While video games have become a popular pass time among school age children, it might be good to also consider good old-fashioned puzzles and word games to help boost brainpower. The brain continues to develop until around 25 years of age. But then starting at around 30, it actually begins to slow down. Just as remaining active, exercising, and eating right is good for your health, one should find ways to keep the brain active and sharp. One way to improve your brain function is by solving puzzles and doing other fun mental exercises.
What about Video Games?
Playing video games for an hour or so might have its own benefits, but when you play for several hours daily, it can lead to computer vision syndrome, limit your focus, and cause headaches. Nor does it present the kind of mental exercise that focused problem solving offers. So you might want to cut down your time spent on video games and set more time aside for puzzles and other games that boost your brain activity and function. You can enjoy the challenge of a puzzle at any age. Just find the puzzles that you enjoy and will motivate you to figure them out.
How Do Puzzles Help Your Brain?
It’s a good idea to encourage yourself and your family to have some fun with puzzles. More and more people are turning to them, often just to unwind, but without realizing some of their surprising benefits. Here are some of them:
Solving a puzzle improves your thought process and the speed at which your brain works. It does so by reinforcing existing connections between brain cells. For short-term memory improvement, jigsaw puzzles are especially beneficial. It’s the short-term memory that helps us remember colors and shapes, and allows us to envision the bigger picture in order to put the pieces together.
Problem-solving skills are always needed, in school, the workplace and in all the other areas of your life. Puzzles and word games help you enhance these skills because most puzzles require critical thinking. They can be approached in different ways and your mind needs to creatively work through many strategies before finding the one that works. When trying to find different ways to solve a puzzle, you’re thinking outside the box.
For example, word games force you to work through many different permutations of letters and plumb the depths of your memory for obscure words. Your challenge could be to try to form words out of random letters for instance, as in Scrabble. When you’re stuck, you can use this tool for unscrambling letters, which not only makes word games more fun but also improves your vocabulary. The physical and mental benefits of working on word games are impressive and their effect on problem-solving skills have been documented in several academic studies.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. One thing that unites STEM fields is their common focus on critical thinking, which is useful not just in coursework but future success outside of the classroom environment. Puzzles need both logic, for example to assess how likely different approaches are to work, and creativity, to develop novel approaches when you are stumped, both of which are part of critical thinking.
There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into solving puzzles. Just figuring out a daily crossword puzzle, for instance, involves a lot of thinking in directions you normally would not consider. Puzzles force you to view things from different angles in order to solve them. This results in more creative, smarter thinking, reinforcing the value of developing different theories and processes.
In layman’s terms, dopamine is our feel-good hormone. When the brain responds to the solution of a puzzle, it releases dopamine. This, in turn, enhances our recollection of things because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that improves motor skills and increases concentration, thus improving our memory. Needless to say, the science is actually more complicated than this, but the benefits are real.
It shouldn’t be so surprising that puzzle-solving can increase one’s IQ. Fluid intelligence is how you reason and solve novel problems. One research study found that by playing games that focus on you remembering something—whether it’s a word, shape, color, etc. —for 25 minutes a day, you can increase your IQ by 4 points.
Maintaining a youthful and healthy brain in life is going to pay off! Puzzles provide you with the perfect blend of focus, creative thinking, and improved memory. This blend of skills allows you to think deeply and differently, improving your brain functions in a challenging and fun way.