The last time I had to fill in a medical form, it asked me “How many hours a week do you exercise?” I had to laugh. Hours? Surely you jest!

My weekly exercise routine can be more accurately measured in “minutes.” And, what exactly counts as “exercise” anyway? Lifting a mug of tea to my lips? Turning the pages of a magazine? Typing?

After deciding to include my morning walk, I proudly answered two-and-a-half hours of “exercise” per week. But it was only after my video interview with Dr. Medina that I realized that I wasn’t even thinking about how much I was exercising the most important part of my body – my brain.

What Are the Best Free Brain Games for Seniors?

Getting plenty of physical exercise is one of the best things that we can do for our bodies and brains, but this is only a beginning. Our brains need to be stimulated as well, especially as we get a little older.

Fortunately, keeping our brains healthy does not have to be boring or repetitive or time-consuming. In fact, one of the best ways to keep our minds in great shape at any age is with free brain games like Sudoku, Mahjong and Chess. Here are 6 brain games that won’t cost you a penny to play!

Sudoku

After mastering the art of actually pronouncing the word “Sudoku,” we can explore how to play it and why Sudoku is a great “brain game” for people of all ages. Sudoku is a game of logic where you have to spot patterns, think strategically and solve problems.

As we get older, we tend to establish familiar patterns in our lives. We walk the same way to the shops and try to be super organized, mostly to save time, get through the day efficiently, and remember where we put things. However, establishing predictable patterns, while it is comforting, does not stimulate the brain.

Sudoku trains the mind to use logic and reasoning skills to solve unpredictable patterns. These skills can be used in the real world when assessing the implications of a decision we have to make. In fact, some studies have suggested that:


Playing free brain games like Sudoku might help people reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as they get older.


The benefits of playing Sudoku also include getting sense of accomplishment from unravelling a problem, creating order and finishing tasks. If you enjoy bringing order to a situation of uncertainty and experiencing the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing tasks, Sudoku is for you! Sudoku is free to play at Sudoku.com.

Mahjong

Mahjong is another game that helps to keep your brain sharp and supercharged! Mahjong is a game of matching tiles that has long been popular with elderly people in Asian countries and has now gone global! In contrast to more solitary games like Sudoku and Solitaire, Mahjong is also a great way to socialize, as you can play the table game version with multiple players.

The type of social connection that comes from playing games like Mahjong, by the way, is thought by some neurologists like Dr. Alan Mazurek at Mt. Sinai Hospital to be one of the most important elements of keeping our brain healthy. This was reinforced in my own interview with Dr. Cynthia Green.

How do you play Mahjong? It is a straightforward tile-matching game where the goal is to get all 144 of your tiles into four sets and one pair. In Asian culture the game even has a philosophical significance as players sit at the table in a north, south, east and west position, representing a connection to nature.

The most common way to play mahjong is online. It is a fun game for people of all ages, but it’s especially popular with older adults who are looking for unique and challenging ways to keep their minds sharp, have fun, and be connected to a global culture. Mahjong is free to play at Mahjong.com.

Chess

Chess has been around for centuries. It was first played in the 7th century by kings in India and is now a global phenomenon. Chess is played on giant outdoor chess boards and at competitive events where computers challenge the brains of brilliant chess masters! Chess has always carried a stereotype that you have to be intelligent to play, and in fact, playing chess might make you smarter! According to a study conducted in Venezuela over several years, children who took chess classes for just 4 ½ months increased their IQ scores.

Chess also teaches us about life. As the Chinese proverb says, “Life is like a game of chess, changing with every move.” It encourages concentration and focus around “if then” thinking, which is useful when making decisions. When playing chess, you are prompted to think a few steps ahead, and create scenarios in your mind, like, “If I do this, then these two or three things might happen next.”

Chess helps older people navigate options in life and encourages creativity and out of the box original thinking. There are many free online chess games. You can also play on your Windows PC for free.

Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are introduced to us as babies and the act of matching pictures to shapes is the first brain game most of us play. The simple jigsaw puzzle offers more than meets the eye and when the brain does a jigsaw puzzle it is using all cells and parts of the brain. Working on puzzles can also help to lower our rate of breathing and reduce our heart rate and blood pressure.

In fact, doing a jigsaw puzzle is also a kind of meditation. Focusing and concentrating the mind on the same image for long periods of time creates calmness and a sense of peace. In some important ways, a jigsaw puzzle is a metaphor for life, which is made up of many different pieces in different shapes and sizes. We try to piece them all together and sometimes get overwhelmed.

If you are struggling with a 1500 piece puzzle in your life, it’s no surprise if you get stressed. Why not prioritize and focus on the simple 120 piece puzzle that you can manage and complete. You can buy jigsaw puzzles at thrift stores for very little money.

Jigsaw Puzzle Pieces

Crossword Puzzles

For those people who are not fond of math brain games, crossword puzzles are an alternative. Millions of people spend their commute to work completing crossword puzzles, enhancing their vocabulary and memory.

Crosswords are challenging but in our super stressed world, they are also a great way to relax. You can start a puzzle on Sunday and pick it up throughout the week, since there is no pressure to finish in one sitting. You can call a friend for help, discuss with family members, and feel a sense of pride when the rows line up in perfect harmony.

It has also been argued that doing crossword puzzles can prevent or slow down dementia. A long-term study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that seniors who did crosswords four day a week had a 47 percent lower risk of dementia than those who only did them once a week. Crossword puzzles are good for your mental health and are a stress free way to exercise and keep the mind in shape. Crosswords are free to play at USA Today.

Solitaire

Is playing solitaire good for the brain? Many articles say yes. It is a solitary game, but it is simple, rhythmic and easy to play. Playing solitaire is a simple and predictable activity that allows us to relax and reduce emotional stress. It is a game we’ve played since childhood and feel completely comfortable with.

Solitaire gives us an easy and familiar way to “challenge” our brain just a bit each day. As we’ve seen, staying intellectually engaged in this small way may give our brains some added protection against memory loss. Solitaire is free on your Windows PC under “Games.”

Do you enjoy playing any of these free brain games? Which one is your favourite? Please join the conversation.

BONUS

Want to learn more about keeping your brain healthy after 60? Watch my interview with Dr. Cynthia Green.

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