Don’t put down the crossword! Puzzles take years off brain age, finds study

Researchers say the more regularly older people complete puzzles, the better their brain functions. Source: Pixabay

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys completing the crossword in the morning newspaper or challenging yourself with tricky number puzzles, you may be doing more than entertaining yourself. In fact, you could be cutting years of your brain’s age.

New research found that the more regularly over-50s complete puzzles, such as crosswords or Sudoku, the better their brain functions. More than 19,000 people aged between 50 and 96 participated in the Protect study (the largest online cohort of older adults) which analysed how frequently people engaged in word and number puzzles and the impact it had on cognitive and brain function.

The study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry by researchers from the University of Exeter, revealed the more regularly people engaged with puzzles, the better they performed in attention, reasoning and memory tasks. In fact, results showed that those who engaged in word puzzles had brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age for tests assessing grammatical reasoning and eight years younger for tests that measure short term memory.

“We’ve found that the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning,” lead researcher Anne Corbett said in a statement. “The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance.”

Read more: Alzheimer’s breakthrough: Researchers block protein that worsens disease

While researchers couldn’t confirm whether playing puzzles reduced the risk of dementia in later life, they said the latest results confirm the findings of a previous study which claimed that regular use of word and number puzzles helps brains work better for longer.

The study follows the release of new guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) proven to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Dementia is an illness that impacts cognitive function beyond what is normally expecting with ageing and impacts not only memory but thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement. This causes disability and a loss of independence,

Getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling weight, eating a healthy diet and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels were flagged as effective ways of reducing the risk of dementia. The number of dementia cases worldwide is set to triple within 30 years and 50 million people globally are currently impacted by it.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

Read more: Could your loved one have Alzheimer’s? The warning signs to watch out for

Do you complete word puzzles and crosswords? Do you believe it improves brain function?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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