How Puzzles Benefit Your Brain

Time for a mental workout with cognitive puzzles.

During downtime — sitting on public transit, waiting for an appointment, during your lunch break, decompressing after a long day — you likely find yourself caught up in mindlessly scrolling social media. So do your brain a favor and switch it up with some cognitive games! You may be picturing paper game books, but most are available in app form, so you can take them anywhere.  

Whether you prefer crossword puzzles, sudoku or a selection of other cognitive puzzles, studies have found that problem-solving, intellectually stimulating activities benefit brain function and may help protect individuals from relative cognitive decline as they age. 

For example, one study using crossword puzzles and measuring mild cognitive impairment with Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive (ADAS-Cog) scores, in which higher scores indicate higher cognitive impairment, found users who did regular crossword puzzles had a lower ADAS-Cog score. A study focused on sudoku analyzed the prefrontal cortex activity of participants as they completed the number puzzles and found that both the medial and lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex were activated. The prefrontal cortex is vital to brain function as it helps regulate important behavior like decision-making and social conduct. Another study found a close association between cognitive function in those aged 50 to 93 and the frequency with which they did number puzzles. Further supporting the idea that mentally stimulating activities like sudoku can benefit brain function. 

Start a jigsaw puzzle if you have the space and want another classic puzzle option. Jigsaw puzzle benefits range from strengthening visuospatial cognition and other cognitive areas to being a great activity to enjoy with others. 

Time to get puzzling!

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  1. BMJ Clinical Research. Intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life (the “use it or lose it” conjecture): Longitudinal, prospective study. Accessed March 30, 2023.
  2. New England Journal of Medicine Evidence. Computerized Games versus Crosswords Training in Mild Cognitive Impairment. Accessed March 30, 2023.
  3. Translational Neuroscience. Role of prefrontal cortex during Sudoku task: fNIRS study. Accessed March 30, 2023. 
  4. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Accessed March 30, 2023.
  5. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The relationship between the frequency of number-puzzle use and baseline cognitive function in a large online sample of adults aged 50 and over. Accessed March 30, 2023.
  6. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging. Accessed March 30, 2023.
  7. Trials. Jigsaw Puzzles As Cognitive Enrichment (PACE) - The effect of solving jigsaw puzzles on global visuospatial cognition in adults 50 years of age and older: Study protocol for randomized controlled trial. Accessed March 30, 2023.