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How Playing Games Benefits Your Health

playing games

Remember playing Tic-Tac-Toe and Hangman?  How about Hide-and-Seek and Tag and Dodgeball? Did you ever play BINGO? How about getting together with friends to play cards? Did you ever participate in a bowling league or a square dance group?


Try these methods to stimulate your brain!


Now, think: What games do you play today?

Play isn’t solely part of growing up; play can relieve stress, improve brain function, boost creativity, develop relationships and keep you feeling energetic. Play can even heal emotional wounds and change your perspective on life.

How do you play?

Play can be as simple as taking your dog for a walk or as complex as developing a character and participating in a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), such as World of Warcraft. And while the way we play may have changed over the years, the benefits of playing haven’t.

To get the full benefit of play, you must play with other people. Yes, solving a difficult crossword may stretch your mind, but you lose out on the bonding experience and may not attain the level of stress relief you might have if you’d played with another person.

Bridgette Argus, wellness center coordinator at The Esquiline, says the benefits of group games are well known among wellness professionals.

“That’s why we offer card games, such as pinochle, euchre and bridge; Wii bowling; word games; and mind games. We even have a game night once a month to introduce residents to different games,” she says.

“Games are also a great way for new and current residents to make friends. I’ve seen many friendships begin during a card game or BINGO.”

Socializing Is an Important Aspect of Play

Studies show that socializing increases immune system response, improves mental health, increases longevity, and may lower the risk of dementia. Researchers believe many factors may contribute to the benefits, including how social networks facilitate healthy behavior and how laughter among friends increases circulation and decreases depression.

Socializing is especially important in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s as people age. Researchers say it may play a critical role in preventing cognitive decline among older adults. You reap benefits no matter who your playmates are—your grandchildren, neighbors, friends, and even strangers.

Friendship improves your life even more than socialization. Research shows that friendship boosts happiness, reduces stress, improves self-confidence, encourages positive change, and helps you cope with trauma.

“I believe an important factor is laughter,” notes Bridgette. “When our residents get together, everyone—staff, visitors, and residents—end up laughing.” She adds that laughter stimulates organs, increases circulation and happiness, and prevents depression.

Online Social Gaming

If you are homebound, you can get the same benefits of social play by playing social games online. One study shows that playing social games online is linked to better self-rated health and fewer chronic illnesses and depressive symptoms.

Many seniors are taking advantage of social gaming. A Popcap Social Gaming study concluded that 46% of social gamers are at least 50 years old, and most of them are women.

Social gaming offers the following:

  • Ability to connect with old and make new friends
  • Simulation of face-to-face social activity for people with limited mobility
  • Mental stimulation
  • Real-time interaction
  • Ease of use
  • Bridging of generational gaps by creating common communication
  • Reduced fear for people with social anxiety

Winster.com is one social gaming site that is specifically geared toward older adults, although younger people can play. The site even has a section where people can make new friends.

Surprisingly, though, the favorite sites for senior social gamers are the same as the favorite sites for all social gamers—Pogo, Slingo and Gamehouse.

Online MMORPGs

Researchers from North Carolina State University found playing MMORPG game World of Warcraft increased cognitive functioning in older adults. The effect was most striking for those adults who had scored poorly on cognitive ability tests before playing the game.

Another MMORPG, War Thunder, also helped older adults improve their cognitive functioning. Senior pilots who play War Thunder using an Oculus Rift (headset) seem to remember their skills with no problem, reported one Reddit user, who has been taking his setup to nearby assisted living communities.

Researchers are unsure if playing other games result in the same benefits. However, there are plenty of other online games available.

For those who prefer nonwar, nonviolent games, try A Tale in the Desert or the online version of Myst. Second Life offers you the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, make friends, and go on adventures. There have even been a number of love matches made there.

Social Gaming Technology

Many senior living communities have invested in a WiiFit system for Wii Bowling. Players love the competition and get some exercise to boot. The game can even be played by people in wheelchairs. The Wii system has other single and multiplayer sports, including tennis, baseball, and golf.

Bridgette says Wii Bowling offers residents the physical and social advantages of bowling without the danger of dropping a heavy ball on their feet or injuring themselves. The competition, she says, may get hot and heavy, but residents always manage to laugh and enjoy themselves.

Benefits of BINGO Include Eye-Hand Coordination

In addition to winning prizes or money, BINGO offers other advantages.  Playing BINGO increases eye-hand coordination, cognitive abilities, physical health, socialization, and healing. One study found that playing BINGO improved playing abilities and thinking skills for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The study found that online BINGO offered the same positive effects.

“Rosy cheeks and bright eyes” is how Bridgette describes BINGO players at The Esquiline. She’s amazed by the number of cards some residents can play at one time. “I don’t think I’d be able to handle that many!”

Card Games Keep Your Mind Sharp and Your Body Well

Card games provide opportunities for socialization while keeping your mind sharp. Card games require strategy, memory, and teamwork but require no more than a flat surface and a deck of cards.

The National Institute on Aging says strategic card games that exercise memory and concentration help seniors prevent or reduce cognitive decline. One study showed that playing bridge stimulates the thymus gland, which increases immune response.

The very act of shuffling and passing out cards to players benefits coordination, notes Bridgette. Although the mental benefits of playing cards are considerable, there are physical benefits, too.

Online card games offer some of the same benefits although you don’t get the immune response and increased longevity benefits tied to socialization.

Bridgette cautions online players to avoid playing too long because their hands may become sore and cramped from grasping a computer mouse. Players who use their cellphones or tablets are much less likely to suffer physical problems.

Bowling Offers Additional Health Benefits

Bowling is a physically active game that includes all the benefits of socialization. Bowling helps with weight loss, muscle toning and strength and reduces the risk of heart attacks.

“It’s a great social pastime if you can stay away from the less healthy bowling alley food and drink,” says Bridgette. She advises bowlers to pay attention when they eat.

Bridgette’s Favorite Game

“My favorite game to play with my friends is called BUNCO!  Bunco started more than 200 years ago in England and came to the United States in the mid-1800s.

“It started as a family game but became popular with gamblers during Prohibition in the 1920s before returning to a family game in the 1980s. Today, it’s played all over the United States, mostly popular among women, as a monthly ‘girls’ night out’.

“It’s a dice game that’s so easy to play, you can chitchat all night and still play the game. It’s usually played with 12 participants rotating among 3 tables. Each participant takes a turn once a month to host with food, drinks and, of course, Bunco prizes, and everyone throws a little money in the pot for the big winner!

“Everyone rotates from table to table throughout the evening. You talk. You eat. You drink. Repeat. At some point, you get around to rolling dice, scoring points and trying to win.

“Playing is often secondary; the camaraderie is the most important part of being in a Bunco league. Bunco just gives you a purpose to go there, It’s really the socialization and friendships that make it fun!”

If you want to play Bunco, here are the rules.

We Love to Play Games

The Esquiline understands how games can help residents make new friends, connect with existing friends, and stay happy and healthy. We make it easy for you to stay active and be social. Call The Esquiline today at 800-533-6279 or contact us online here.

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