If you resolved to stay healthy and get in shape this year, be sure to pull out a fun (and challenging) puzzle!
Although you may not know it, the mental stimulation of working on a puzzle is just as important to the mind as physical exercise is to the body.
While all human minds are different, almost all researchers agree that puzzles help cognitive processes. In addition, researchers find that doing puzzles daily tends to be most effective way to improve your brain's health.
Here are just five of the psychological benefits of regular puzzle use:
1. Improved Memory
Puzzles strengthen the connections between brain cells, and create new connections for improved cognitive speed. Jigsaw puzzles are especially good for short-term memory because puzzlers will have to remember colours, shapes, and the big picture, all while determining which pieces fit together.
A good puzzle causes a puzzler to think about things in new and different ways. All out-of-the-box thinking helps train the mind to work in new ways. Puzzles require experimentation and the application of the scientific method, coupling creativity and imagination with empirical inquiry.
3. Whole Brain Learning/Training
Puzzles require people to see things simultaneously in terms of parts and wholes. They require both logic and creativity. As different regions of the brain work together to achieve the best results, the brain trains itself to integrate different types of thinking for long-term benefits. In fact, studies show that subjects like mathematics are best understood when the whole brain can work together on tasks. Isolated brain regions see just one facet of a situation, but educators find that the whole brain approach is much more effective for deep, lasting understanding of a problem.
4. Dopamine Production
Puzzles are known for their power to help the brain produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is a chemical in your brain that affects your emotions, movements, and your sensations of pleasure and pain. The brain releases dopamine in response to both small and large breakthroughs when students are working on a puzzle. The benefits of this dopamine surge include a positive mood, better concentration, improved memory, and refined motor skills. Dopamine increases reinforce the habit of using puzzles, which is why many people feel a strong desire to keep trying puzzles that are more and more challenging.
While puzzles do stimulate the brain, they also relax it. Studies show that just looking at a puzzle and pondering possible solutions actually helps the mind stay calm because the brain enters a state of meditation. Meditation is known to boost self-confidence, aid in stress management, and promote an overall sense of peace.