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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Games to Keep You Young

Are video games the new fountain of youth?

The Real Benefits of Games continued...

The brain-boosting benefits depend on the type of game, says Anne McLaughlin, PhD, psychologist at North Carolina State University. “They’ve tried games that didn’t work,” she says. “For example, you might think that people learn to rotate things really well by playing Tetris. But studies didn’t find much of an effect. So you got better at Tetris, but you didn’t get better at parking your car.”

Existing research shows that novelty is a catalyst for learning, McLaughlin says. “If you’ve done Sudoku your whole life, you’re not doing anything new,” she says. “Completely new tasks form new pathways in your brain. So it seems more likely that something challenging and new would be a lot more effective than something that’s challenging but you’ve been doing it forever.”

With a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, her research team is examining what types of games might help slow the effects of aging on the brain. The four-year study will look at the benefits that may transfer from solving puzzles in the game universe to the daily grind of the real world.

Stress Relief and Social Time

TerryAnn Holzgrafe, 45, a teacher of disabled students in Rio Rico, Ariz., plays the spelling game Bookworm Adventures both for fun and as a teaching tool in her classroom. She also formed a Bookworm Adventures’ ladies club, a group of 40-something women who gather at a local coffeehouse to discuss game strategies.

“These games have the unusual ability to de-stress as well as engage one’s brain,” she says. “I play them to relax at various points during the day, and I play them very late at night when I’m having trouble sleeping.”

There’s a real value at the emotional level, says Kornel, who enjoys Guitar Hero. “Reducing stress can help with clarity of thought,” he says.

Michael Caputo, 47, owner of an advertising agency in the North Quabbin Region of Massachusetts, gets a kick out of playing Rock Band with his kids and appreciates the ribbing that goes along with the intergenerational entertainment. “Rock Band has music I like and music they like. They deal with me singing ‘Green Grass’ and ‘High Times’ and I deal with them singing ‘Dani California,’” he says.

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