305 West End Assisted Living Blog

The Science of Puzzles: Why Challenging Your Brain is Good For Your Health

A man and woman’s hands holding up a piece of the puzzle they are working on

If you love curling up with a newspaper crossword on the weekend, you already know how much enjoyment they bring. You might be surprised to discover that they are great for your brain too.

Learn more about the role puzzles play in benefitting your brain health and find some of our favorite resources for puzzles.

Benefits of Doing Puzzles

Researchers have a name for the puzzles and apps that challenge your mind — brain games. These activities stimulate your thinking and may help sharpen these skills:

  • Planning ability
  • Reaction time
  • Critical thinking
  • Short-term memory

Another benefit of brain games is that doing them regularly — especially when combined with physical activity and exercise — can strengthen your cognitive reserve. If puzzles aren’t your favorite – no worries. Brain games can also include things like playing an instrument or challenging a friend in a board game.

Researchers describe cognitive reserve as a resilient network of neurons that your brain can rely on when damage occurs – either through illness, injury, or the natural process of aging. Individuals with a higher level of cognitive reserve appear to be able to delay or lessen the effects of dementia.  

Doing puzzles may even help improve your mental health by giving you a project to focus on and complete, in addition to the satisfaction of creating something with just your brain.

The key is to switch up your activities and try new things. If you’re in a puzzle rut, read on for more ideas to try.

Types of Puzzles to Try

We’ve rounded up a list of some fun brain games you can try. If you are a traditionalist and prefer to work with a pencil and paper, most sites will allow you to print the puzzle out.

Crossword Puzzles

Crosswords take some getting used to so be patient if you are just getting started. Newcomers to this game are often surprised when they realize how quickly they can progress. 

Keep in mind that most crossword puzzle publishers run easier games earlier in the week – saving more difficult games for the weekend. Don’t fret if you start having trouble by Thursday!

Below is a short list of sources with crossword puzzles you can do online:

Sudoku Puzzles

Sudoku puzzles were created in Japan in the 1980s; the word, translated from a longer phrase, means “the numbers must remain single.”

If you’ve never tried this puzzle, the concept is simple: Grids of nine boxes each must contain digits 1 through 9. Each small grid is one of many in the entire puzzle, and every row and column must also contain numbers 1 through 9 with no repeats. 

Give it a try with one of these online versions.

Jigsaw Puzzles

Sales of and interest in jigsaw puzzles have skyrocketed in the past few months as people look for fun indoor activities. Besides the benefits of all puzzles listed above, at least one study has shown that jigsaw puzzles can help keep hand-eye coordination sharp.

While there are online jigsaw puzzles and apps to put puzzles together, we think doing a puzzle by hand is the most fun.

  • Ravensburger puzzles have been made in Germany for more than 100 years and are high-quality enough to complete over and over again. 
  • Springbok is “America’s oldest puzzle company” and offers a huge selection of designs to choose from. 

‘Brain-Training’ Apps

So-called “brain-training” apps have gained popularity over the past few years and are easy to find for any type of mobile device. While the jury is still out on whether these apps are any more effective for boosting brain power than normal puzzles, they can still be fun ways to pass the time and maybe learn something new.

The best apps have been reviewed in scientific studies and appear to have brainpower-boosting benefits. Two such options are BrainHQ and Cognifit

Read Next: How Music Can Benefit You

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like our story titled “The Healing Power of Music: How it Can Benefit You.” Read it to learn about how music can affect mood as well as memory, cardiovascular health, and athletic performance. 

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