More Than a Game: Bridge Builds Brain Benefits

Splendido residents enjoy the challenge, competition, and social aspect of playing bridge. (left to right) Darwin Afdahl, Kay Afdahl, Gabriella Pellinger, and Richard Jaffe

Whether you engage in a weekly game of bridge with friends, or compete in tournaments to earn masterpoints, playing the game pays off “in spades” when it comes to maintaining and even improving cognitive health.

Gabriella Pellinger, who lives at Splendido, a Life Plan Community for those 55 and better in Oro Valley, is an avid player who turned to the game 10 years ago when foot surgery kept her from a number of athletic activities she enjoyed. “I thought, if you can’t do all the things you love, what can you do?” she says. The answer turned out to be bridge.

 

Although Gabriella hadn’t played since she was in college, she signed up for a weeklong beginners’ class with a bridge pro. “I took the class, and from then on, I followed that pro, and ended up playing with him. I went through the ranks from rookie to junior master, all the way up to Ruby Life Master, with 1800 masterpoints,” she says.

 

Kay Afdahl, another Splendido bridge player and a long-time bridge teacher, says this is a common trajectory. “Many people learn bridge in college and play when they’re young, then come back to it once they’ve raised their children,” she says. Kay and her husband Darwin have taught players of all skill levels—they used to teach bridge on cruise ships before the pandemic—and they still offer lessons and mentorship.

 

Both Kay and Darwin have achieved the rank of Platinum Life Master, a designation shared by the top 1% of the world’s American Contract Bridge League members. Kay has earned over 10,000 masterpoints while Darwin has more than 15,000.

 

The Afdahls and Gabriella play competitively several times a week at the Northwest Tucson Bridge Club, located about five minutes away from Splendido. They also play at least weekly at Splendido. In fact, a team of Splendido residents recently won a team competition at the club, proving there is no age limit on expertise. “Splendido is home to probably about 30 bridge players, with varying degrees of skill and interest in the game,” says Kay. “We play weekly in the Game Room—it’s a lovely place—and there are informal games in people’s homes.”

 

Research shows that those who play bridge regularly can reap a handful of valuable health benefits, regardless of their skill level.

A Brain Workout. It’s been proven that regularly playing cards and board games helps us retain mental acuity in later life, improves performance on cognitive tests, and even protects against the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Bridge in particular is a rigorous mental workout, requiring concentration, problem solving, and multitasking (including, but not limited to, memorizing cards played and continually analyzing mathematical odds while noting verbal and non-verbal clues from other players).

 

It’s a problem-solving game, and you re-solve the problems after the game is over,” says Kay.

 

A Social Exercise. Of course, regular bridge players reap the benefits of social interaction, which is also good for brain health, as well as mood.

 

The discussion of the game afterwards is often more social than what happens at the table,” says Kay. “To me, that social aspect of the game is more important than the competitive aspect.”

 

A Boost for the Immune System.One study found strong evidence that playing bridge protects physical health, because it stimulates the area in the brain responsible for the immune system.

 

Gabriella adds that she benefits from the feeling of accomplishment. “It gives me satisfaction to add up my points each time,” she says. “Bridge is the perfect option for someone who wants something that’s challenging, competitive, and fulfilling.”

Interested in learning more about Splendido? For floor plans, photos, and information on upcoming events, visit splendidotucson.com.

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