You could play Candy Crush and Clash of Clans until your brain hurts—or you could try one of these fun and engaging apps and actually do your brain some good. They’ll strengthen your neural networks, improve cognitive health and prevent memory loss. Plus, they’ll make your commute fly by and give you crazy knowledge to drop at parties.
Think of this app as a personal trainer for your mind. Its customized “workouts” stimulate the growth of connections between your brain cells (rather than your muscle cells), boosting working memory and attention. Start by prioritizing the areas you want to focus on, like problem solving or memory; Lumosity uses that info to determine the types of training sessions it assigns you. As you play—daily or in your downtime—the app tracks changes in your speed, memory, attention and problem-solving scores—like weigh-ins for your gray matter.
Speaking another language has proven brain benefits. Bilingualism strengthens cognitive reserve, or the density of neural connections, which protects against decline later in life and staves off Alzheimer’s Disease. This app helps you learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese or Italian in bite-size portions, with quick and simple reading, writing and speaking games. According to an independent study funded by the app makers, 34 hours on Duolingo is equivalent to one semester (11 weeks) of a college language course.
Free for iPhone/iPad and Android.
3New York Times Crossword & Top Crossword Puzzles
Crossword puzzles are a classic way to keep your mind nimble and stay sharp as you age. With the New York Times app, you get the same crossword puzzles that are in the print version, plus access to an archive of 6,000 more. Like the paper, it’ll cost you. If you’re not a fan of the $3 a month price, the free (and ad-free) Top Crossword Puzzles is a great alternative.
NYT Crossword: Free for first week. Subscribe monthly for $2.99, biannually for $9.99, or annually for $16.99. Available for
Top Crossword Puzzles: Free for Android.
How many cool things do you drive by each day without a first, let alone a second, thought? Enrich your next long walk, run or road trip with this hands-free app that automatically reads aloud historical markers and other points of interest as you pass them. Take yourself off autopilot and boost your mindfulness by absorbing intel on your surroundings. Being mindful and noticing new things improves your relationships, vision and fitness, and all around makes you look and feel younger.
5Atlas by Collins
We’re globally connected, but most of us don’t know much about the rest of the world beyond the headlines. What’s the national currency in Syria? Which countries consume the most energy? Atlas by Collins, from the cartographic geniuses at HarperCollins Publishers, lets you take a deep dive into over 200,000 cities, towns and landmarks through interactive maps and globes. Its satellite and communications maps come free; others are available within the app for 99 cents or $1.99. Our favorites: the Environment map, which illustrates man’s impact on the planet, and the Memory of the World map, which spotlights the documents, art and people that have shaped human history.
Free for iPhone/iPad. Additional maps for in-app purchase.