Your brain is your most precious organ that you have to keep as fit as every other muscle in your body. Daily exercise helps prevent an early decline in cognitive abilities, and great gamified technological solutions are out there to support your quest to remain a brainiac for a long time.

What’s the name of your primary school teacher? Can’t recall? Start caring for your brain!

The US National Institute on Aging defines cognitive health as the ability to think, learn, and remember clearly. The conscious mind, cognition and memories are such an integral part of being human that John Locke, a 17th-century British philosopher – and many following thinkers contemplating about human nature – theorized that it’s the most essential building block to our personal identity. Although that was later called into question and placed next to morals or bodily integrity, cognitive health is still of utmost importance.

Unfortunately, the majority of people only starts to notice its significance when trouble kicks in. With the natural aging of our body, the brain also gets older, and its functions might decline, that’s why cognitive health is often associated with aging. However, habits and lifestyle might strengthen or appease the symptoms already in early adulthood.

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The solution: daily brain exercise

Apparently, alcohol, not getting enough sleep, no physical activity, smoking, high-fat or high-sodium foods, or being lonely could add to early cognitive decline. So if you want to be a member of the brainiacs’ club in your 70s or just remember your grandson’s birthday, you’d better start exercising in your 30s and put down those cheeseballs rolled in bacon (at least every now and then!).

In any event, there are methods to actively strengthen your cognitive abilities. Life-long learning, reading books (The Medical Futurist believes especially science fiction stimulates the brain) or playing mind-games all help. According to a study at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, mental stimulation like reading can help protect memory and thinking skills, especially with age. The authors of the study suggest that reading every day can slow down a late-life cognitive decline, keeping the brain healthier and higher functioning for longer.

As part of our From Chance To Choice campaign, which through the HOW TO series aims to show methods and tools to take more control over our own health in the long term, we would like to suggest you some technological solutions, apps and games, to help keep your brain as fit as possible from early on.

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Brain-training apps and games – combining the useful with fun

Gameplay focuses and controls our attention, taps into our innate strengths, thrills us utterly and compels us to greater resilience in the attainment of more powerful and useful skills. That’s why gamified apps are perfect for improving and maintaining cognitive abilities.

Recently, several start-ups have started to experiment with bringing challenging offline games to digital brain-training apps. These usually stick to the same format: collections of mini-games you can play on any device with the purpose of improving comprehension, focus, and self-confidence, nicely drawn graphs to show how you’re developing over time; and optional subscriptions for extra games and features. So, here are our four favorites!

Cognitive health

1) Lumosity

Splitting Seeds. Pinball Recall. Assist Ants. Just to name a few from The Medical Futurist’s favorite games, also used by more than 85 million people in 182 countries. It includes more than 60 mini-games designed to train five cognitive functions: speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem-solving.

A randomized study with more than 4,700 participants conducted by the Lumo Labs team said to have found that after 10 weeks, Lumosity improved cognition more than crossword puzzles. However, such claims should be treated carefully – especially after Lumosity was fined 2 million dollars in 2016 for aggressive advertising.

Nevertheless, The Medical Futurist continues playing Lumosity’s games. While false claims should be punished, the case perfectly demonstrates what misconceptions people have about new health technologies. Most people expect technologies and digital services to transform their lives miraculously. They won’t. However, after playing thousands of Lumosity’s minigames, it is safe to say that the app makes reflexes, memory, and mental flexibility better and lengthens attention span.

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2) Elevate

Lumosity’s main competitor is Elevate with more than 35 games and around 10 million users worldwide. It’s a training tool to boost analytical skills such as attention and processing speed. The Medical Futurist’s favorite games are the language-based ones, such as Eloquence. It is like solving math equations via language. For example, there’s a game to collect synonyms within a given time frame. After a while, you’ll be a master of words and beat everyone in Scrabble, too.

What we also like about Elevate is that the app has a well-established performance tracking system: it provides a daily, weekly, and monthly rundown of overall performance, as well as performance in five specific areas: writing, listening, speaking, reading, and math. If you’re feeling competitive, you have the option of comparing your performance with that of other users in the same age group.

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Source: Google Play

3) Peak

The London-based Peak Labs has been developing the Peak – Brain Training app since 2013, and both Apple and Google featured it several times as one of the best apps available in the field. Scientists from reputable universities across the globe, including Yale University in Connecticut and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have supported the team.

It is similar to Lumosity and Elevate in a sense that it also has memory, language, mental agility or attention mini-games, and it diligently tracks performance. Our favorite game relates to memory and mental agility: you have to remember where the mines are on a minefield and connect the dots to avoid them (the first game on the picture below). Game on!

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4) CogniFit

The company’s assessment and stimulation tools stand out from the crowd since they are scientifically validated and not only aim at improving cognitive functions, but also attempt to assess certain conditions and brain functions based on a strong scientific background. CogniFit was founded in 1999 by Professor Shlomo Breznitz, and they collaborate with hospitals, universities, research centers around the world. They are present in more than 15 languages.

CogniFit also offers tools that researchers and healthcare professionals can use to study and assess cognitive function in patients.

We believe brain training apps will remain popular in the future – although technological change could bring the era of artificial intelligence-based gaming chatbots to challenge our brains. Technological advancement could not only deliver better gaming apps but more importantly robots and smart algorithms which might replace monotonous and repetitive tasks in many jobs. Thus, creativity, problem-solving skills, and overall cognitive abilities will be more appreciated on the job market – so if we want to stay in the game, we have to improve the most refined product in the entire universe: our brains.

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