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Boost Your Brainpower

Date: 01/01/22

January 29 is National Puzzle Day—a day to celebrate jigsaws, Sudoku, crosswords, word search, and all other brain games. But did you know that puzzles aren’t just fun and relaxing, they might actually boost your brain function?

As we get older, it’s very common to forget where we left things, or have trouble remembering a word. While it might be frustrating, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re getting Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Instead, think of the brain like Dr. Marie Bernard, an aging expert at the National Institutes of Health does – as a computer disk that gets fuller and fuller as we get older, making it harder to find or add data. But there are things you can do to stay sharp.

Why are puzzles good for my brain?

It’s important to keep your mind active. Some scientists think that exercising your brain through puzzles or other activities may help to build a “cognitive reserve” that acts like extra memory for your computer, by adding space that allows your brain to create new paths for getting things done. Research suggests that Sudoku, crossword, and jigsaw puzzles help to build that reserve, reducing the memory decline that comes with aging.

Other ideas for boosting your brainpower

In addition to working your brain through puzzles and games, there are other things you can do to maintain your brain health. Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Aging:

  • Eat healthy foods. There is some evidence that people who eat a diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, and colorful produce – what is often called the “Mediterranean Diet” – have a lower risk of developing dementia.
  • Drink enough fluids. All cells in your body need water to work, including the ones in your brain. Research has shown that drinking water can improve mental performance and mood. Be sure to drink water and other fluids throughout the day, don’t wait until you’re thirsty!
  • Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep allows your brain to recharge and create the connections that allow you to form memories and learn new things. Lack of sleep can lead to problems with memory and concentration.
  • Be physically active. Some studies have shown that exercise can help your brain maintain old network connections and make new ones. It may also increase the size of a part of your brain that is important to memory and learning.
  • Stay connected with social activities. Connecting with other people keeps your brain active and helps you feel more engaged with the world around you.
  • Manage stress. Over time, chronic stress can change the brain and affect memory. Regular exercise, writing in a journal, or relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and breathing exercises can help.
  • Limit your use of alcohol. Moderate drinking – up to one drink a day for women and two for men – may be fine for your brain health. But too much alcohol can hurt your memory and cause other problems.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. Smokers experience mental declines such as forgetfulness and slower thinking sooner than nonsmokers do.
  • Manage chronic health issues. Chronic health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can damage blood vessels and affect the brain.

So, keep taking good care of yourself, and on January 29 celebrate by putting together a jigsaw puzzle or doing a crossword or Sudoku. Your brain will thank you for it.

Written by Cindy Maxim

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Please always follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Programs and services are subject to change. Managed Health Network, LLC (MHN) is a subsidiary of Health Net, LLC. The MHN companies include Managed Health Network and MHN Services, LLC. Health Net and Managed Health Network are registered service marks of Health Net, LLC or its affiliates. All rights reserved.