Healthy lifestyle habits:  we know we should do them, but sometimes, it just seems like work.  Yes, Dr. Peters, I know that a Mediterranean diet and exercise will decrease my risk of dying, but it’s just one more thing to add to the daily to-do list.  A phenomenon has popped up in recent years that makes it just a little less onerous to keep our minds and bodies fit:  gamification.  Gamification can be defined as transforming real-world tasks into games, to make them more fun and engaging.

There are obvious examples that help with exercise motivation:  console games such as Wii Fit, the Just Dance series, Your Shape, and others that provide entertainment, scores to improve upon, and even goal setting.  My latest favorite game to help with physical activity takes this a step further — out of the living room and into the larger world.  Ingress is a free sci-fi themed game that uses your smartphone’s GPS to interact with locations in the real world.  Notable landmarks and outdoor public art are “exotic matter portals” that can be hacked.  I have found that this makes walking not a chore, but something that I just want to do a little more of, to reach the next portal.

Maybe points in a game are not enough to keep you going — okay, how about cold, hard cash?  AchieveMint does just that, rewarding you with money for engaging in healthy lifestyle habits.  MindBloom is a “life improvement” app that helps with planning and keeping on track with diet, exercise, and even mental and emotional health.

We can keep our brains fit with games, also.  Attention span may be improved with rhythmic activities like the stepper game in Wii  Fit.  We strengthen our memory “muscles” by learning new things, such as foreign languages.  I have been working on French, Spanish, and German with a free web-based service called DuoLingo.  Earning points and keeping up an unbroken streak of practice days really drives me to stick with it.  Lumosity offers free and paid options to challenge and stretch many different brain abilities.

People are very good at sticking with games they enjoy (just think of all the wasted hours with Candy Crush Saga!).  So instead of choosing a couch magnet, make your next game one that adds years and quality to your life.

Please note:  I have no financial relationship with any of the games mentioned.  I do request that if you play Ingress, you join the Enlightenment faction, just because you will be so much cooler.

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