5 Unexpected Health Benefits Of Mahjong

5 Unexpected Health Benefits Of Mahjong

5 min read

Playing Mahjong really helps train brain meh?

Today, my granddaughter Cathy came up to me and asked if she could sit in for my next Mahjong game with my friends. You know Mahjong—the Chinese strategy game with the rectangular tiles that make a lot of noise when you shuffle them? 

At first, I thought Cathy was just finding an excuse to learn how to play the game, but she told me she recently read about the health benefits the game of Mahjong brings! Here are the ones I remember:

1. Keeps dementia at bay

tiles that spell out dementia

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Did you know that Mahjong can help those with dementia delay their decline in certain cognitive functions? According to a 2020 study, playing Mahjong can help slow down or reverse the progression of cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive impairment, which is associated with early dementia. 

There were also multiple studies previously that showed that playing Mahjong actually benefited people with mild to moderate dementia in terms of verbal memory and forward digit-span memory (the ability to repeat a series of numbers). 

In fact, playing Mahjong is found to be a demanding cognitive activity and more effective than less-demanding ones such as simple handicraft. The beneficial effects were also found to last even after the participants stopped playing Mahjong for a month! 

If you are thinking “but I have no dementia leh”, don’t worry. Mahjong also can be beneficial for you! Researchers in Japan actually did another experiment in 2014 to test the effect of playing Mahjong for people without dementia. According to them, the results suggested there were potentially positive effects of Mahjong on brain activities in general. So you see, Mahjong is an inclusive game that everyone can benefit from!

2. Decreases possibility of depression

happy grandma at the thought of mahjong

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Mahjong can help decrease the possibility of depression as it is a form of social interaction. Since you need four people to play a game of Mahjong, this means you also have kakis to talk to about your daily lives or happenings while playing!

Researchers have found that by getting involved in activities such as playing Mahjong, being in a sports or social club, or volunteering in the community, people saw an improvement in their mental health. Specifically, people living in urban areas who played Mahjong were also found to be less likely to feel depressed.

3. Improves hand-eye coordination 

training accuracy through tai chi and mahjong

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Also ah, Mahjong can help to improve your hand-eye coordination. The game trains the players’ reaction time as they decide which Mahjong tiles they want to keep and discard. Speed and accuracy in matching the patterns of the Mahjong tiles is also important, as there are penalties for players who play the wrong tile and violate the rules of play.

A study in 2016 showed that Mahjong players are, on average, significantly quicker in pointing to a moving target using their dominant hands. A significant difference was also found in the accuracy of using non-dominant hands to point toward a stationary target.

This is because during a Mahjong game, there would be quite a lot of repeated reaching and grasping movements in getting or throwing down tiles. Each Mahjong session involves at least four rounds of four games, so there are at least sixteen games. Thus the repeated actions could help maintain or improve players’ fast finger-pointing performance.

4. Trains concentration and pattern recognition

mahjong tiles explanation

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In a game of Mahjong, there are over 100 tiles, 3 different suits, and 4 of the same tiles each. There are also miscellaneous tiles such as “flowers” or “animals” that players have to recognise—and they have to do it fast if they want a smooth game. This element of the game hence helps train players’ ability to concentrate and recognise patterns for a prolonged period of time.   

When I play Mahjong with my friends, one game usually lasts at least 2 to 4 hours. That means I have to concentrate for that long, and sometimes after a game of Mahjong I can feel my brain getting a little tired.

5. Helps benefit short-term memory

When my grandchildren tell me my memory is very good for my age, I always reply, “That’s because I play Mahjong.” And I’m telling the truth!

Mahjong is a strategic game that is not as simple as it looks. It forces you to remember which tiles your opponents discard. This way you may have a better understanding of which tiles your opponents are waiting for to gain a victory hand. There are also multiple combinations for a winning hand, so I have to tap into my memory to recall the different variations to see how I can win! 

It’s all about fun after all!

Although playing Mahjong can bring out some health benefits, I tell you ah, it is important to just play with the mentality of having fun. Don’t get too stressed or focused on winning money, just relax and have a good time with your kakis. Most of my quality time with my friends was spent playing Mahjong leh! With each Mahjong game lasting from 2 hours to 4 hours, it is also a good way to spend your free time if you are as bored as me at home.

I hope you learnt more about my favourite game! Let me know if you managed to learn how to play Mahjong okay? Now that Cathy knows how to play, we are on the lookout for two more players. 😉

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