One of our biggest concerns with aging is the decline of our cognitive performance. In the US alone, there are 6.2 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia. And although the condition usually affects people in their later years, some people below the age of 65 are already suffering from symptoms. However, people who love playing poker are in luck, as recent studies have determined that the game is actually a fantastic way to stave off the decline of our cognitive performance. Here’s how our favorite card game sharpens your mind.
The exercise your brain gets is one of the biggest benefits of being a frequent poker player. Poker games are, in a way, a sport for the mind. They're an excellent method of cognitive engagement. And playing poker is similar to learning a new instrument or language because it stimulates the brain in the same way. In fact, a study by the American Academy of Neurology discovered that Alzheimer’s dementia can be delayed by up to five years by activities like card games, puzzles, and reading. Poker is a game that revolves around strategy, which keeps the brain actively engaged.
Poker games often take somewhere between 15-20 minutes to complete, which means that there’s a lot to process. For poker players, a keen memory is required to remember poker terms such as big blind, check-raise, inside straight, and others. Moreover, you’ll have to recall hand rankings and various rules that will help you play the game correctly. In this way poker can make you better at memorizing, as your mind has to constantly recall different bits of information.
It takes at least two people to play poker — and the more people, the livelier it can get. Different versions of the game require different player numbers as well. This allows for increased social interaction among older adults, which has been linked to improved memory and thinking. It will also improve your social skills and communication abilities, especially if you interact with others regularly. On the flip side, the lack of social interaction can affect cognitive function negatively. This is why poker is well-loved; it can bring all kinds of people together.
Some symptoms of mild cognitive impairment include behavioral changes, such as sudden irritability, frustration, or impulsiveness. This can also manifest in constantly exercising poor judgment. But the good news is that mentally-stimulating activities are directly linked to emotional control and can prevent these symptoms from worsening. Poker, for instance, has a term called "tilting" that refers to irrational decisions made by someone emotionally driven by losses in the game. But practicing mindfulness and restraint in-game can lead older adults to be better poker players and get better at handling emotions outside the game.
Finally, poker games encourage you to think outside the box. Abstract and creative thinking is required especially when you’re dealing with a bad set of cards, or when you’re trying to get out of a bind. Furthermore, it’s a great way to get the cogs in your brain working as you try to figure out what other players are hiding. Observing and speculating over your opponents’ body language, mannerisms, and gestures keeps your mind and imagination alive. The more you play, the better you get, and you’ll have more chances to develop creative strategies and moves.
Besides being a fun game in itself, poker has a lot of brain benefits, so it’s worth a try, especially if you want to keep your brain sharp as you age.
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