While the old adage says “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” it may be that “a puzzle a day” should get equal billing.
A 2003 study of over 400 seniors revealed that puzzles and other mind-stretching activities like learning an instrument may help ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the study demonstrated that survey participants who engaged most frequently in these activities received the greatest long-term benefits.
Puzzles come in an assortment of different shapes, sizes, and types: crosswords, jigsaws, brain-teasers, and even number puzzles like Sudoku. Puzzles are peaceful activities – relaxing, quiet, bonding, conversation-inducing. They appeal to all ages, from the child with little dimpled hands grasping at pieces that seem larger than life, to the elderly person whose once-nimble hands, now leaden, seem to enjoy grasping the familiar irregular edges of each individual piece.
Just like there are social drinkers, there are social puzzle-doers — and I’m certainly one of them. It rarely crosses my mind to sit down to a puzzle all by myself, but I find it impossible to walk by someone working on a puzzle without feeling compelled to join in.
I particularly enjoy working puzzles with my 99-year-old grandmother. She cheers for me every time I get a piece, with a “Well, how about that!” or an “Oh, good job!” My grandparents worked crossword puzzles together daily until my grandfather passed away at age 93.
Besides possibly deflecting dementia, other benefits of puzzles include:
- providing educational benefits for children in helping develop reasoning and problem solving skills,
- exercising a variety of mental skills,
- acting as a fun social activity that gets the family together,
- relieving stress,
- giving a surge of serotonin each time you fit a piece in the right place
- boosting the ego by providing a chance to be congratulated when you fit a piece — Just think: in a 1,000-piece puzzle you have 1,000 chances of being congratulated!
- keeping the mind active and alert.
Stock up on puzzles of all sizes at the dollar store and keep some on hand to give as gifts. When you are tired of a puzzle, consider donating it to a hospital, prison, nursing home, or shelter. But make sure the puzzle has all its pieces! Is there anything more frustrating than getting down to the last few pieces and realizing they are missing?
And so, without further ado, I declare today, April 4, “National Turn off Your TV and Do a Puzzle Day.” (Apparently “National Puzzle Day” has already been assigned to January 29.) Every man to his puzzle!