Most people love games. Combining them with keeping your brain healthy is a game-changer! I've been studying the brain, brain fitness, and teaching brain hacks for nearly two decades. Now, brain training apps do much of the work for you! Studies show that the brain needs exercise—use it or lose it! What an amazing solution: fun + smartphones + a brain boost!
Sharpen your cognition while playing games—now that's a winner! (Netflix may be popular but they can't boast of improved brain fitness.)
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
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Table of Contents
What Are the Top Brain Fitness Apps?
What Is the Best Brain Training App?
How Can Brain Training Benefit You?
The Brain IS a Muscle that Needs Exercise
Buyer's Guide: How We Conducted Our Research
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Top Brain Fitness Apps?
Over the years, I've watched many people struggle with negative self-talk, anxiety, depression, and declined brain cognition—one woman even on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Well, it all starts in the brain, or should I say our minds. With my extensive academic reading on the brain as a coach, I've developed my own brain hacks for repatterning belief systems, mental chatter, and the relentless harshness that many people fight daily.
I gotta say, brain games are a huge relief. They allow people to engage in games and silence the inner critic long enough to disrupt old patterns while being entertained. When I researched the best, I was pretty brutal and had the following starting line-up for even making it to round two.
- Scientific studies and backing
- Engaging games that challenge the mind and imprint the brain.
- A solid support base for the user
- System for tracking progress (If you can't track your progress, you can't know if something is working or not. Foundational for anyone looking to change.)
- had a track record of happy customers
We’ve compiled our favorites to save you time. No need to scour the app store in search of the perfect app. We’ve already confirmed their awesome features, free vs. paid options, and how easy they are to use!
Here are our top five picks:
Brain fitness apps are designed with memory improvement exercises. They also improve your concentration and problem-solving skills. Each puzzle, quiz, and exercise are geared towards enhancing brain health.
When used consistently, these apps are sure to kickstart a new and healthy habit.
Spend a few minutes in the app daily and feel an uptick in your brain fitness in as little as a few weeks!
If you're looking for brain fitness, it's totally worth the investment! Perhaps, just take what you spend on lattes and start a new habit!
Everything you'll need to make a smart decision: key benefits, pros and cons, and pricing.
Let’s start off with the veteran on this list: the CogniFit app.
Not many apps can brag about how deeply embedded they are in the scientific community. From universities to medical centers, CogniFit is a go-to for brain fitness programs. Designed by a team of neuroscientists, the name is as on-the-nose as it comes!
CogniFit games focus on promoting better:
- cognitive function
Take a short quiz and the app assigns a level just for you. (The developers say using the app 2-3 times weekly for 20 minutes gets the gears churning.)
Jennifer's favorite games:
As the Heartmanity founder, I've been a fan of brain apps for many years.
Cognifit grabbed my attention with so much science backing it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love neuroscience; studying it is my go-to recreation!
And I've always loved cars, too, (especially fast ones!) This game is a great challenge of matching and task completion that requires focus. See that big red X? My dog nudged me while playing! (I never liked those Xs in school either, but an effective negative reinforcer.) Just a sampling—one of Cognifit's over 60 games. Yup, I have a love affair with variety. Plus, it keeps the brain challenged.
Plentiful game choices you'll love!
Yet, one of our favorite CogniFit features is how it assesses cognitive scores. And I enjoy the simple, yet beautiful interface.
With every brain training, the app monitors your cognitive ability. And it's really cool to see your improvement and exactly what areas need focus.
Try it now!
CogniFit brain training has a wide range of other benefits, too!
- Multiple cognitive skill exercises
- Personalized brain training programs
- Cult classics like Mahjong and Sudoku
- Detailed reporting and progress tracking
- Assessments for accurate cognitive evaluation
"Games that offer increasingly harder cognitive challenges—more accurate and challenging judgments and reactions at higher speeds, fully focused attention, increasing spans of working memory—drive positive brain changes."
CogniFit offers two types of paid subscriptions: Basic and Premium.
Regardless of which plan you choose, you’ll receive a cognitive profile and ranking, along with a personalized evaluation during each session.
CogniFit's basic plan costs $19.99/monthly (or $119.99/yearly) and allows access to 20 games. With this plan, you are subscribed to a training program of your choice.
Their Premium plan costs $29.99/monthly (or $169.99/yearly) and you get access to the library of 60+ games. In this plan, your subscription includes all the training available on the platform. A substantial investment, yes.
Yet, your mental hardware at its best creates the quality of your life. So totally worth it! (Pay for it with fewer lattes a month.) 😉
If these options seem a bit pricey, don’t worry! CogniFit has a free plan available, but you only have access to 4 games.
We know that seems very limited compared to the paid options, but it gives you a taste of what CogniFit can do for you!
Take it for a trial run!
Pros and Cons
- LIBRARY: CogniFit’s paid options have the most extensive game library with over 60 brain games, including familiar ones like Reaction Field (which reminds us of classic Whack-A-Mole!).
- REPORTS: The app features detailed reports and progress trackers to show your improvement across 22 abilities, like reaction time and concentration.
- BENEFITS: The focus is on multiple cognitive skills, unlike some of the other apps which focus on very specific areas of brain workout.
- PRICING: Compared to the other apps on this list, CogniFit’s monthly paid plans are a little steeper.
- MOTIVATION: The interface is more focused on the ‘science’ of improving and not so much on the gratification or emotional impact of improving! Some reviews will agree: The app doesn’t offer much in terms of encouragement or motivation.
- LIMITATIONS: Some of the app’s swoon-worthy features require either a Basic or Premium subscription.
Lumosity has earned the reputation of the most popular brain training app. They have cemented themselves in the neuroscience space with over 100 million members.
Research like this 2018 study highlighted how Lumosity improved motor speed and attention when used daily for three weeks. Like many of these apps, Lumosity brain training specifically targets memory, speed, attention to detail, problem-solving and decision-making skills, among other cognitive brain functions.
It’s relatively easy to get started: it only takes 10 minutes to take the initial test, which measures your cognitive starting place.
Jennifer's favorite games:
I have played many of Lumosity's games and can attest to getting better over time. Better memory; faster, sharper response times, and it's easy to do math in my head again.
This particular matching puzzle was tough to beat, which requires fast adaptability—one of the things that makes the game fun to play.
Another of my favorites is the train game (see picture below). This specific game helped me develop split focus, which was lacking when I first started. So much so that I would leave a pan of water boiling dry on the stove for too long! (Out of sight out of mind.) However, after playing this game for a number of weeks consistently (okay, maybe a little obsessively), I was able to split my focus and remember that pan on the stove or the bath running. (Yup, I've flooded my share of tubs... Ha!)
Putting the trains into their matching colored stations was pretty easy at first. However, when 14 trains are all going every which way all at once, you have to remember to change the train track switch for each quickly, it requires some serious focus! I made it to the hardest level with some effort, but it took some practice!
Ever heard of the Brain Performance Index (BPI)?
It’s likely what the neuroscientists behind Lumosity brain games had in mind during app development!
Scientists and medical professionals alike measure cognitive function through BPI. From brain-based therapies to pharmacological treatments, it is important to maintain a good Brain Performance Index.
That is how we assess the different brain processes and keep ourselves alert and adept!
Along with tracking and improving BPI, these are the primary categories.
Here are the other benefits of playing Lumosity games:
- Casual visuals and an easy-to-navigate interface.
- A library of 40 games targeting many cognitive skills.
- Range of different skill-based assessments including math games.
- Detailed analysis of how your cognitive patterns influence your gameplay.
Lumosity offers a free and paid option.
Once registered, free users gain access to three games per day. They can play those three games as many times as they’d like.
Now, let’s compare that to the paid users. Premium users receive unlimited access to Lumosity’s entire gaming catalog and better progress monitoring tools for $11.99/monthly (or $59.99/yearly).
Considering those are two of the pros for the Lumosity app, most take this as an incentive to upgrade! But there’s an additional option to consider: A shared plan!
Lumosity also offers a Friends and Family Plan! With this subscription, only one person needs to purchase a monthly or yearly subscription. Then, they can add up to four other people to a little more expensive plan. Each person will receive their very own Lumosity account.
Pros and Cons
- GAMING: The visuals and gameplay feel like casual games, not brain-busting training.
- INSIGHTS: Your strengths and weaknesses are explained through tailored feedback.
- TRACKING: Both free and premium plans offer some progress tracking features.
- AVAILABILITY: Registered users can access Lumosity on iOS, Android and desktop.
- PRICING: $11.99 may be a costly investment into an app, especially with free plans and cheaper options available.
- TRACKING: While progress tracking is available, some users have reported that Lumosity’s desktop version fails to do so.
- LIMITATIONS: This ties into the free plan - Replaying the same three games daily may feel repetitive and unproductive.
Communication skills are often overshadowed by other cognitive skills. While focusing on other parts of cognition isn’t inherently bad, it’s a great idea to brush up on speaking and vocabulary just as often, too!
That’s how the Elevate app popped up on our radar. Elevate puts a primary focus on delivering mental challenges through bite-sized brain training games.
Let’s take it straight from the source:
According to the Elevate Labs team, over 90% of users notice improvements in vocabulary, memory, math skills, and overall mental sharpness by regularly engaging with their games and exercises.
Could you be next in line to sing their praises? We’re partial to the top two apps!
Maintaining healthy brains is only possible through challenging ourselves.
With Elevate’s algorithm, the difficulty levels get amped up even further as you complete more and more games:
Perfect for those of us searching for activities that really test us.
Elevate users are also fans of the following features:
- 40+ games in Math, Reading, Writing, Speaking & Memory
- Encourages consistency with tracking streaks on a calendar
- Boosts self-confidence through teaching better speaking skills
- Activities meant to improve grammar, vocabulary & comprehension
Elevate offers free and paid versions.
The free version is limited to three games per day. Of the entire catalog, only 22 games are available to free users. Metrics are also much simpler when compared to those found in the paid version.
Here's an example of some of their language games. Elevate’s paid version unlocks all of its features for an undisclosed rate. Because their pricing varies from location to location, you’re better off visiting the app to see what rate applies to you specifically.
However, to test the waters, Elevate offers a 7-day free trial for those interested in premium features.
Pros and Cons
- FOCUS: Elevate brain training is hailed for its focus on language and communication.
- LIBRARY: Some exercises are geared towards increasing confidence when speaking.
- AVAILABILITY: Elevate can be downloaded on both iOS and Android, with exclusive mini-games available on the Apple Watch, too!
- INSIGHT: In-depth brain training feedback is offered on the paid version only.
- VISUALS: The look of the app seems plain when compared to others on this list.
- LIBRARY: While some may find the vocab-focus enticing, others may not like the absence of games focused on decision-making. This limitation could appear as if Elevate is lacking as a brain training app.
Developed by neuroscience experts, Peak’s intuitive games make it a peak brain training app.
A number of their games were created with the help of top researchers in their field: Including Wizard, a memory game from Cambridge University’s very own Professor Barbara Sahakian.
For those of us who are short on time, no worries! They offer quick games like Coffee Break, which can start improving your cognition in less than five minutes. Each daily exercise is geared towards six crucial cognitive categories—say that three times fast—for more improvement.
Peak is available on both iOS and Android, so there’s no excuse for not using the app daily.
Peak gives you an almost hands-on approach: Thanks to Coach!
Coach helps you to track your progress and motivates you to keep on honing your skills. This virtual ‘trainer’ guides you through each game and doubles as your personal cheerleader.
While this makes it one of our top picks, there are other benefits to using the Peak app:
- Countless daily challenges and brain training exercises.
- Compete and compare with other Peak users by showing off your brain map and brain game performance.
- A library of 45+ games geared toward memory, attention, math, problem-solving, mental agility, language, coordination, creativity and emotional control.
The Peak brain training app offers two versions: Basic and Pro.
Peak’s Basic plan—or its free plan—has access to a limited number of daily exercises which are randomly selected. You don't get to pick which ones are assigned to you.
Meanwhile, the Pro plan offers access to all 45+ games, advanced statistics, personalized training and the ability to compare your scores with other users. Because of these premium features, most people will opt in for the 7-day free trial or upgrade to Peak Pro.
Similar to Lumosity, the app’s pricing varies from location to location. On average, users may expect to pay about $4.99 per month (or $34.99 yearly) according to some sources.
Pros and Cons
- PRICING: Peak has, by far, the most affordable monthly plan on this list.
- LIBRARY: The games are incredibly engaging, and the app is easy to navigate.
- COMPETE: If you like the idea of competing against your friends in-app, then you’ll love that Peak allows you to compare your brain map with others!
- ADS: Some users have reported how annoying/intrusive the ads are in the free version.
- LIMITATIONS: To unlock features like elaborate feedback—think graphs or statistics—users have to upgrade to Peak’s Pro plan. This may be a dealbreaker if you prefer to see results first before taking that leap and subscribing.
Last but not least, let’s shift our focus to an app proven to enhance memory, concentration, and attention spans: NeuroNation.
One study went as far as to show the relationship between NeuroNation and improved memory. After four weeks, participants were better at mastering ‘untrained tests’ from using NeuroNation. While it’s still too early for results, the NeuroNation app is also being used in early testing for Parkinson’s disease — Specifically, in an effort to see which cognitive abilities it can strengthen.
With over 23 million users worldwide, studies like these are just the tip of the iceberg! There are countless reviews available online to highlight what makes NeuroNation perfect for beginners and veterans alike.
The best part of NeuroNation brain training is how each game has something at stake. You see, each wrong move or incomplete level sets you one level back. On the upside, the levels get more difficult with every level you complete.
If you’re having trouble with thinking too slowly, poor memory or dwindling concentration, you’ll be happy to know NeuroNation specifically targets these weaknesses. But that’s only some of the app’s best features.
- Collection of 27 games, challenges and exercises
- A library of brain and memory training spanning 250 levels
- In-depth analysis of your strengths along with a personal training plan
- Focused on improving concentration, cognitive speed and memory retention
Create your NeuroNation account and get started right away through their free or paid plan.
Like the other apps on this list, NeuroNation is free to download and offers limited access to its gaming library. You’ll notice some exercises are blocked with a padlock icon.
However, NeuroNation Premium allows you access to its comprehensive training program with new courses. Pricing is split across three packages: 3 months ($14/monthly), 12 months ($7/monthly) and Lifetime ($499 for one-time payment).
Pros and Cons
- IMPACT: There are countless past and ongoing studies centered around how you can improve cognitive health with NeuroNation.
- INTERFACE: NeuroNation’s design is easy on the eyes and not too in-your-face.
- AVAILABILITY: Users can access NeuroNation on iOS, Android and through their site.
- DIFFICULTY: Some NeuroNation reviews have concerns about the games’ difficulty and/or claim some instructions were unclear.
- DESIGN: People find their design simplistic.
What IS the Best Brain Training App?
We’ve put five apps under the magnifying glass. Ultimately, the choice is yours! Considering that all of them offer a free plan, there’s no harm in trying out all five.
To save you time, though, here’s a highlight from each of these apps to jog your memory.
- CogniFit: Holds the largest library (60+ games) with classics like Mahjong and Sudoku.
- Lumosity: Most users agree that their brain training games feel more laid back/casual.
- Elevate: More focused on vocabulary, language and communication - Not only cognition.
- Peak: Has a competitive element to it where you can compare your brain map to others.
- NeuroNation: More impactful in the neuroscience space through past and ongoing studies.
How Can Brain Training Benefit You?
Brain training is beneficial to just about anyone under the sun!
With every crossword puzzle, you pick up a new vocabulary word. With every math problem, you brush up on what you covered back in school. With every recall game, you are secretly trying your hand at photographic memory training. That all boils down to one thing: The skills you learn from brain games can apply to your other day-to-day activities.
One study found that over 3,000 people believed that brain-training apps help improve memory, focus, and attention.
When coupled with adequate sleep and nutritious food, you’ll find it a lot easier to soak in the training from apps like CogniFit, Lumosity, Elevate, Peak and NeuroNation.
The Brain IS a Muscle that Needs Exercise
Many don't think of the brain as a muscle, but it is.
And it needs to be exercised!
When you head to the gym to strengthen your biceps or stretch at a yoga class, it's for a healthier body. Recent research shows that our brain needs exercise, too.
Everyone needs exercise and we all like a break from our busy lives. Brain games give you both!
And trust me, we can use the brain boost! Did you know that our attention spans are decreasing?
Thank social media and smartphones for that one!
Add fun and brain fitness to your day. Check these out!
How We Conducted Our Study?
Searching for information online may lead you down a rabbit hole, which may make you succumb to curiosity and open a million tabs as you try to research brain training. The last thing you need is more distractions!
We zeroed in on the following when researching, comparing and reviewing the top five best apps for cognitive training exercises:
- Pricing: How much did the app cost monthly and yearly? How long is the free trial?
- Features: What were the best features of each app? What caught our eye first?
- Research: How many relevant studies center around the app? What were the results?
- Limitations: What was missing with each app? Was the free plan worth trying out?
- Availability: Can the app be used by both iOS and Android users? What about desktop?
While these questions mattered the most to us, you may need to do some research of your own. Otherwise, this may be all you need to know to get started!
The antidote to improving brain health doesn’t lie in just downloading an app. The road to a healthy brain requires consistency and commitment. If your goal is to sharpen your memory skills or brush up on your vocabulary, then dedicate a few minutes each day to doing so.
- Peak; and
So, there you have it: Five apps with the best brain fitness games for you to check out! Regardless of which program you sign up for, it’s important to find one that aligns with your own tastes and values.
Related topic: "How to Break Bad Habits by Rewiring Your Brain."
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do brain training apps work?
It's too early with too little data to be certain. There are mixed reports both positive and negative. Some say yes, some say there are too many factors to weigh, and others say no. People are all different, and genetics and varying levels of mental acuity and health all play a role.
However, many people who have used the apps do think they help them with cognitive functioning, but even that is subjective.
It's best to approach brain fitness apps and their use holistically. Don't put too much weight or expect grand results.
Balance your use with activities that are known to create mental health and a healthier brain: physical exercise, ample sleep, time in nature, fish oil, etc.
Regardless, we hope you enjoy whatever you choose.
The next step on the growth journey
The next step is to find the right resources to keep you on track to better brain health. That’s where Heartmanity comes in!
Mindfulness, brain fitness, and emotional intelligence are just a few of the topics that Heartmanity specializes in.
Schedule a one-on-one call directly. Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for a more personalized look at your goals and how we might support you.