Can playing chess help fight cognitive decline?

A chess board with the white pieces in focus

March 25, 2024 – Playing strategy games such as chess may help brains to cope with damage caused by dementia, but more research is needed to show whether it helps to prevent cognitive decline in the first place, according to experts.

According to a March 13 article in GQ, studies have found that playing games such as chess is associated with a reduced risk for dementia, including one last year that followed 10,000 older Australian men over a 10-year period and found that frequently playing board games such as chess lowered the risk. However, David Canning, Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences and Professor of Economics and International Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, cautioned that the research does not show a causal link.

“People who play chess are higher performing than average, and they also tend to be on good trajectories,” Canning said in the article. “It’s not surprising that 10 years later, they’re still good. Whether they’re selected that way or whether it’s because they’re playing chess is hard to say.”

He added, “I don’t think the evidence is there that we should push people to undertake cognitive activities if they’re not doing it already. I think if you’re going to push people into lifestyle changes, I would emphasize the physical health.”

Read the GQ article: Chess Can Sharpen Mental Fitness, but How Good Is It at Staving Off Cognitive Decline?

Photo: iStock/Vitalii Marchenko