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Aging Well: Draw a handful of benefits with mah-jongg

Mah-jongg is a fun and engaging game that is a great way to expand your social circle while enjoying an amazing workout for your brain.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

More than a game, mah-jongg offers opportunities to socialize with other players and is an effective workout for your brain.

“I’ve been playing mah-jongg for about 35 years, and teaching it for about 25,” says Janie Goldberg. “I love the social aspect — it’s just so much fun, and it never gets boring.” Janie and her husband Steve have lived in Telluride, Colorado, for more than 30 years and are deeply involved in the community. In addition to running the Telluride Mountain Mah-Jongg Group, Janie has led the board of the National Historic Landmark known as the Historic Lone Tree Cemetery District since 2014, and was also instrumental in getting the local humane society built. “My husband and I say that since we retired, we work full-time for free,” she jokes.

Despite their deep Colorado roots, Janie and Steve are looking forward to moving to The Mather, a Life Plan Community that is opening in 2024 in Tysons. “We have lots of friends in the D.C. area, and heard about The Mather from one of them,” says Janie. “It made sense to move closer to our family in New York. We wanted a Life Plan Community — it takes the burden away from our family — and Mather has a great reputation. It’s a great location, close to everything, with the Metro nearby, plus we’re hikers, and it’s near some good trails. And we enjoy other stimulating people who have led interesting lives.”

As for mah-jongg, she says, “It’s going to be perfect at The Mather. It really fits the bill of Aging Well.” She’s already offered a class to her future neighbors.

Research shows that people who regularly play mah-jongg can reap a handful of valuable health benefits.

Cognitive workout: Although there are many varieties of mah-jongg played around the world, “American” or “Western “mah-jongg is the version played in all 50 states. Mah-jongg requires concentration, pattern recognition, and strategizing — all of which can strengthen short-term memory and focus. Research shows that it also builds skills in decision-making, and can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. One study showed that mah-jongg players enjoyed the cognitive benefits long after playing!

Social bonds: “The difference between mah-jongg and games like bridge is that mah-jongg is really social — it’s fun, you can laugh if you want to, and you can have the beverage of your choice,” says Janie. These opportunities for social interaction and connection — whether you’re playing with friends or new acquaintances — are great for your overall well-being. The game has been shown to reduce depression.

Stress relief: Any game or pastime you enjoy has a physical effect on the body, reducing stress and inducing relaxation; this has a positive effect on your physical and mental well-being.

Eye-hand coordination: Mah-jongg offers practice in fine motor skills, requiring speed and accuracy in matching tiles.

The good news is that there are ample opportunities to try your hand at mah-jongg. “It’s pretty much taken the country by storm,” says Janie. “You can go anywhere in the US and find a game.”

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.

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