.
Although it may not seem like it, the debate is one of the best games to exercise the mind. Participating in one regularly allows training in argumentation and the creation of coherent discourses. For example, it forces us to think of the best replies to the opposing arguments, prioritize some of our arguments over others, detect fallacies in the explanations of the other and avoid them in our presentation etc.
Chess is the game paradigm in which the forecasting of possible future scenarios is of fundamental importance. It is a game in which you have to follow some very specific rules, which makes loss of any chance a disadvantage, and that is why you have to try to think of a series of possible movements from the opponent’s angle and yourself.
12. Exquisite Corpse
A group game in which each person, in turn, makes the part of a drawing from what the person from the previous turn has drawn. It can also be done by writing parts of a story instead of drawing—a great way to work creativity.
13. Memory count
This game is straightforward and can also be played practically anywhere. When you become stressed in an area where there are many objects or people, close your eyes and try to count from memory, the amount of any of those elements.