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Playing Games is Good for Your Health

One of our favorite holiday activities as a family is putting together puzzles and playing board or card games. It has become a tradition at our house and we even look forward to shopping for our new puzzle challenge before the holidays get underway in earnest. This past year I also learned to play Mah Jongg and I’ve ordered a game set for our family holiday gift. We want to be ready to have fun over Thanksgiving and the Winter break.

Now I imagine all the sports fans among you will also be enjoying those big football games that inhabit the holiday weekends. But, in between, I encourage you to make time to turn off the television and play a game with family or friends. That’s because playing and learning new games has a surprisingly positive effect on your health.

If sitting down for some uninterrupted time with your family or friends feels impossible, a board game can help get that going. This is the kind of activity that can promote conversation, bonding, and laughter.

Good conversation can promote trust, understanding, and empathy. All of these emotions create a sense of closeness. The more quality time you spend together, the closer you feel. It becomes a positive feedback loop.

Laughter increases endorphins. Endorphins are the happiness hormones. The more endorphins you have circulating in your body, the happier you feel. Many people play games just to relax because endorphins relax the body, as well as the mind. Relaxed muscles lead to better blood circulation. Better circulation can temporarily lower blood pressure. This is another positive feedback loop you can create.

Games and puzzles are a great way for children to improve fine motor skills; develop spatial reasoning and pattern recognition; boost attention, logic and critical thinking; and improve memory and verbal communication skills. Children who play chess have demonstrated higher scores on standardized tests.

Adults can benefit from games and puzzles too. It has been shown that people who play games like chess and bridge may have slower cognitive decline with age. That is because games exercise the brain, which can lead to the creation of new neuronal connections. And that makes for a stronger brain that can respond more quickly.

If you have old board or card games and puzzles sitting on the top shelf of your closet or stuffed into a drawer, try pulling them out this holiday season. The results may surprise you.