Working on crossword puzzles and Sudoku can help improve memory, information processing, and attention span.
Crossword Puzzle in newspaper
Credit: Jenny Dettrick/Getty

For many, starting the day with a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle is a routine that's more enjoyable than challenging-but completing the puzzle may actually be a serious workout for your brain, especially as you age. According to two studies published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, adults over the age of 50 who regularly complete word and number puzzles, including crosswords and Sudoku, experience better brain function over time. In some cases, puzzles like these can prevent memory loss and boost other cognitive functions, too.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and King's College in London studied more than 19,000 people to arrive at their conclusion. They asked participants how often they did puzzles, and also performed cognitive tests that accounted for things like memory, information processing, attention spans, and other executive functions, like emotional depth and control.

"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," said Anne Corbett, the studies' lead researcher at the University of Exeter Medical School, in a press release. "The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance."

The team behind the research also noticed an improvement in grammatical reasoning as well. Their most important finding, however, suggested that doing puzzles more than once a day allowed individuals to enjoy brain functionality equivalent to those about 10 years younger. Plus, short-term-memory tests on these participants suggested that their ability to recall memories were equal to individuals who were about eight years younger on average.

"We can't say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life," Corbett said. "But this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer."

This isn't the only piece of research to indicate a relationship between the engagement that puzzles provide and actual cognitive functions. Previous research published in 2011 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society suggests that crossword puzzles, in particular, delayed memory decline in those who diagnosed with dementia by at least two and a half years compared to those who didn't do them.


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