According to many leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists, playing those expensive computerized brain games online may not actually help your brain, which is probably good news for your time at the cottage, especially if your internet connection is spotty or non-existent. (And who wants to spend their cottage time staring at a screen anyway?)
But there is evidence to suggest that living in a socially and intellectually enriched environment does have a positive effect on your cranium—and we can’t think of a better way to socially and intellectually enrich your cottage environment than to break out some good ol’ cottage games. Doing a New York Times crossword puzzle on the dock or sitting around your kitchen table playing cribbage with your family might be as good for your brain as it is for your soul.
1. Crossword puzzles
The Alzheimer’s Association specifically recommends using crossword puzzles to keep your brain active—no matter what age you may be. Whether you get them in your daily newspaper or in a collection from the bookstore, there are crossword puzzles out there for every level. Plus, they’re portable and light, so they’re just as good for a quiet night in the tent as an early morning session at the kitchen table.
2. Trivial Pursuit
Curiosity—the feeling that’s sparked when you want to learn about something that interests you—can help you learn better, say scientists at the University of California, Davis. Inspire your sense of curiosity and get in some brain-boosting socializing with a spirited round of Trivial Pursuit. Got a specific topic you love? Try a subject-specific version—you can find sports, 80s, film, and book editions second-hand.
It’s probably not surprising that competitive Scrabble players have far, far better word recognition abilities than the rest of us mere mortals—after all, they spend an inordinate amount of time studying the 180,000 words in the official Scrabble dictionary. They also get better at the skill the more they practice it, which shows that it’s never too late to learn to do something new. Start practicing now: use xzyro during your next family game and see if anyone calls your bluff.
4. Jigsaw puzzles
Your short-term memory, pattern recognition, and concentration all get a good workout when you put together a puzzle. Plus, every time you fit pieces together, you get a nice little rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces a pleasurable sensation. If you’re a serious puzzler, go for the really difficult sets, but if you just want to enjoy yourself and avoid frustration (or hours of work), stick to a puzzle with fewer than 1,000 pieces. For an extra challenge in spatial awareness, try doing a puzzle with the picture side down, so you’re working with shape only.
A big part of keeping your brain healthy is physical exercise and socializing. Add in the creative thinking and problem solving that goes along with trying to act out “childbirth” without speaking, and you’ve got a tailor made brain-boosting activity. Of course, you won’t notice your brain getting faster because you’ll be too busy having a blast.