People Who Regularly Play Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles Have Sharper Brains

Time to break out those pencils!

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Puzzles don’t just make for a fun rainy day activity. Research shows there are mental benefits to filling in the correct numbers and letters in the blocked grids of Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

According to a study conducted by U.K. researchers at the University of Exeter and King’s College London, these mind games can help keep your brain younger even as you age. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, analyzed 19,000 participants between the ages of 50 and 93.

Each respondent was asked to complete a series of 10 cognitive tests—like word-matching, and number puzzles—every day for a week. They were also required to report on how often they regularly solved puzzles in their daily life, with answers varying from never to monthly, weekly, daily, or multiple times per day.

Here’s what researchers found: Participants who engaged in daily word puzzles performed as well as people 10 years their junior. And those who solved daily number puzzles had the mental capacity of people eight years younger, and they also scored higher than everyone else. Both groups also had much faster reaction times when asked to press buttons on select objects flashing on a computer screen.

Scientists have long held the belief that problem-solving activities like crossword puzzles can improve brain function and protect the mind from cognitive decline later in life.

“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. The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance,” said study author Anne Corbett, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in dementia research at the University of Exeter.

She continued, “We can’t say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life, but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.”

The authors concluded that those who regularly do puzzles “have brains which may work better for longer,” adding that those participants who never played puzzles or mind games had lower test results.

Sounds like that Sunday pastime can definitely pay off—so check out these viral brain teasers when you’re in need of a new challenge.

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