Ep. 159 – Play Cards for a Sharp Mind

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Welcome to the Train Your Brain Podcast! Today Dr. Trayford shares brain training tip number 159. We love when Dr. Trayford’s tips are literally all about fun and games. Playing cards requires extensive mental concentration. This is exactly what we need to do in order to keep our brain sharp. In a typical card game, whether solitaire or in a group, we’ll end up counting, tracking and scheming, and all of these are great stretching activities for the brain. Thanks for listening!

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I have to admit there was a part of my life where I didn’t play a lot of cards. In recent years I’ve started playing more and more, especially when I’m camping with my family.

Jason: I don’t love cards. It always feels like the other people are making up the rules as they go along.

Each year I teach a class at the local University of North Carolina in Asheville. They have a program called the OSHA Life Long Learning Institute. It started out as a program intended for seniors, but has expanded to people of all ages and walks of life. It’s a great continuing education opportunity. I’ve been doing this Building a Better Brain course.

There is a waiting area before you can get into the lecture hall, with games like backgammon and cards. There are people in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that are sharp as tacks, and these games are a big part of their life.

There is a bunch of information on the internet. In 2012 an AARP magazine published an article titled All in the Cards. Besides the camaraderie and social benefits, challenging card games do so much for your brain.

It incorporates focus, concentration, analytical skills as well as predictive behaviors. When you have to think not just about what’s in your hand or the other person’s hand, any you have to consider what’s left in the deck. That’s really important in games like solitaire or kings in the corners.

In another game like gin rummy, you have to understand what cards are going into other people’s hands and what cards they’ve thrown away. This stretches your analytical skills and your predictive capacity. Calculating and analyzing the constantly changing conditions of the game really exercises your working memory.

The social cues involved in poker. Even beyond understanding what cards might be in someone’s hands, you have to learn to read other players social cues or ‘tells’ to determine how they feel about their own hand and if they are bluffing.

Some people are good at it, and some struggle to keep from conveying their feelings about their hand to the rest of the players at the table. When you look at major poker tournaments you see the best players wearing sunglasses and pulling hats low over their eyes.

Card playing can also be novel, just like your exercise routine, there are hundreds of variations you can play. It keeps your brain sharp and stable. So break out the cards with your family and friends and go ahead and enjoy all the benefits it brings.

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