September 09, 2019Preventive Healthcare

Train your brain with your smartphone

Numerous mobile apps promise to improve concentration, coordination, memory or speed of thinking. How can we choose the right one to maintain and optimise cognitive functions? We take a look at the science behind mind-training apps and try out the top five games.

What do scientists say?

Let’s be honest: there are no shortcuts to make the brain fit at every age. Our cognition depends on complex factors, like social and environmental determinants or our behavior. Although millions of people use brain-training apps every day, many scientists still debate if they work at all. While single control trials show that brain-training games can boost working memory, some studies suggest there is little evidence of any improvement in cognitive abilities. Conflicting studies make it difficult to draw simple conclusions for or against these kinds of apps. Considering how undiscovered the human brain is, this will remain a question mark for years to come.

Even if some advertisements promise “significant improvements,” we shouldn’t expect that mind games will make our IQ higher, boost our speed of thinking or help the elderly to stop aging of the brain. But there is also good news: We can do a lot to improve cognition, and brain-training apps can be considered as one tool among a range of other ones. Daily physical activity, an active social life, healthy eating, life-work balance, stress management, positive emotions, education at any age, eight-hours sleep a night and many other factors can help – with each component being equally important, but none of them alone able to deliver the right mind hygiene.

Which app should I choose?

Brain-training apps are an excellent way to relax and stretch your mind. They offer logic or language games, puzzles, riddles, problems to be solved, math calculations. Some of them are challenging, for example, when you have to remember different symbols, match some figures with each other or count quickly. The best ones are usually created by scientists and game developers to ensure they involve all cognitive skills, like selective and simultaneous attention, long-term and working memory, reasoning, visual processing, pattern recognition, information processing speed. I have been using one of these apps for a long time. Besides being a lot of fun, it is an excellent alternative for mindless surfing on the Internet. Most of the games are challenging and need concentration. Sometimes you have to stretch yourself to solve a puzzle in a short time or cope with deceptive optical illusions. Among thousands of apps designed to activate your mind, I have chosen five. They are adapted to adults of all ages – the difficulty level is age-appropriate and based on an initial test.


Free (offers in-app purchases) / iOS / Android

With over 100 million users, Lumosity is a leading app in this category. In the randomized study conducted by the developer, Lumosity users improved their overall cognitive function. I liked it from the first moment after downloading it. The games are beautifully designed and convincing. The developer works with university researchers worldwide to guarantee its scientific basis.

  • The free version offers three games daily
  • Over 40 mind games that are easy but require focus
  • Includes mindfulness training
  • The app tracks your progress to challenge your brain
  • Seven language versions to choose from


Free (offers in-app purchases) / iOS / Android

In contrast to Lumosity, this app focuses primarily on boosting productivity and self-confidence. The design is clear; the games are harder and refined. For example, instead of entertaining games, there are knowledge quizzes. What I found most helpful are the language games that support improving vocabulary or diction. There is a 14-day free trial version available.

  • More specific skills to train, like listening or reading
  • The 35+ available games are more educating, less entertaining
  • Workout calendar helps you to stay motivated
  • Apple’s app of the year
  • One year subscription costs $39,99


Free (offers in-app purchases) / iOS / Android

One of the most advanced brain-training apps. Here, play counts above all but smartly. You get what you expect – over 40 different mini-games co-designed with experts in neuroscience and cognitive science. The central concept is very similar to Lumosity, but there are a few different games to challenge mental agility and emotion control.

  • Four games daily for free
  • Compare your results with other players
  • Some language games might be difficult for nonnative speakers
  • A personal trainer recommends the right workout
  • One year subscription costs $34,99

Mensa Brain Training

Free / iOS

An app created by the largest high IQ society in the world. It’s not eye-catching, the graphics are austere but clear. The design and fun factor are not important when you deal with a tool created by Mensa experts. I tried it out to calculate my personal Mensa Brain Index (MBI) and to see how it is improving over time.

  • Five disciplines to test all areas of the brain
  • Focus on testing your Mensa Brain Index
  • Basic but user-friendly and clear design
  • 7-days free trial
  • Focus on smart graphic puzzles

Monument Valley 2

$4,99 / iOS / Android

This is for those looking for a relaxing but smart game, without brain-training elements, scores or competition. I was fascinated with the atmosphere of the game and the idea itself. Your task is to guide a mother and her child through magical architecture. The illusionary pathways and moving parts of the building don’t make it easy!

  • Breathtaking visuals, a captivating story line, surprising puzzles
  • No scores or training programs but just intelligent fun
  • You have to manipulate architecture to go through complicated paths
  • Graphics inspired by optical illusion artist M.C. Escher
  • Get lost in a mysterious world


Artur Olesch

Digital health freelance journalist, blogger (, researcher, editor.