As I inch closer and closer to my 40’s, I’ve noticed some physical changes that would seem to indicate that body is beginning to prepare for the process of slowly shutting down and turning me into a drooling invalid who can’t feed himself (sorry, it’s just reality). I’ve noticed that my energy levels are low and I’m a little more tired in the morning than I used to be. I’ve also noticed that I’m starting to pack on a few extra layers of flubber onto my already plentiful midsection. Many of these changes that I’m noticing can be attributed to the fact that a 40 year old body doesn’t handle my daily regiment of zero exercise and eating whatever the hell I want quite as well as a 20 year old body does, and I’m going to try and make a few lifestyle changes this year to hopefully better prepare my body for the awesomeness that is middle age. But the most alarming changes that I’m noticing are not the ones to my body, but to my mind.
Most of the occurrences are ones that could be described as fairly minor. Conversations that I’ve forgotten that I already had with my wife or items misplaced around the house are common. Recently I spent ten minutes looking for my work ID badge in the morning only to find that it had been around my neck the whole time. But it seems like the frequency that they are happening is increasing, and one incident last week actually left me a little shaken. I was driving to pick my daughter up from daycare and was taking the roads that I’ve driven hundreds of times before. My mind started to wander a little (as it is known to do) as I drove the half mile or so to her center, and when I focused again on the road I spent several seconds in complete confusion as I couldn’t remember what road I was on or where I was driving to. It was only a few seconds but it freaked me the hell out.
It’s worrisome because this kind of thing runs in my family. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and my mother has a fairly… unreliable memory (trying to put it nicely, she sometimes reads my posts). So I’ve always known that there was a pretty good chance that this sort of thing was in my future. But seeing what could be the beginnings of it now kind of scares me. I remember visiting my grandmother and she couldn’t remember who we were but could tell you every nun she had in school and sing songs in German that she’d learned as a child. I don’t want to be sitting in a rocking chair when I’m 80 years old trying to remember my girl’s names but telling you everyone that was in your party from Final Fantasy 7. Thankfully I know of something that may be able to ward off my impending descent into dementia…. MORE VIDEO GAMES!
While for many years the popular opinion has been that playing video games isn’t very good for you (and may in fact turn you into a psycho killer), recent studies have shown that gaming can have many benefits and certain games in particular may actually affect your ability to create and retain memories. A study conducted last year by the University of California, Irvine and published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that people who played 3D video games showed a 12 percent increase in memory performance in comparison to those who played less complicated 2D games. And 12 percent is about same percentage that your memory performance decreases between the ages of 45 and 70.
Another study carried out by John Hopkins University and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that people who play action oriented video games saw an improvement in their “working memory”. Working memory involves the ability to hold onto short term memory long enough to convert it into long term memory. Researchers found that the way that the complicated environments rapidly change in these types of games relies heavily on working memory and playing them long term could provide enough mental exercise to boost those skills.
Ever since I was a young kid the consensus has been that you shouldn’t play too many video games. At the minimum they were a waste of time and at their worst they were downright harmful to you. But now as gaming has become more widely embraced by all walks of life, people are recognizing not only their artistic value but also their apparent health benefits. Video games have been used to treat everything from depression and anxiety to PTSD, and the benefits they can have on your memory are just beginning to be understood.
So the bottom line is this: play more games, play as many games as you can. Play games that not only test your reflexes but your mental prowess as well. Play games like The Witness and Portal that challenge your problem solving abilities as well as games like Call of Duty and Halo that require to make split second decisions. And when someone tells you “Why don’t you get off your ass and fold some laundry?” you can tell them that you’re trying to look out for your family. The last thing you want to do is burden your children with the responsibility of wiping your ass for you because you weren’t willing to play more of The Division.