Are Crosswords the Only Puzzles That Stimulate Your Brain? Here Are Some Other Mental Exercises to Try

Jigsaw puzzles and word searches can boost brain activity, too, says our expert.

After the age of 65, our risk of developing dementia doubles every five years, explains Dr. Amy Kodrik, a neurologist at the Michigan Institute for Neurological Disorders. This means that it's critical to begin improving your mental function by stimulating your brain now—something you should continue as you age. "Crossword puzzles, for instance, improve mental function by helping to promote working memory and problem-solving and verbal skills," she explains. But of course, those aren't the only puzzles that can help keep your thinker healthy and active. Ahead, some other puzzles that will keep you sharp—and how to get into a regular habit of doing them.

Senior woman doing sudoku puzzles
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Jigsaw Puzzles

The popularity of these types of puzzles seemed to explode during COVID-19 lockdowns, so you likely already have plenty of these in your home. Dr. Kodrik notes that doing a jigsaw puzzle can be good for stimulating your brain, since they boost your visual spatial skills.

Word Searches

Crosswords rely on memory and cognitive ability, and word searches and other relevant brain teasers do, too; they can get your mental juices flowing. What's more, these are easy activities to take on the go, since they often come in small, portable books. Unlike jigsaw puzzles, which require a decent amount of space, these games can be done in smaller areas—or even on your cell phone.

New to You

While there are plenty of brain-boosting hobbies you can take up, Dr. Kodrik says that selecting something new is often the most important element. "Learning a skill, such as playing an instrument or attempting a new language, are also helpful to stimulate cognition," she explains. "Even playing cards or meditating can promote brain health." She believes that the more often you challenge your noggin, the better the outcome. And don't fret if you can't get to your new hobby every day: "Participating in a skill daily would be ideal, but even if it is once a week, it is still helpful," she notes.

Have Fun

Since the key to stimulating your brain is challenging it, Dr. Kodrik says you should focus on things you enjoy. "While finding ways to challenge our brains, it is equally important to find opportunities and tasks that are pleasurable and promote happiness," she says. If you don't like Sudoku or Mahjong (both are great puzzles from stimulating the brain!), search out another iteration that you look forward to doing.

Start Today

It doesn't matter how old you are: It's always a good time to start attempting puzzles, games, and activities that will keep your thinker in good shape. "It is never too early to start stimulating your brain," she says. "Many of us are challenging our brains on a regular basis with work, interactions, and hobbies. As we grow older, however, it may be more challenging to implement these types of activities in our daily lives." It's important to be mindful, especially past the age of 65, Dr. Kodrik explains, to continue to strive to improve our cognitive skills.

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