There is a lot going on in your life. You are constantly playing super woman just to get through the day. Taking some time out for yourself is healthy. Next time you're waiting for soccer practice to end, help yourself by sharpening the ol' nogin with these 10 brain-bettering apps, rounded up by Daily Burn!
“Stress and anxiety are among the most pressing and far-reaching public health problems we face,” says Tracy Dennis, Ph.D, professor of psychology at Hunter College. “Mental changes affect every part of our lives: physical health, sense of well-being, work, educational productivity and community involvement.”
Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., professor and vice chair at Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and president of the American Psychological Association, says apps can help promote mental health through participation in activities designed to reduce symptoms and improve psychological functioning.
Then there are apps that don’t directly target mental health, but aim to increase cognitive functioning. “We know that apps like Lumosity can improve memory, problem solving skills and processing speed, especially in older adults,” says Dr. Kaslow. “There are also studies that show that people who engage in these video games are less likely to develop brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Keeping your mind active is as important as physical exercise and these apps can help you stay fit mentally.”
Put Your Mind to the Test
These days, hundreds of brain-training apps claim to put the “smart” in smartphone and guarantee cognitive improvement with minimal daily use. Don’t think your flaky memory or scatterbrain can be restored? Studies are mixed, since this technology is in the early stages of development. But this 2012 systematic review that analyzed 151 computerized training studies published between 1984 and 2011, found that certain training tasks had a big effect on working memory, processing speed and brain function. In short, playing computer games for a few minutes a day can literally change your mind.
“When you do things in the world, you lay down new neural pathways,” says Dr. Dennis. “The more you do something, the more available that pathway is, so you may be able to use your brain resources more effectively.”
New brainteaser apps show up every day in mobile app stores with claims to improve memory, increase I.Q., or enhance other cognitive skills. They may be fun to play, but how many of them actually work? The goal here after all is to train your brain, not just play video games. Most of the below selections are based on established treatments that have been extensively studied and validated by independent research sources.
For the most part, brain apps can’t make you smarter or happier, but they can help you perform certain tasks better or have more control over your emotional state. Keep in mind that most games are designed for people who are reasonably healthy, not for those with mental disorders, and are no replacement for a mental health professional. While you’re not going to notice any drastic transformation, it’s worth giving one of these apps a try, since engaging in various types of new and cognitively demanding tasks is good for the brain (plus, it’s fun!).
Lumosity: This popular app is split into sessions of three games tailored to your goals: memory, attention, problem solving, processing speed or flexibility of thinking. The games are played against the clock and change every time. Developers say just one session a day can improve mental skills and users can track progress and compare performance with others.
CogniFit Brain Fitness: Improve cognitive abilities, such as memory and concentration, with sleek, fun and addictive games designed by neuroscientists. Users can track progress and access insights about overall brain health. Competitive players can challenge friends, too. After an initial quiz, the app adapts each game’s difficulty to your profile and gives you recommendations based on your results. Developers found that users saw improvement by spending at least 20 minutes, two to three times a week, playing the games.
Personal Zen: Players follow two animated characters, one of which looks calm and friendly while the other looks angry, as they burrow through a field of rustling grass. This game, developed by Dr. Dennis and researchers from Hunter College and the City University of New York, reduces anxiety by training your brain to focus more on the positive and less on the negative. “The habit of thinking about the world in a more positive light — like looking for a silver lining in a bad situation — is one of the key ways we can promote our own resilience in the face of adversity,” says Dr. Dennis. Even a single session of play can build resilience over several hours. She suggests using the app right before a stressful event, but 10 minutes a day will help build more enduring positive effects.
Brain Trainer Special: Like Lumosity, this Android app contains games that have you memorizing letter sequences, phone numbers and solving assorted math problems to keep your mind in tip-top shape. Difficulty levels range from easy to brain-tingling hard.
Brain Fitness Pro: Brain Fitness Pro employs a series of memory training exercises to increase focus, memory and problem-solving skills. Developers say that intensive working memory training dramatically increases attention and general cognitive skills and that these benefits remain long term.
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