Mounting evidence from observational studies suggests that engaging in mentally stimulating and physically challenging activities starting in early to midlife helps preserve cognition later on. One recent example, from a 2019 study in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B, suggests that playing non-digital games, such as cards, chess, bingo, or crosswords may help you stay mentally sharp later in life.
The study included 1,091 Scottish people, all born in 1936, who underwent cognitive testing at age 11 and again in their 70s, at which time they were asked how often they played non-digital (analog) games such as cards, chess, bingo, or crosswords. Those who played such games more frequently (at least several times a week) at age 70 had better cognitive function and less cognitive decline through their 70s, particularly in memory, than those who played the games less often, even after the researchers controlled for early-life cognitive function, education, social class, activity level, health issues, and other factors that can affect later-life cognition.
Additionally, participants who increased their game playing between ages 70 and 76 had less decline in cognitive speed (but not the other cognitive domains measured), compared to those who didn’t.
The findings from this study don’t prove that the games were responsible for the benefit; it’s possible that cognitively sharper people are simply more likely to play the games.