Board games have been a part of the human experience since ancient times. Egyptians enjoyed them 5,000 years ago, and archaeologists in Iran uncovered a set of dice that is 3,000 years old. Video games were developed much more recently and have become a significant source of entertainment and relaxation. Games are much more than simple diversions; research indicates they can be good for us by encouraging exercise, boosting visual acuity, and enhancing neurological and psychological health. Put on your game face and tackle the evidence-backed health benefits of board and video games.

Brain Building

A German study reported that video game playing increases the volume of gray matter in the brain and helps hone learned skills. The pastime directly affects areas of the brain responsible for memory, information organization, spatial orientation, and fine motor skills. The authors suggest that just 30 minutes of playing video games each day can build mental muscle.

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Screen time with video games can boost visual acuity, though staring at a digital screen for long periods also has negative repercussions. University of Rochester researchers reported that individuals spending 30 hours over a month on action games were better at spotting targets on a cluttered screen than non-gamers. Also, studies by the National Institutes of Health and a major US automobile insurer found that game software can cut crash risk in half by enhancing visual skills crucial for safe driving. Just make sure to take breaks to avoid eye strain.

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Attention Span

Television shows and social media clips don’t require a long attention span, and a constant barrage of advertising keeps people increasingly distracted. Board games can help increase focus and concentration for long periods. However, all players must be willing to complete the entire game without taking non-urgent digital breaks or giving in to other distractions.

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Smoking Prevention

The American Lung Association reports that almost 2,500 children try their first cigarette every day. A 2019 study testing the effectiveness of an anti-tobacco board game found that teen participants gained more knowledge about the dangers of tobacco use. The students also developed unfavorable attitudes toward tobacco company marketing tactics.

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Family Weight Management

Research suggests that family-based behavioral group treatments are the most effectual interventions for childhood obesity. Educational games are a fun, captivating way to instill and improve healthy lifestyle habits and nutritional knowledge. In a 2018 European Journal of Pediatrics study, game intervention contributed to the same rate of reduction in body mass index as traditional family group treatment.

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Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is an incurable dysfunction of muscle tone and movement caused by damage to the developing brain. Researchers suggest that utilizing virtual reality can help enhance motor learning and retention. A study published in Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology in 2017 found that study participants with CP were able to learn a VR game with a mobile phone. They showed immediate improvements in acquiring new skills and maintained their new capabilities in a retention test. They were also able to transfer the skills learned in the game to similar tasks.

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Working Memory in Older Adults

Aging brains are still malleable, and video games could be a powerful tool to help seniors boost cognitive function. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published a study in which the performance, short-term memory, and episodic memory of healthy older adults dramatically improved with video game training. The gains persisted during three months of follow up.

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Improved Fitness for Seniors

Nursing home residents are a largely inactive population and more vulnerable to frailty and cognitive impairment. Physically challenging games can help mature adults remain active, engaged, and fit. In a jumbo board game intervention study, residents showed marked improvements in ambulatory physical activity, balance and gait, functional mobility, and quality of life.

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PTSD and Addiction

Veterans are susceptible to mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. The authors of a 2019 Veterans Administration study recommend video gameplay to support recovery. They maintain that games are cost-effective and accessible to those whose circumstances limit traditional treatment. The researchers did not link specific game genres to outcomes. Instead, they noted that the benefits derived from playing had much to do the distractions that enabled participants to shift their focus away from alcohol or drug cravings. The connections cultivated with other players also improved outlook.

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Risks of Playing Too Much

It’s important not to go overboard with playing games. Recreation should enhance our lives but not detract from priorities such as relationships, studying, working, and sleeping. Video games are especially easy to play in excess because they are designed to be addictive, according to a Microsoft Games Studio researcher. The World Health Organization now includes “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Disease. Many health experts treat excessive gaming as an addiction, and rehab facilities offer therapy to treat the condition. In moderation, however, games can be fun and safe tools for maintaining and improving our health.

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