Should Seniors Make Mind Sports a Part of Their Active Lifestyle?

By  //  September 30, 2018

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Mind sports athletes square off in a chess competition. (UWC Red Cross Nordic image)

Chances are, you’ve never considered what playing Texas Hold ‘em, speed reading a book or even texting a friend have in common. While these are seemingly quite different activities, each one causes you to engage your brain, and when practiced methodically, can strengthen your mental abilities.

What’s more, there are professional competitions and global organizations for these activities and a host of other mentally rigorous pursuits.

Sound crazy?

Welcome to the mind sports era. A mind sport is defined by most as a game of skill in which competitors battle it out over intellectual ability as opposed to physical exercise.

What are mind sports?

Mind sports present a contrast to the physical performance associated with most sports. And while mind sports may push the boundaries of your critical thinking and intelligence, they won’t often leave you covered in sweat. 

Nonetheless, challenging brain games like chess and backgammon are now often classified as sports and recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

There’s even a movement underway to have these mind sports included in future Olympic games. Indeed, the term “Mind Sports Olympiad” was coined in 1997 to describe a set of games that constituted Olympics for the mind.

The range of games falling under the mind sports umbrella is more extensive than you probably imagine. We’ve already mentioned chess and backgammon, which you might call “classic” mind sports. Go, mahjong and checkers also crack the list. All these games of strategy rely on focus, skill and patience, and thinking and monitoring of gameplay are required as players anticipate future moves.

ABOVE VIDEO: Master Chinese chess players live stream an online competition. (MindSports IO video)

Several card games also qualify. The Olympics is also considering recognizing poker as a sport, and there’s a push to add bridge to the competition program in 2020.

Finally, as we’ve already hinted, mind sports encompass a few inconspicuous entries. We’ll call them “oddballs” because newcomers to mind sports are unlikely to guess that speed reading contests, competitive speed texting and video games fit the bill.

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Mindful Benefits

Just as physical sports exercise and condition the body, mind sports work the brain. Consistent mental exercise is especially critical for seniors who may be susceptible to the slowing down of cognitive functions that often comes with age. 

Indeed, there’s a similarity between the benefits derived from the sports psychology practiced by top physical athletes and the skills necessary to excel at mind sports — significantly increased focus, strategy and peak performance.

This point is perhaps best demonstrated by mind sports played against one or more opponents.  Consider chess, bridge or poker, for example. These games require the full attention and concentration of each player.

If you hope to be successful in these mind sports, you must track your position in the game while keeping tabs on everyone else’s moves. Analyzing the plays made and using that insight to inform upcoming plays requires multidimensional, critical thinking. And if it’s not an already strong point, you will quickly develop multi-dimensional, critical thinking skills and improve your focus as you play.

In other words, playing a mind sport against others is a mental challenge. It’s a baptism by fire method of sharpening your brain functions while honing your strategical abilities and decision-making. 

Competitive mind sports can also be an excellent way for seniors to meet new friends and socialize. There’s a natural sense of community and camaraderie when people gather to play mind sports. And with the surge of family game nights in recent years, the idea of people coming together for the shared experience of competition has never been more appealing. 

The community aspect of mind sports is not limited to in-person, face-to-face games. Indeed, competing in games online connects individuals and in-person groups to like-minded players from around the world. The arena of competitive video gaming often referred to as esports and poker online are two such examples. 

Professional esports tournaments frequently draw thousands of spectators, filling massive arenas like New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. (The Official MSG Blog image)

Getting Started with Mind Sports

While getting involved in mind sports in your local area may seem challenging at first, you may find opportunities to participate in many of the same venues that offer physical sports. This list includes community centers, local gaming associations and special interest groups. 

You could also start a game night with family, friends or neighbors. It’s an excellent option for more popular mind sports like chess, poker and strategy board games. Also, ask those in your immediate social circle to bring a friend, and you’ll find your game community quickly expanding.

Online resources present another option for learning mind sports and finding opportunities to play.

Poker, a popular social mind sport, is easily learned and played online. (Infographic Credit: Visually)

Poker is an engaging, social mind sport that’s also accessible thanks to thriving internet communities. There are an estimated 60 million players in the U.S., and more than 100 million worldwide. Therefore, opportunities abound, so that you can learn poker strategy online in your free time.

Online adaptations of classic strategy games also fall under the same profile. Did you know that you can compete in Scrabble, mahjong, chess and bridge with the click of your mouse?

The United States Chess Federation website offers a directory of local chess clubs in each state.  Similarly, the website for the American Go Association provides information for finding fellow players of the game Go, an ancient Chinese strategy board game for two. The Meetup website, the popular activity and interest site for groups, boasts meetups for all varieties of mind sports in locations across the globe.

Leading an active lifestyle is vital at any age. There’s no reason to slow down as we grow older and playing mind sports is the perfect activity for exercising our brains in the same way physical sports work our bodies. Whether it’s poker or not, find a mind sport you love, a setting to compete and go out and play!