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Playing Mahjong is Good Exercise for Your Brain

My grandfather lived until he was 100 years old. For a large part of his life, he was physically and mentally pretty fit for a man his age. I used to think that long life and good health ran in his family. I had assumed it was “in the genes” until I learned that he had lived a very active life. For much of his life, he was engaged in both physical and mental activities. In his youth, he represented his school in tennis and football. I have also heard that he swam the Hong Kong channel. He was also a very mathematical man and played a lot of mahjong. Could this be part of the reason why he has maintained such good health for so long?

We all know the benefits of physical activity. What I wanted to explore was the effect of playing mahjong…

How Does Playing Mahjong Benefit the Brain?

It is said that mahjong is a great game for keeping the mind sharp. It is highly recommended among the elderly as a means of keeping their brains in good health. I should clarify that this is the 4 player game (sometimes also played with 3 players) and not the solitaire version.

If you read the rules for playing mah jong, you will understand the mental complexity of this game. It requires considerable mental finesse just to play it let alone play it well. When I first learned the game, it was all I could do to keep track of all the rules and plan a strategy. I had to make sure that I qualified to win the game. That kept me so busy that I barely even noticed what my opponents were up to. In this game, if you can’t keep track of what your opponents are doing, you are at a significant disadvantage. You could literally end up playing straight into their hands.

Mahjong Trains the Brain

MahjongA game of mahjong is an excellent mental workout. I reckon it is about as intensive a brain trainer as they come. It is not surprising to read that mah jong has been found to preserve function and delay decline in elderly individuals with dementia, even in those with significant cognitive impairment. If it is good for preventing age-related decline, then it should be good for younger people as well.

Regardless of frequency of playing, mahjong produced consistent gains across all cognitive performance measures – digit forward memory, verbal memory, and MMSE. The effects lasted after mahjong had been withdrawn for a month, suggesting that constant practice is not necessary to achieve therapeutic effect once an initial threshold is attained. – International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry

Like chess, mahjong is a complex strategy game, and since chess is good for developing the brain and enhancing academic performance, then I think we can expect that mahjong should also provide the same benefits.

Start Playing Mahjong

Inspired? Check out the following mahjong resources to get started:

I should add that playing the digital version isn’t quite the same as the physical game. The computer does a significant portion of the brain work for you which removes part of the benefit. It is good if you don’t have anyone to play with, though.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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