Did you know that the common chess game we all know and love originated in the Gupta Empire of northern India? Since then, it has undergone many, many variations. The original game translates roughly to “the four divisions”, and these divisions have become the knight, pawn, rook, and bishop we recognize today. Eventually, the game migrated to Persia during the 7th century, where additional rules and refinements were made.
Chess began spreading throughout Europe, Asia, and Russia during the tenth century. IT reached the Iberian Peninsula when the Moors traveled there. Merchants, Buddhists, and other people traveling along the Silk Road carried chess to Asia. There, it evolved into Chinese chess and shogi, both of which are still played and enjoyed today.
Benefits of Playing Chess
However, chess is more than just a game for your stereotypically brainy student or adult. Chess is not just a game played by smart people. Chess, the game itself, makes you smarter and protects your brain from cognitive decline.
Chess Prevents Alzheimer’s
This year, a booklet from the National Institutes of Health looked at the various factors in preventing Alzheimer’s. The cover featured two seniors engaged in a game of chess, and the pamphlet stated, “Staying cognitively active … through mentally stimulating activities … such as playing games are linked to keeping the mind sharp.” Furthermore, games like chess — which involve cognitive activities such as planning, analysis, and problem-solving help build up the brain’s cognitive reserves. In essence, this cognitive reserve enables the brain to retain its normal functioning even if part of it has been damaged or disrupted.
Chess Simultaneously Stimulates All the Parts of the Brain
When we are engaged in a cognitively-challenging activity such as chess, all six areas of the brain must be put to work. Those six areas are:
- Short-term memory
- Long-term memory
- Linguistic analysis and processing
- Critical thinking and analysis
- The assessment of possible outcomes, risks, and effects
- And, finally, visual-spatial processing
Chess Helps the Brain Grow Dendrites
What are dendrites? They are the tree-like structures in the brain which help neurons communicate with each other more efficiently. As you engage in a mentally-challenging game such as chess, or even crossword puzzles, your brain grows more dendrites. The more dendrites your brain grows, the better and more efficiently your brain will work.
Chess Players Use Both Sides of Their Brains
In a study, chess players were asked to identify both shapes and chess board positions. While the chess players took the same amount of time to identify the shapes. Yet, when the researchers asked the chess players to assess the chess board positions, the players’ reaction times were faster as a result of using both sides of their brains.
Chess Improves Creativity
In a four-year-long study, students in grades seven through nine were asked to either play chess, interact with a computer, or perform some other activity. The students in the chess-playing group ended up scoring much higher in all aspects of creativity.
So, the next time you’re looking for a mentally-stimulating activity to play with your grandkids or friends, pick up a chess board. Grow new dendrites, improve your creativity, sharpen your mental focus, and create some great memories.