Working On Puzzles Can Help Your Brain Feel 10 Years Younger

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Working On Puzzles Can Help Your Brain Feel 10 Years Younger
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As we grow older, we find that forgetting things becomes more commonplace. It starts off pretty small, like forgetting where you put your keys or the television remote control. However, these bouts of forgetfulness can become serious, turning into dementia or Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association promotes improving your lifestyle in order to improve brain health: meaning regular exercise or physical activity, healthy diet (which improves cardiovascular health), and staying mentally and socially engaged. The first two are quite easy, but how do you keep your brain mentally active? [1]

In the University of Exeter Medical School and King’s College London, researchers conducted an online survey and used the collated data in their study on brain function in later life. The study included data from more than 17,000 healthy adults 50 years old and older. The survey was simple, asking the participants how often they played word puzzles like crosswords, and compared this data with attention, reasoning, and memory tasks.

Results From Cognitive Function Studies

The researchers found that older adults who engaged more in brain-stimulating activities like word puzzles had better brain function, comparable to the brain function equivalent to those age ten years younger than they were. The tests this group of adults did well on were grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy. Professor Keith Wesnes who specializes in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Exeter Medical School reports that there was “a direct relationship between word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks”, these nine tasks involved in the study covered a range of functions such as attention, reasoning, and memory. Performing these tasks were consistently better among those who played word puzzles, and that their performance was better with increased frequency of playing. [2]

The results from this study are only preliminary results, because the online platform used (“PROTECT”) actually collects data for 10 years, with participants followed up each year to assess their cognitive health and abilities. By mid-2017, there were already 22,000 participants registered on the PROTECT platform, which funded by both the Alzheimer’s Society and National Institute for Health Research Bioresource.

Researchers from Exeter Medical School and King’s College London have only solidified in hard data what Alzheimer’s societies and mental health groups have been preaching all this time: the brain is a muscle, if you don’t use it, it will atrophy, leading to a decline in brain health, which affects not only cognition, but also a person’s emotional wellbeing. The next step of this study is now to assess if continued playing of word games could improve brain function in the long run (instead of just maintaining their brain health or slowing cognitive decline), as the participants are annually followed up.

Similar Studies

A clinical trial called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (“ACTIVE”) was first registered in 2006 first posted its results in 2014. Sponsored by the New England Research Institutes, the study involved cognitive training interventions and how they could potentially improve functional independence among elderly adults. Primarily, the study’s purpose was to assess basic mental abilities and follow-ups within the next five years after the start of the study. [3]

ACTIVE focused on three distinct cognitive interventions and how they affected the participants ADLs or activities of daily living (e.g. food preparation, driving, medication use, financial management). These three main interventions were training in (1) reasoning, (2) memory, and (3) speed. A fourth group, or control group, was also involved in this clinical trial. Furthermore, a refresher course or booster training was provided to half of the total number of participants at 11 and 35 to 36 months after the first batch of training. Assessment were done accordingly post-intervention at 12, 24, 36, and 60 months. ACTIVE‘s results were very similar, that regular cognitive activity improved brain health and overall cognitive abilities.

What You Can Do To Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to affect 44 million people all over the world. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, one person every three seconds develops dementia. If you want to avoid being affected by either, make sure to keep your body, as well as your brain, in tip top shape.

1. Engage in regular physical activity.

This means exercise! The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous exercise for three days, to maintain good cardiovascular health.

2. Keep your diet healthy.

That means avoid diabetes and hypertension-inducing foods that are high in fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar. Eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, and include an adequate amount of protein and carbohydrates in your diet. The American Diabetes Association recommends half your plate be filled with non-starchy vegetables. A quarter of your plate should have grain and starchy foods. The last quarter should have your protein. You can add a serving of fruit, dairy, or both to each meal.

3. Keep mentally fit!

The phrase “use it or lose it”, while typically applied to physical workouts, in fact applies quite well to the mind. Cognitive puzzles, word games, mental arithmetic and other activities which keep the mind active have been shown to improve cognitive scores.

Further Reading:

Researchers Find Brain Training Exercise That Lowers Dementia Risk By Up To 48%

List Of 10 Foods Considered Helpful To Fight Alzheimer’s Disease

Expert Panel – Three Things May Save Your Brain

Top 10 Best Foods For The Brain

References:

[1] Alzheimer’s Association. Brain Health. https://www.alz.org/help-support/brain_health

[2] University of Exeter. Daily crosswords linked to sharper brain in later life. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_595009_en.html

[3] US National Library of Medicine. ACTIVE: Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/study/NCT00298558?show_desc=Y#desc

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