According to Philip E. Stieg, Director and Founder, Weill Cornell Medicine Brain and Spine Center, the human brain ages as one gets older, just like the other parts of the human body.
The changes in the human brain lead to thinning of the cerebral cortex layer, slowing down of processing speed, and weakening of neural pathways.
Thus, it is quite apparent that the functional and cognitive decline of the human brain is inevitable.
However, a healthy brain can help us prevent age-related diminishment in cognition, memory, speech, and even happiness.
As per National Intellectual Disability Memory Service (NIDMS), there are a host of things that you can do to keep your brain healthy as you grow older.
One such thing is doing mental exercise. This includes undertaking activities that involve learning something new and then recalling it later.
It is important to note that repeating exercises that make you think but not learn may not be as helpful.
Thus, one of the suggested activities that keep your brain healthy and stimulated is solving puzzles.
Let’s take a look at the various ways in which working your brain through a puzzle can help you in keeping your brain healthy.
Benefits of Solving Puzzles
1. Puzzles Exercise Both Sides Of the Brain
Puzzles claim to boost your brainpower. Further, working on puzzles engages both sides of your brain and gives it a real mental workout.
As you may know, the two hemispheres of your brain control different functions. The left hemisphere of your brain controls analytical and logical thinking. Whereas, your brain’s right hemisphere controls creativity.
Thus, working through puzzles helps your brain reinforce the already existing connections between your brain cells as well as form new connections.
2. Sharpens Memory
As per research, individuals who routinely use their brains to learn, memorize, read, and master new skills have healthier brains than those who pursue more passive pastimes.
How does this happen?
Well, your brain forms new connections, reinforces synaptic pathways, and stores and retrieves memories when you actively learn new things.
Solving puzzles also helps in reinforcing connections between our brain cells and forming new ones.
It helps your brain remember shapes, sizes, and pieces. Further, it also helps in visualizing where all the pieces fit in.
Therefore, working through a puzzle is a great way to improve your short-term memory.
3. Improves Visual and Spatial Reasoning
Visual-spatial intelligence is nothing but your brain’s ability to understand three-dimensional images and shapes.
Primarily, the right side of your brain performs this function. Further, such functionality also helps in undertaking activities like solving puzzles, understanding maps, and taking part in any type of construction or engineering project.
This is because you need both visual and analytical skills to identify the object, understand its relationship with the surroundings, and organize it hierarchically in order to manipulate the same.
For instance, while solving a jigsaw puzzle, you must have the ability to look at the puzzle’s individual parts.
Likewise, in the case of a crossword puzzle, you must be able to figure out the available spaces and the ways in which you can fit the pieces or words into their space.
Thus, solving puzzles on a constant basis improves your visual and spatial reasoning skills.
4. Develops Problem-Solving Skills
A problem simply refers to any situation in which you do not easily see a solution or technique for handling the event or an experience.
You can view a puzzle as a problem as there exists no obvious formula to solve or complete it.
For instance, you experience a variety of problem-solving situations when you try to solve a puzzle as each puzzle sets a different challenge.
Thus, the ability to solve problems and think critically is useful in almost any life situation. And solving puzzles routinely helps us develop these skills.
As a result, we learn to work through trial and error, formulate and test theories, and also change methodologies if we fail to successfully solve a puzzle.
5. Lightens Mood and Relieves Stress
According to Stefanie Veno, an Outpatient Therapy Manager, “the act of completing a puzzle, no matter what kind, creates a positive reinforcement cycle of finding solutions”.
In other words, you get a sense of achievement when you solve a puzzle successfully. Such small wins release dopamine in your brain and as a result you get into a positive mood.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for increasing your concentration levels, enhancing your mood, and improving memory.
With every success, Dopamine is released and hence it lightens your mood.
Besides enhancing your mood, puzzles relax your mind. While solving a puzzle, your mind focuses on only one task, that is, solving the puzzle.
Thus, it encourages your brain to go into a meditative state. This reduces stress and anxiety and provides a source of relaxation.
Solving puzzles routinely offers benefits like enhancing dexterity, memory, problem-solving, happiness, and cooperation.
Puzzles of all sorts are all great ways to relieve stress and anxiety. Besides this, it also helps you to develop a focus on one task, sharpen your memory, and enhance your logical as well as creative skills.