Chess is a game that requires a variety of skills, such as determination, creativity, strategic thinking, and even the ability to analyze facial expressions and body language. There is also a vast array of benefits associated with playing chess, some of which may come as a surprise to many individuals. Below are some of the top mental benefits of chess:
Enhanced Brain Function
The human brain is a remarkable organ, as it is responsible for memory, reasoning, critical thinking, and many other skills. However, if no stimulation is provided for the human brain, its cells slowly begin to die. Chess is a game that gives each player an intense mental workout, which subsequently enhances brain function. Many people understand exercise for the physical body, but overlook the need for a mental workout. However, the latter is just as important as the former.
Research indicates that in order to skillfully play chess, players’ minds must be able to effectively recognize objects and understand a broad range of patterns. Therefore, due to the techniques and rules involved with the game, those who play chess on a regular basis typically experience a boost in brain function and mental prowess.
Researchers have discovered that chess helps guard against memory loss. There are numerous strategies in chess, and competent players must become quite skilled regarding how to use this broad range of tactics. However, it is not a case of merely sitting and learning techniques by heart. Rather, over the course of multiple games, players must develop a natural instinct concerning when to use specific strategies, and it is this development that leads to an improved memory.
The best part of this particular benefit is that the enhanced memory is not only in effect during chess games, but is usually also noticed in many other areas of life, such as job performance, test taking, responsibilities, and any area where a good memory is required.
A Higher IQ
Chess has long been regarded as a game played by individuals who already have very high IQs or who are particularly intelligent or studious. However, this theory reminds many scientists of the old scenario of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Although people with naturally high IQs often make good chess players, several studies have shown that playing chess can actually make a person smarter. At least one research paper stated that playing the game regularly can indeed raise a person’s intelligence quotient. In research conducted on 4,500 Venezuelan students, both boys and girls experienced significant rises in their IQ scores after 16 weeks of chess instruction.
The Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Because the brain functions similar to the way muscles function, it requires exercise to stay strong and healthy. Studies recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals 75 years of age or older who engage in mental activities such as chess are less prone to the development of old-age dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than their non-chess-playing peers. Similar to the way an under-used muscle loses strength, this study discovered that unused brain tissue also results in weakness, and subsequently loss of brain power.
Chess Exercises Both Sides of the Brain
Chess also exercises both sides of the brain, which is something that few activities can boast. In one study conducted in Germany, both chess novices and experts were shown simple chess positions and geometric shapes and the researchers studied the reaction of each participant, as well as their ability to properly identify the pieces and positions.
The scientists anticipated finding much more brain activity in the left side of the expert players’ brains, but did not expect what they found regarding the right hemisphere: the reaction times among both groups concerning the identification of shapes were the same, but the study indicated that the expert players used both hemispheres of their brains to respond more quickly to the chess position questions. This clearly indicates that those who become skilled in chess will utilize both sides of their brain during games.
Greater Span of Attention
It is believed that ADHD is an epidemic of the 21st century. Even if it is somewhat over-diagnosed, it is a fact that both children and adults are finding it more difficult to focus at work and school, which leads to a rapid decline in productivity and learning. With the multiple distractions in today’s modern world, it is easy to self-diagnose and believe that one has attention deficit disorder.
However, there are more effective ways of dealing with this situation than simply taking medication, and even most medical professionals agree with this statement. The game of chess demands attention, and therefore everyone who plays will quickly learn that loss is imminent if his or her focus is impaired. This instant punishment for lack of attention helps to train the mind to be attentive and focused, a phenomenon that results in better performance not only during the game, but also at one’s workplace or in school.
Among other mental benefits of chess is enhanced strategic thinking. Chess is regarded as a game of strategy, which means that to play it successfully, a person must obviously have a better plan of action than his or her opponent. However, this ability is not bestowed on one at birth, but rather it is learned by continuous practicing. Studies have shown that regularly practicing chess leads to a more strategic mind that is also more productive in everyday life. Therefore, playing chess can help a person to think strategically in a variety of situations where such thinking is critical.
Of course, the chess-related mental benefits outlined above can only be enjoyed if one chooses to take up the game. It is also important to make a commitment to learn how to play skillfully and dedicate oneself to practicing on a regular basis. Fortunately, for the price of a chess game, virtually anyone can take advantage of the mental benefits of chess and enjoy the way it enhances his or her life.