Puzzles are great fun and a nice part of any day. You can use them to wake your brain up in the morning or to wind down in the evening. If you enjoy crosswords or Sudoku, and they are part of your routine, research from the Univ. of Exeter and King’s College London may please you.
With more than 19,000 participants over the age of 50 in the UK, researchers saw that the more frequently people did puzzles like Sudoku or crosswords, the better their cognition. The participants were asked how often they solved puzzles. Then they performed cognitive tasks. The tasks were designed to measure attention, reasoning and memory. The people who played puzzles regularly had the grammatical reasoning of someone ten years younger. Their short-term memory was that of a person eight years their junior.
Dr. Ann Corbett of Exeter said the results were particularly pronounced in the speed and accuracy of the study subjects. She was quick to stress that the research doesn’t show that puzzles can prevent dementia, but it does support other studies that found playing puzzles regularly keeps brains functioning well as we age. The study, called PROTECT, is ongoing and growing. Since these results, the group has grown to 22,000 people aged 50-96. They are expanding to include participants from the U.S. and Hong Kong.
“PROTECT is proving to be one of the most exciting research initiatives of this decade,” said Clive Ballard of Exeter, “allowing us to understand more about how the brain ages and to conduct cutting-edge new studies into how we can reduce the risk of dementia in people across the UK. If you’re aged 50 or over, you could sign up to take part in research that will help us all maintain healthy brains as we age.”
It’s always hard to tell if there is correlation or causation in studies of this nature. It could be that people with better cognition gravitate toward puzzles. Or it could be that the people performing well always had better cognition than their peers. “It is likely that people who have better cognition like these activities and tend to engage in them,” said Dr. Jerri Edwards of the Univ. of South Florida in Tampa to Healthline. She was not involved in this study but is a researcher in the field of games and cognition. “Also, people without cognitive decline engage in these activities, but when they experience cognitive decline they are likely to quit doing so because they become frustrating or challenging.”
Even though these results might show correlation instead of causation, other research has shown that one can improve the brain’s cognitive strength via training. Shoring up your brain’s cognitive reserve has been shown to aid healthy aging. “Regardless of task, if the problem is challenging enough, all areas of the brain are more or less involved in trying to find a solution — which is good for overall strengthening of the brain’s networks and improving cognitive reserve,” Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Healthline.
With all that in mind, it couldn’t hurt to pick up a puzzle book today!