There are few health experts who can disagree with the universal understanding that exercise leads to better health. Being active prolongs lifespans, reduces the risk of cardiac issues, improves blood flow and helps combat all sorts of diseases.
What is perhaps lesser known is that ‘brain games’ do in some cases appear to be equally effective in warding of certain illnesses. To be as healthy as possible, you just should be occupying yourself with a mixture of both physical and mental sports. What’s more – exercising your mind with strategy and puzzle games can make you perform better in physical sports too.
In other words, you could improve your play on the pitch by getting some off-field practice in the form of Sudoku and chess. Here’s how brain games and physical sports are connected!
Contemplation and deliberation
In a fast-paced sport where your adrenaline is pumping, the tendency is to act on impulse. At times, your ability to make quick decisions might be what makes you an excellent team player. It does, however, mean that you might not get as much experience learning how to evaluate different options and act based on a thoughtful consideration of all possibilities. This is the exact kind of skill that you instead learn with a complex game like Risk, Carcassonne or Monopoly. It is also a skill that can be useful to employ more often in physical games, as there will be times when reflection and patience pays off even in fast-paced sports.
Strategy and calculation
Closely related to the above is the skill of strategic thinking. A strategic mind-set is especially important in sports like football, where great athletes can still be victims of an excellent outmanoeuvring or manipulation from the competing team. Playing games like chess, Sudoku, checkers and Scrabble will help develop your strategy skills which could have an effect on the methods you employ in physical sports. In the past, playing a strategy game usually meant committing yourself to a 1-5 board game ordeal. Fortunately, these days you can get a strategic game fix through downloading quick-play apps on your device, like Tetris, SimCity or even an online poker variant for your phone. Indeed, most of the aforementioned games can be played in some variation online. In other words, you can exercise your mind with math puzzles, linguistic riddles, odds calculations or other brain games in those moments you spend on the bus or waiting in line at the bank.
Emotional strength and endurance
We’ve all seen athletes lose their temper on field. In the heat of the moment, and when crippling under pressure, it’s not unusual for even the biggest sports stars to express their emotions in an aggressive manner. Indeed – in some sports, displays of emotion are expected, and are part of the entertainment for spectators. That being said, it is still good for athletes to have a good hold of their emotions and know how to more appropriately respond to obstacles encountered, challenges presented and unexpected or unfair losses. Learning to deal with demotivating feelings like frustration, boredom or pressure, as they occur in a slower-paced game of chess or poker, can help us become more emotionally composed as athletes.
This is something that occurs all the time in competitive sports. Any decent tennis player won’t prepare for a game by just focusing on him or herself – they will also spend time evaluating their opponent. Yet, a mistake that athletes so often make is focusing purely on their opponent’s physical weaknesses or player style instead of also considering the psychology behind these weaknesses and player styles. In multi-player mind games, you have plenty of time to evaluate the mind-set of other players in a close-up setting. You should care about psychology in physical sports too, as focusing on this will allow you to become better equipped at responding to, and predicting the decisions of, your opponents.
As previously mentioned, plenty of studies have indicating that puzzle and strategy games are excellent for our mental health, and thereby have a positive effect on our physical health too. Mental games improve our general cognitive abilities including our IQ, our memory, our problem solving skills and our concentration. There’s not one of those skills which can’t be successfully applied even if you’re a swimmer or a hockey player. Clearly, a balance of both brain games and athleticism is the right way to go if you’re aiming for optimal health and better sports performance. Next time you don’t quite have the energy to be active, give your muscles a rest and exercise your brain instead!