There are some recreational activities that are just for fun and others that actively promote brain health, regardless of age. Puzzling is one of those activities that can not only be done on a rainy day, but actually has many benefits beyond relaxation.
It’s funny in the English language how some words have multiple meanings. While yes, one of the meanings is confusing or baffling, another meaning is when the word is used as a noun – the skill or pastime of constructing or working crossword or other puzzles. Some people also choose to use the word as a verb, “I’m puzzling this afternoon.”
Types of Puzzles
Often times, when we think of puzzles, we think of a rainy day activity, back when we were children and our parents brought out a 500 piece puzzle of a forest that was absolute madness to put together.
These days are very different, there are many types of puzzles (some in “tangible/physical form” and many online):
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Crossword puzzles
- Word Searches
- Math Puzzles
- Trivia Puzzles
- Logic Grid Puzzles
- Games like Boggle, Scrabble
- Escape Rooms (physical or virtual)
- General Brain Games
As you can see, there are any numbers of puzzles to solve, at least one style for everyone!
How Is Puzzling Good For You?
One of the bigger worries for us as we age is that we fear losing cognitive ability. We have “senior moments” in which we forget why we walked into a room, or where we parked the car at our local mall.
When we spend time on something that we enjoy and it includes focusing on shapes, color, numbers or patterns, it helps to reinforce the neural pathways in our brains that have to do with the ability to focus. Strengthening these neural pathways will help us to be able to focus better on other tasks in our lives.
Numerous studies have shown that in adults over the age of 50, those who participate on a regular basis in solving word or number puzzles have sharper brain function and memory skills.
Jigsaw and color/shape puzzles can also help improve short term memory, based on the focus on shapes and colors.
Better Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
Puzzling, regardless of the puzzle type, tends to engage both the left and right sides of the brain. The more often we use both sides together, the better our brains work overall. Think of the brain like a muscle. The more we use it, as fully as possible, the better and more agile it will be when solving general life challenges.
Can Offer Fun Social Interaction
Solving puzzles in a group, like completing a jigsaw puzzle with your grandkids or with a group of friends, can be an engaging social activity. This not only encourages problem solving, but problem solving in a group setting, with other members of a “team”.
Stress Relief and Mood Enhancement
Puzzling solving of many different kinds, offers small but important victories. When the right piece is placed or you connect the numerical or color pattern, your brain gets hit with a small amount of dopamine.
Dopamine is often called the pleasure chemical and a shortage of it has been shown to affect mental health in people of all ages. Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease are just a few of the conditions that can be affected by the amount of dopamine in a patient’s system.
Online Puzzle Sources
While physical puzzles are good for us, online puzzles can give us many of the same benefits and can be easier, especially in smaller physical spaces or with limited time. The Assisting Hands website has a list of wonderful sources to find puzzles online. Here are some of the types of puzzle resources listed:
Whether it’s in physical form sitting at your dining room table or coffee table, or in the online world, getting your brain active and healthy by puzzling, isn’t so, well…puzzling.
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