Reviewed by: Raymond Branton, PsyD.

Mental health and brain functioning have been at the forefront of discussions about wellness in our society in recent years. As a result, people of all ages have been looking for ways to improve their mental fitness and brain functioning to reduce the effects of aging.  

Executive functions are a set of mental skills that allow us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Some specific terms associated with executive functions include working memory, flexible thinking, planning, organization, self-control, initiation (the ability to start a task), and inhibition (the ability to control one’s own thoughts and actions). 

Humans use these skills every day to work, learn new material, and manage daily activities. We use such skills to get things done, plan and organize, avoid procrastination, respond to changing situations, monitor our own performance, and avoid doing things we should not do. 

According to research, there is a possibility that elderly adultscan improve planning, memory, problem solving, and processing speed after short-term brain training. However, other research suggests that adults may not see generalizable improvements in problem solving, planning, memory, and processing speedabilities after brain training.

At the very least, learning something new can be fun and exciting. Additionally, playing brain games may help improve overall brain functioning. This article looks at different activitiesand websites that may improve your mental fitness and keep you sharp.

1. Lumosity

Lumosity is one of most popular websites geared towards mental fitness and brain training. Users can sign up for a free account, which offers three games per day. You can also choose to sign up for a subscription that allows you to access a variety of exercises. Lumosity allows you to challenge your brain in areas of sustained attention, reading, comprehension, planning, mental flexibility, mathematics, spelling, and much more. 

The games are presented in a fun, interactive way, which alsotracks progress for you. This helps you challenge yourself to develop your skills further. More importantly, the activities are backed by science, which suggests that Lumosity has led to improve mental fitness in people that have given it a chance. You can visit Lumosity’s website or access apps, which are available for iOS and Android. 

Lumosity is great for anyone who is on the run because it is accessible from your phone, laptop, or tablet. You can exercise your brain during that 5-minute wait standing in line for your morning coffee or go ahead and add it to the back end of your workout routine. That 10-minute walk to cool down is the perfect time to stretch a couple brain muscles.

You can also use Lumosity during your 15-minute break or lunch break from work or classes. Get up and stretch your legs before challenging yourself to a quick and effective brain exercise that can help keep you sharp for the rest of the day.

2. Sudoku

Sudoku is a number placement game that relies on memory, planning, problem-solving, and mental flexibility skills. To complete a Sudoku puzzle, you need to look ahead and follow all possible trails of consequences – if you put a 4 in this box, that one must be a 2 and this one must be a 7, etc. This planning helps you think about different ways to solve the puzzle, forcing you to find new methods of problem-solving and planning as the puzzles become more difficult. 

Sudoku is available at varying difficulty levels, allowing you to challenge yourself as you become more skilled. One tip is to play the easy games until you learn all of the rules before advancing to more difficult levels that require stronger problem-solving skills. 

Download a Sudoku app or pick up a Sudoku book from your nearest bookstore to unlock all of the brain training possibilities. Sudoku is another game that is great for anyone on the run because it can be accessed from your cell phone, tablet, or laptop. For anyone who would prefer to play Sudoku on paper, the game can also be accessed in small pocketbook sizes for brain training in smaller spaces.

This is another way to get your brain pumping without having to stare at a phone or computer screen for a long time. Use Sudoku to get your brain firing during breaks at work, while waiting for the train or bus, or on that long flight. 

3. Qwirkle

Qwirkle is a tile-based board game, which consists of tiles that contain pictures of assorted shapes in different colors. The goal of the game is to place tiles in a row, which share one attribute (either color or shape), and they must be placed in one line. A player can add to an existing line, create a new line perpendicularly off of an existing line, or play tiles in blocks connecting to matching shapes.

Players score 1 point for each tile correctly placed within a line, including tiles already placed within that line. The idea is that players will form lines that have each shape of a certain color or each color of a certain shape. If a line is fully completed with six different tiles, the player achieves what is called a “Qwirkle” and an additional 6 points is added to their score.

Qwirkle is a fun and competitive way for you to use and improve on mental flexibility, planning, visual scanning, and attention abilities. It can be used during game night with friends and family and is a great way to get children to work on their mental fitness. 

You can order online from Amazon or head to your nearest Target or Walmart to pick up a Qwirkle set. Add Qwirkle to your family game night to let the good times roll while also improving on your mental fitness as a group. Qwirkle is a great way to get your brain working without having to stare at a computer or phone screen for a long period of time.  

4. My Brain Trainer

My Brain Trainer is a website similar in format to Lumosity. They consider themselves to be a “mental gymnasium” where they offer 48 online exercises designed to improve mental fitness. They have great deals for subscriptions, including three-month and annual deals that may be more affordable than other websites. You can also try a brain challenge for free to determine if their exercises are what you are looking for.

The website recommends 10 minutes of brain training twice a day for the best results. They offer games, puzzles, and other challenges that they claim will improve your mental fitness. They also include a basic training program aimed at improving mental speed. 

Use My Brain Trainer for access to many different brain training exercises. Have a seat at the table with your computer and put your brain to the test. If you are on a tight budget and would like to avoid paying the subscription prices associated with other brain-training websites, My Brain Trainer may be the perfect solution for you. While the My Brain Trainer website may be less interactive than other websites available, it should get the job done and help you improve on your mental fitness. 

5. Sequence

Sequence is an abstract strategy board-and-card game. The goal of the game is to form rows of five poker chips on the board by placing chips on the board spaces corresponding to cards played from the player’s hand. Each card is pictured twice on the game board, while Jacks do not appear on the board and are considered “wild” – two-eyed jacks can represent any card while one-eyed jacks can remove an opponent’s chip from a space. 

The player chooses a card from their hand and places a chip on one of the corresponding spaces of the game board (example: they choose Ace of Diamonds from their hand and place a chip on the Ace of Diamonds on the board). They may place chips on either of the appropriate card spaces as long as it is not already covered by an opponent’s chip. 

Each corner of the board has a “free” space that all players can use to their advantage, as it acts as if it has a chip of each color on it at all times. To form rows, chips may be placed vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. The game ends when a player or team completes two “sequences.”

The rules of the game allow no table talk or coaching between teams or players and a precise order of playing hands, which requires concentration and memory abilities. If a player forgets to replace a card on their turn and if any other player points it out, the player cannot make it up later and must continue playing the game with a reduced number of cards in comparison to their opponents. As a result, Sequence helps to improve planning, concentration, attention, strategy, and memory skills. 

Sequence Dice is an official variation of the original Sequence board-and-card game. Instead of cards, dice are used in this version. The object of the game is to be the first person to connect a “sequence” of five chips in a row on the board, just as in the original game. However, a player only has to achieve one sequence in order to win instead of the two sometimes needed in the original.

The board displays four interlocking arrangements of the numbers 1-9 and pictures of dice. The four corner spaces on the board show pictures of dice arranged in a “snake eyes” pattern; that is, displaying one and one. The four spaces in the center of the board depict dice showing double-sixes. Players who roll “snake eyes” or double-sixes may roll again.

Similar to Qwirkle, you should add Sequence or Sequence Diceto your game night. It is a fun and competitive way to improve on your planning, concentration, strategy, memory, and attention skills. Sequence can be played with 2 to 12 players. The number of cards dealt to each player varies by the number of people playing. Get together with friends, family, or both for intense battles of mental fitness to win bragging rights.

Just like other brain games listed above, Sequence is a great way to work on your mental fitness without having to stare at a computer screen for a long period of time. You can order online from Amazon or head to your nearest Target or Walmart to pick up your own Sequence game. 

Summary

As our society becomes more advanced and aware of challenges that we may face as we get older, it is normal for people to be curious about what they can do to stay healthy. This includes being concerned about mental health and what you can do to make sure you are staying as sharp as possible. Whether you are recovering from a brain injury, stroke, dealing with complications from dementia, or simply looking to stay mentallyfit, it is important to remain positive and stay hopeful. This means that, depending on your situation, with a positive attitude and good effort, you may be able to improve your mental fitness.

Part of having this hopeful and positive attitude is looking for solutions and resources that can help you improve your mental fitness. By taking the time to read this far, you have proven that you are interested in making a lifestyle change, even if it means that you are simply browsing and looking for additional information – it is a start. While there are no guarantees, the games and websites listed above have the potential to be helpful on your quest for reaching such goals.

You can use these resources to improve on your executive functioning, including memory, planning, problem solving, and attention abilities. Every person is different and may respond differently to the listed brain trainers and games. This information is intended to lead you in the right direction and help you choose the games and activities that may work best for your loved ones, your friends, or yourself.

References:

Nouchi, R., Taki, Y., Takeuchi, H., Hashizume, H., Akitsuki, Y., Shigemune, Y., … Kawashima, R. (2012). Brain training game improves executive functions and processing speed in the elderly: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0029676

Zickefoose, S., Hux, K., Brown, J., & Wulf, K. (2013, February 6). Let the games begin: A preliminary study using Attention Process Training-3 and Lumosity brain games to remediate attention deficits following traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury27. http://dx.doi.org/10.3109/02699052.2013.775484