I like concentrating on puzzles – it provides a break from work, a complete focus on something that blocks out the external world.
Puzzles of all kinds – crosswords, jigsaws, Sudoku, Rubik’s cube etc. – are more than fun activities – they can have health benefits too, physically and mentally. Natural Therapy Pages says the mind and body benefits are:
- lowered heart rate
- improved language skills
- better social skills if playing with others
- mental clarity
- increased creativity
- better mood
- increased self-confidence
- improved patience
- improved self-control
- better problem-solving.
Wealthwords says that 5 benefits and advantages of playing crossword puzzles include:
- improved vocabulary
- boosted communication skills
- improved relaxation
- enhanced cognitive and analytical skills
- boosted memory.
In 2020, Health IQ says one study of elderly adults doing crossword puzzles helped delay the onset of dementia by over 2.5 years. Doing crosswords has been shown to slow the aggregation of amyloid plaques on the brain that may cause Alzheimer’s symptoms. Another study found that regular puzzlers had cognitive function 10 years younger than their biological age.
A Japanese study found that doing puzzles may make people more adventurous. Japanese adults who did weekly crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, and were also given inductive reason training, became more open to new experiences. Researchers thought it might be due to an increase in confidence levels and the ability to meet challenges.
Puzzle solving is a blend of memory and imagination – i.e. to remember and see patterns (of words or jigsaw puzzle pieces) and to find the ‘hidden’ clues and solutions. The same riddles and puzzles are found across the world – the details may change but the structure remains the same, says Dr Marcel Danesi of the University of Toronto in a 2009 article in Psychology Today, and in examples in his books The Puzzle Instinct: The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life (2002) and The Total Brain Workout (2020). Therefore, he says puzzling is culture-independent and innate.
How much puzzling do you need to do to gain benefits? Sage Journals documented a 2010 study by researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in America which found that people who spent an hour a day on mentally challenging activities – like crosswords and other hobbies – maintained their cognitive integrity longer than people who only participated for 30 minutes a day or not at all.
Doing puzzles can make you (a bit) smarter. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that spending 25 minutes a day solving puzzles and riddles can raise your IQ by 4 points!
Doing puzzles uses both the left side of the brain (logical, objective, and methodical) and the right side of the brain (creativity, emotions, and intuitive thinking). It also helps improve spatial reasoning, and a greater attention to detail and recall.
People’s brains go from ‘Beta’ state (awake) to an ‘Alpha’ state (wakeful relaxation) when assembling jigsaw puzzles. The Alpha state is similar to the state the brain is in when we dream. This shift in consciousness has the benefit of lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
Puzzles are available, mainly for purchase, in newspapers, magazines, books, online, and in stores. So they are not always cheap and accessible. Usually they are available for people of all ages at different competency levels from easy to difficult, from 50 jigsaw pieced to 5,000 pieces, from big print to fine print, from paper-based to online, from physical to mental.
They can be done alone or in company, depending on the type of puzzle. There are community puzzles, usually found in parks and gardens, and in events.
Other activities mentioned on this website show that if you can’t be swimming at the beach, you can still get benefits from looking at an image or photograph of someone swimming at a beach. Puzzles are not like that. Puzzles just have to be done to get the benefits. You can’t watch someone do a puzzle and get the same body and mind benefits that the player gets.
However, you may receive some benefits from watching someone else if you try to guess what moves that person will make. For example, imagining what moves you would make instead, and why. Or, in the case of jigsaw puzzles, comparing your techniques with the player’s techniques – do they do the edges first; how do they organise the pieces (by colour, by shape, by recognisable images such as faces); are they a random-mover or a systematic-mover? etc.
Frustration can lead to anger!
Solving puzzles does not necessarily solve core issues.
“Puzzles are like songs. A good puzzle can give you all the pleasure of being duped that a mystery story can. It has surface innocence, surprise, the revelation of a concealed meaning, and the catharsis of solution.” – Stephen Sondheim
“A puzzle challenges the player to get from a problem to a solution, but of course, the path isn’t simple.” – Ernest Adams
“Life is like a jigsaw puzzle, you have to see the whole picture, then put it together piece by piece!” – Terry McMillan
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