Puzzles are often a rainy-day activity — something to be done when there’s nothing else to do other than nap. But, what you may not realize is that you’re getting a lot more out of them than a way to kill boredom for an hour or so. In fact, if you’re interested in promoting the health of your brain, both physically and emotionally, puzzles can be one of your best allies. Once you learn the brain-boosting powers of puzzling your afternoon away, you may rethink categorizing it as a rainy-day pastime. It may become a regular hobby!

Healthy Brain Aging

As we just hinted, puzzles a great resource for a healthy brain. Puzzles test and push us to think, utilizing both our problem-solving abilities and memory. This is excellent for our brains as we age. Since our brain works on a “use-it-or-lose-it” basis, puzzles can help keep us mentally sharp. This conclusion is fairly well-established by studies on the topic.

Harvard Health Publishing also notes the power of puzzles to promote overall brain health and memory into old age.

Studies show direct links between the frequency of puzzling activities and better cognitive abilities in participants 50 and over. These results are consistent across different types of puzzles, too. Harvard Health Publishing also notes the power of puzzles and other brain games to promote overall brain health and memory into old age. And, other studies have pointed out the ability of puzzles, specifically jigsaw puzzles, to improve visuospatial ability and lauded their low cost and simple implementation as a therapeutic strategy.

Beneficial to Your Mental Health

Speaking of therapeutic strategies, there’s a sizable amount of evidence that puzzles can help our mental health, too. Notable among the conditions puzzles can help treat is anxiety. During the pandemic, many of us have dealt with stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 and the stay-at-home measures. Around this time, articles began circulating about people combatting stressors with puzzles. This isn’t a new benefit, however, since puzzles have long been used therapeutically for those with stress and anxiety disorders. Experts credit part of the effectiveness of puzzles to giving control of the outcome to the puzzler while also providing the thrill and achievement of solving something.

Puzzles not only help combat negative mental health conditions, but also reinforce positive attributes.

Additionally, one should not overlook the powerful effect that a puzzle’s inducement of flow can have. We’ve discussed flow previously in our articles on coloring books and knitting. Flow is the state of being totally in the moment and focused on what you’re doing. It has been shown to be especially effective at combatting stress and anxiety while promoting mindfulness. When you look at the big picture, puzzles not only help combat negative mental health conditions, but also reinforce positive attributes. No wonder some have named puzzles the new coloring books, the top current trend in at-home mental health practices.

Slows the Development of Dementia

We know puzzles slow mental aging and keep us mentally sharp, but researchers have taken this a step further to see if puzzles may be a way to slow the development of dementia. While there is some evidence that puzzles and other mentally stimulating activities may lower your risk of dementia, it has questionable just how much, if any, they do. What studies don’t argue against, however, is that puzzling slows the mental decline and gives the puzzler a higher cognitive ability from which to decline.

The mental-sharpening effects of puzzles can help those with dementia slow the disease’s progression.

This means that, if someone develops dementia when they’re 65, but has been doing puzzles, they may have the cognitive ability of a 55-year-old, and thus retain their independence and abilities longer. By the same token, the mental-sharpening effects of puzzles can help those with dementia slow the disease’s progression. Studies have shown that this route is actually fairly effective, delaying the onset or progression of dementia in participants across numerous studies. While puzzles may not outright prevent dementia (and whether or not it lowers your chances of it is still up for debate), it certainly can be an effective part of dementia treatment.

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Puzzles are often something people do when there is almost nothing else left to do — an act of desperation to avoid utter boredom. Knowing how good puzzles are for your mental and cognitive health, you may want to rethink adding them to your daily life! When you also consider how many different types of puzzles there are out there, or how they’re great to do together as a family, puzzling can go from something you do for your health (like taking a supplement) to something you do for fun with a side of health!