Do word games improve brain health?

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Ten years ago, Words With Friends was the app built into everyone’s phone, but these days everyone’s going wild for Wordle. If you haven’t played it yourself, chances are you’ve seen people you know posting their scores on social media. For many people, posting their Wordle score is part of the fun.

If you’ve never played Wordle before, it’s a game that gives players six chances to guess a five-letter word. If one of the letters you guess is in the correct place, the squares turn green. If you guess a letter that is in the word but in the wrong place, the square turns yellow. A gray square means that a letter you guessed is not in the answer word at all.

Obviously, Wordle is the word game of the moment, but does playing it every day actually benefit the brain or is it just fun and games? Keep reading to find out what brain health experts have to say.

Is playing Wordle good for brain health?

According to Dean Sherzai, MD, a behavioral neurologist, neuroscientist and co-author ofThe Alzheimer’s Solution: A Revolutionary Program to Prevent and Reverse Symptoms of Cognitive Decline at Any Age, play Wordle can good for the brain, but only if you like it. “It’s because there’s an emotional component to the game: stress,” he says. He explains that not all stress is bad, and what may be “good stress” for one person may be “bad stress” for someone else. “If a person is not good at Wordle and it becomes stressful for them, it becomes disruptive, activating the sympathetic nervous system, which is the flight or fight response,” says Dr Sherzai, adding that it is not is not good for brain health.

But for people for whom Wordle causes the “right” kind of stress – just a little pressure because you want to win and maybe impress your friends – then you’re going to reap some pretty incredible benefits. “The word challenges memory, math skills and problem solving, and if you enjoy it, you also benefit from the release of dopamine,” says Dr. Sherzai.

Related: 23 Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp at Any Age

Scott Sperling, Doctor of Psychology, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, says another benefit of playing Wordle is that it could create new synapses in the brain. “Although synapses are widely developed in adults, they can be strengthened by brain activity,” he says. “When we learn new things or engage in cognitive stimulation exercises such as Wordle, we strengthen synapses and improve brain health.”

To find out if Wordle can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Sperling says it’s not that potent, but is still considered a brain health-promoting activity when combined with other healthy behaviors like exercise and healthy eating. “It certainly won’t hurt. Basically, there are what I call the four main pillars of a healthy brain: physical exercise, healthy eating, social activity and cognitive stimulation,” he says. “The science is exceptionally clear that people who exercise their brains, on the whole, have better short- and long-term health outcomes than those who don’t.”

Related: Spring Clean Your Brain: Experts Give Advice on Clearing Cobwebs and Hiking Memory and Mind Power

For what it’s worth, Dr Sperling says just because someone is super good at Wordle doesn’t necessarily mean they’re smarter than everyone else – something to keep in mind if you have a friend who posts his score on Facebook every day. “It’s important to remember that there are many different types of cognitive abilities, and all people have different strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “While some people solve word puzzles better, others solve visual puzzles better.”

Related: Brain Battle! Do men or women have healthier brains?

Other online word games to play

If you don’t like Wordle, the two experts say there are plenty of other games to try that can similarly benefit brain health. “I tell all of my patients that what’s important is that you train your brain, not how you train your brain,” says Dr. Sperling.

Dr. Sherzai says the most beneficial games to play involve different parts of the brain, the way Wordle integrates memory, math and problem solving. With that in mind, here are five other online games to try:

1.Sudoku

Similar to Wordle, Sudoku challenges both memory and problem solving.

2. Happy Neuron

This online game targets memory, language skills, executive functioning (such as reasoning and logical thinking), and visual and spatial skills. It’s a lot of different parts of the brain that are illuminated!

3. Left versus right

This app includes 51 different games that take around 10 minutes to play and fall into one of six categories: Awareness, Adaptability, Reflex, Reasoning, Accuracy, and Patience.

4. Scrabble

This classic word game benefits brain health due to the combination of visual processing and memory it takes to play.

5. Word search

Word search puzzles require problem solving skills, memory and concentration.

There are so many puns out there that Dr. Sperling’s best advice is to pick the one you like. “People are much more likely to stay cognitively active when they’re doing something they enjoy,” he says. “Whatever that may be, that’s the activity they should be doing.”

Next, find out how flavonoid-rich foods can protect against cognitive decline.

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