Most workout advice focuses on physically changing your body. Yet, a lot less coverage is given to exercising your most important organ: the brain. This is something that needs to be corrected. With sharper cognitive functions, you’ll be at less of a risk of any brain-related health issues as you age.
You can easily challenge your mind by reading a stimulating book or learning a new language. On the recreational side, however, you can play free online mind games. This can include games from apps like Lumosity and Clever Mind, which test things like your spatial, logical, and verbal skills, among others. Another thing you might want to do is indulge in the digital format of some classic games like chess, sudoku, and crosswords.
Following on from that, you can also play competitive card games like poker. At its core, poker is a game of the mind, and each session brings a unique set of challenges sure to tickle your mental faculties in a number of ways. Below are a few.
It makes your mind sharp
Poker requires both your focus and problem-solving abilities to work hand-in-hand, and together they keep your mind sharp. In fact, a key element of winning a poker game is observing your opponents closely to inform your strategies as you play. All their actions — like body language and how they play their cards — should be taken into account. This will let you know if you should limit your range, for example, or when it’s time to pull a convincing bluff.
However, even if you focus and gather all the observational information you need, you won’t be able to utilize it effectively if you don’t use critical thinking to integrate it into your strategy. Poker has an answer for this too: by continuing to play and practice your skills, you can hone your problem-solving capabilities over time. This will not only help you win more games but also encourage your mind to stay active for longer by increasing its exposure to demanding cognitive tasks.
It improves your memory
If you’re casually playing with friends, expect the poker session to last for an hour or so. Larger 6-player games can last for multiple hours and tournaments go on for days. With all the observation that goes on in that time, you’ll need to commit a lot of relevant information to memory. Since notepads aren’t a common staple at the poker table, memorization techniques, such as mnemonics, can play a significant role in determining your success. And the longer you play, the more that memory improves.
It teaches logic and discipline
By improving your focus, memory, and problem-solving skills, poker can teach you logical thinking. Each round starts with you not knowing the hands of the other players and their playing style, but you can use deductive reasoning to figure this out as the game goes on. All these things can make you more disciplined, as well. As you continue playing, you’ll learn not to get easily distracted, and not to make significant strategic decisions without calculating the possible outcomes. This logic and discipline is something you may also find extremely useful in your day-to-day life.
It keeps your emotions in check
Poker is an unpredictable game, and you will feel both ends of the emotional spectrum when something unexpected occurs — elated when something good comes your way, and dismayed when something doesn’t. Though anger or frustration can result from expectations clashing with reality, showing these emotions can give information away to your opponents. This can put you at a significant disadvantage.
Adopting a poker face to combat this can not only keep your emotions in check but improve your emotional control overall. By doing this, it is scientifically proven to enhance problem-solving skills as well as memory encoding and retrieval. Emotional control is also highly important away from the poker table, where it can enhance both personal and professional relationships and even improve your overall health by reducing the stress you experience.
It helps you sleep better
Although poker can give you a huge adrenaline rush, it’s easy to feel drained once it’s over. This is a good thing though! Sleeping off your exhaustion can actually give your brain the time it needs to keep you both mentally and physically healthy. This includes restoring the energy you’ve expended during the day, as well as regulating the majority of your bodily functions. By getting enough shut-eye you can significantly improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help facilitate better memory and attentiveness as you go about your day.
From keeping your mind sharp to improving your memory, poker has a lot of benefits that can help your brain stay sharp. You can play physical games with your friends or download a free poker app like Zynga to get started.