2 hands holding white puzzle pieces

Lately there has been a lot of talk in the press and scientific community about how moderate

brain exercise can sharpen your cognitive thinking, helping your fight against memory loss,

depression and even Alzheimer’s and other dementia types. Today we will discuss how and why tailored

brain activities can reap large benefits.

Consider this: the world’s population is expanding, as is the average life expectancy of the

people themselves. It is estimated by the year 2050 over 1

billion people will be over the age of 35. About 37 million of those will fall victim to some form

of mental decline at some point in the future. It is slowly becoming imperative that people start

looking after themselves, not only with healthy diet and exercise but also with mental

challenges like puzzles, jigsaws and crosswords.

Memory and other cognitive abilities are critical aspects of our daily life, and ones we often

take for granted. Mental decline, was once believed to be an inevitable result of old age and

deteriorating connections among brain cells. However, research has found that keeping the

brain active increases its vitality and assists the building of new neural connections (Brain

Plasticity) allowing the generation of new cells.

It has been demonstrated that playing with puzzles can help to reduce the likelihood of

dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. New findings show that the benefits of puzzles don’t just end with

psychology, but also  include  a whole host of skills both physical and mental – including rotary


Facing old age and losing mental sharpness is undoubtedly daunting: memories become

hazy, mental clarity becomes clouded. Some, sadly, digress into varying forms of mental decline.

Chemically, puzzles provide positive reinforcement – termed the “Aha moment”. When

assembling a puzzle – dopamine is released in the brain – positively reinforcing the puzzle

activity and improving morale every step of the way. They also provide an opportunity for

people of all ages and cultures to interact – young or old, very few things cross generations like

a good puzzle or game.

Giving the brain a moderate workout on a marginally frequent basis can help slow and in

some cases, stop the onset of these issues. Studies have shown that novel mental activities,

such as puzzles, can greatly assist with the signs of aging. Indeed you don’t have to turn your

life upside down or make extreme changes to achieve the benefits of a healthier mind.

Why is cognitive exercise good?

The brain is the most complex and powerful organ in your body. But, for all its power and

capability, it needs to be stretched and worked like a muscle.


Neuroplasticity is based upon your brains ability to change, our brains constantly change as we

learn. It was previously thought that the brain consisted of a finite number of cells, nearly 100

billion, which we were to use as best we could.  It was wrongly thought that cells didn’t regenerated and

replace each other. Despite common belief, it is an observable fact that the brain is not “programmed”

to shrink and fail as you age.  Indeed, good brain health can be cultivated from a culmination of exercise,

activity and good diet.

By working with puzzles, crosswords and the like, we help regenerated circuits in our brain.

The greater the number of circuits, the more efficiently our brain begins to work. The routes are

created through learning and practice, much like a mountain path is created through a

shepherd’s daily use. Every time new knowledge is practiced, the transmission between

neurons is enhanced. Better inter-neuron communication means that electrical signals travel

more efficiently along the new pathway.

By giving your brain a little assistance and doing some Sudoku, puzzlers or crosswords, you can

improve your cognitive functions helping you across the board from remembering the shopping

list to calculating quick arithmetic. The best part about this is you don’t have to turn your life

upside down in order to reap the benefits.

Sean is a puzzle enthusiast at SiamMandalay.com, the home of premium, handcrafted

wooden puzzles. Learn about puzzles or customize your own at http://shop.siammandalay.com

Editors Note: My mom does the crossword every day and has for many years. At 91, she is as sharp as a tack.


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