Checkmate For Health And Happiness: How Chess Can Benefit The Brain

chess, The Queen's Gambit

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chess, The Queen's Gambit

Checkmate For Health And Happiness: How Chess Can Benefit The Brain

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Chess was once the preserve of the intellectual elite.

It was also a game dominated by men.

Not anymore.  

In the wake of the feel-good Netflix phenomenon, The Queen’s Gambit, which is about a female world chess champion, the game has become a rising trend around the globe. 

According to research, for both new and old, playing chess brings many health benefits, among them improved memory, enhanced planning skills, protection against dementia, and a raised IQ. It is also known to reduce panic attacks, increase creativity, reduce symptoms of ADHA (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and some mental health counsellors and therapists in the United States even use it during their sessions with patients because it can be a means of increasing self-awareness. 

Because the brain works like a muscle, it needs exercise like any other. According to Dr Robert Freidland, unused brain tissue leads to a loss of brainpower. His study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people over the age of 75 who played chess are less likely to develop dementia. 

Magnus Carlsen, chess
World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen via ChessBase

Study after study has proven the benefits of chess for the brain in all age groups. One study of 4,000 students, conducted in Venezuela, found that after four months of chess instruction, the game raised the IQ of each student. A 1992 study of Fifth grade American students found that those who played chess scored significantly higher on standardized tests compared to those who did not play. Another four-year study had students, from grades seven to nine, play chess, use computers, or do other activities once a week for 32 weeks to see which activity fostered the most growth in creative thinking. 

The chess group scored higher in all aspects of creativity. 

Chess is a game that is about problem-solving. Players must think fast. They need to concentrate. The game requires strategic and critical thinking. All of these skills develop the brain, most particularly the area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thinking, self-control, judgment and planning.

It has also been proven that chess stimulates the growth of dendrites. Dendrites conduct signals between the neuron cells of the brain forming connections that stimulate brain growth, which in turn increases the speed and quality of that neural connection. 

Chess

According to experts, playing chess also improves memory because of its complex rules that the players have to remember. And some studies credit it with building self-confidence in individuals too. 

“Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy,” Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the world’s best chess players of the Twentieth century is quoted as saying. These days it’s making women and children happy too.  

Feature image via Lifestyle Asia Hong Kong

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