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If You’re A Chess Player, You’re Probably Smarter Than Others

If You’re A Chess Player, You’re Probably Smarter Than Others

“Chess has all the beauty of art and much more” -Marcel Duchamp

Chess is a wonderful game. There are so many possible ways any one game can go. More than nine million after the first three moves, to be exact.

Chess players have always had the reputation of being especially intelligent, and with good reason. Watching them play can be fascinating to an outsider. Those who really know their stuff practice unbelievable skills – holding an invisible psychological battle with the person sitting right in front of them. A conversation that only those can keep up with can be let in on.

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Well, be prepared to be proven right, regular chess players, because studies have found that you might well be smarter. Here’s how:

Chess improves your memory

If you play chess, you are likely to have a better memory than those who don’t. Not only does it mean that you are less likely to have Alzheimer’s than your peers, it also means that you simply develop the part of the brain related to memory more.

This is because when playing chess you have to remember several things: the complex rules, how you messed up in past games, many different games played, different algorithms for the next right move, as well as remembering typical patterns of the opponent sitting right in front of you.

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When you are an expert, this information sits comfortably below the surface of your subconscious, meaning you don’t even have to wonder for too long about which complex move to make. It becomes instinctual.

Chess improves your ability to plan ahead

To know how to make a smart move in chess, you have to be able to foresee what your opponent might do, as well as your possible options to respond. It encourages much more patient forethought on the side of both players than most games. Indeed, without this skill, chess cannot be played well, and you are likely to lose.

This in turn led to teenagers who practiced chess to be more thoughtful about their life decisions, choosing more responsible options, rather than opting for the quicker, riskier choice.

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Chess makes you more creative

To be a good chess player is to be creative with your moves. The more original, the more you catch your opponent off guard. One study found that playing chess can actually improve your creative abilities. When students from grades seven to nine were tested against a control group who invested in other activities, the group playing chess were found to have higher levels of creativity, and scored particularly high in how original they were.

Chess raises your IQ

Whether chess is chosen to be played by those who are already smart is yet to be seen. What we do know for sure though is that those who do choose to play it are likely to see a significant increase in their IQ. Time and again, studies have shown this to be the case. Having been given eighteen chess classes the children were found to have higher IQ scores after compared to those who did not.

After four months of chess instruction, Venezuelan boys and girls’ IQ levels had clearly improved. Another study in Australia also found that the children already playing chess regularly at a competitive level had higher IQs than those who didn’t play.

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When playing chess, you use both sides of the brain

A German study found that when elite chess players are thinking about making their next move, they are using both sides of the brain at the same time. This is because they are both visualizing moves from past games (using the right hemisphere) as well as planning logically what they are going to do right now in the moment (left hemisphere). When using both sides of the brain, as you might imagine, you become a stronger thinker all round. Much like doing a full-body workout, it will make you stronger over all; chess is a great work out for the mind.

Chess helps you to connect the dots

Chess promotes the growth of dendrites. But what does this mean? Dendrites help the neurons in your brain to connect. So the more you have, the better. In real terms, this is a bit like saying you have just upgraded from 2G to 5G in terms of Internet speed. The connections in your brain will be able to connect a lot faster and more efficiently. You can look at more pages than ever before. Put simply, the challenging nature of chess makes your brain work more efficiently, ideas connect more easily, and you can hold more of them in your mind at the same time.

Chess can not only be good fun, psychologically challenging and a workout for the logical part of your brain, it can actually boost your IQ and stave off memory problems when you are older. So, you can feel smug if you’re already a grandmaster, or if you’re a newbie, why not try it out if you are looking for a new hobby? -Anyone for a game?!

Featured photo credit: Movie still from X-Men: First Class via masterchessopen.com

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Daniel Owen van Dommelen

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Published on July 7, 2020

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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