Do Brain Exercises Really Work?
Brain exercises such as puzzles, math problems, quizzes, and other cognitive activities are often recommended as a way to improve brain function in the elderly. But do they really work? Let's take a closer look at the evidence.
The Benefits of Brain Exercises
There is some evidence to suggest that engaging in cognitive activities can have a positive impact on brain function in the elderly. For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Oct 2022 found that regularly attempting crossword puzzles slowed decline in people with mild cognitive impairment. The results were better than with internet games specifically designed for brain training.
Science News reported in 2019 that the more regularly adults 50 and older worked on crosswords and sudoku, the better their brain function.
Multiple studies have shown that engaging in physically, socially and cognitively demanding activities, including training programs, video games, aerobic exercise and resistance training reduce the risks of brain function decline and dementia.
The journal, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience reported that long term solving of jigsaw puzzles had a beneficial effect.
In addition to improving cognitive function, engaging in brain exercises may also have other benefits. Solving puzzles and other cognitive activities can be enjoyable and can provide a sense of accomplishment, which can help improve mood and overall well-being, especially if social interactions are included.
Some activities may help more by providing a break from the stresses of everyday life than by training the brain.
Additional ways to help your brain
It’s important to remember that brain exercises are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to maintaining cognitive function in the elderly. Other factors such as diet, exercise, social engagement, and stress management can also play a role in maintaining brain health.
While there is some evidence to suggest that brain exercises can be beneficial for improving cognitive function in the elderly, it's important to view them as just one piece of the puzzle. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities can be enjoyable and may have cognitive benefits, but it's important to also focus on other factors such as diet, exercise, and social engagement to maintain overall brain health.
If you're interested in incorporating brain exercises into your routine, consider trying puzzles, math problems, quizzes, or other cognitive activities that you enjoy. Just remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to brain health, so be sure to take a holistic approach and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your cognitive function.
Links & References
Here are some links and references:
Daily crossword puzzle (with a link to the research paper)
Jigsaw Puzzling (includes many scientific references)
Several years ago I attended several talks on retaining mental agility, and one speaker recommended shaking it up occasionally, incorporating me mind games. (A favorite he introduced was memorizing names of groups of birds – a Shimmer of Hummingbirds!!)
Another speaker touted the benefits of ballroom dancing for fulfilling several needs – social, touch, remembering new patterns, and physical activity!
He and his wife were taking tango lessons – and after he spoke, I was headed to a square dance! (I’d played harp for his event – music is another that increases brain plasticity!)