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Looking for a way to stay mentally sharp as you age? Here’s a clue: puzzles.
Indeed, two papers published Thursday in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry conclude that adults over 50 who regularly do word and number puzzles like crosswords and Sudoku have better brain function. And the more you do the puzzles, the better your brain function.
‘We would recommend doing [puzzles] daily if they can, but the message is that every little [bit] helps. … We saw the greatest impact in people who complete puzzles more than once a day.’ — Anne Corbett, University of Exeter Medical School
The research, which examined more than 19,000 people, was led by researchers at the University of Exeter and King’s College London. The researchers asked the participants how often they did puzzles (the response options were more than once a day, once a day, once a week, once a month to occasionally and never) and then performed cognitive tests on them focusing on attention, information processing, executive function, working memory and episodic memory.
“We’ve found that the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning,” wrote lead researcher Anne Corbett of the University of Exeter Medical School. “The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance.”
And the results were especially pronounced on tests of grammatical reasoning, where those who do puzzles more than once a day had brain function equivalent to those about 10 years younger, and approximated those eight years younger on short-term-memory tests.
So how often should you do puzzles? “We would recommend doing them daily if you can, but the message is that every little [bit] helps,” Corbett tells Marketwatch. “We saw the greatest impact in people who complete puzzles more than once a day.”
Of course, this doesn’t prove causality, but it’s not the only research to show a relationship between engagement with puzzles and mental games and mental acuity. Indeed, a 2011 study published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society concluded: “Participation in crossword puzzles delayed the onset of accelerated memory decline in subjects who developed dementia by 2.54 years compared to non-puzzlers.”
These aren’t the only ways you might be able to prevent cognitive decline as you age, either. Eating right can help, too: A study earlier this year found that people who ate two servings or more of mushrooms per week could reduce their risk of cognitive decline by up to 50%. Other foods that may help keep you sharp: blueberries, fish and nuts.
And Harvard Medical School notes that there is also evidence to suggest that exercise, sleep and regular social interaction may be helpful, as well.