Doing puzzles can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s

Adults who do regular brain activities such as jigsaws puzzles could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. It could even cut the chances of developing the disease by a third, according to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study looked at the leisure time of subjects during early adulthood, age 20 to 39, and middle adulthood, age 40 to 60.

Activities were classed into:

  • Passive, such as watching television, talking on the phone or listening to music.
  • Intellectual, such as reading, jigsaw or crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, chess or other board games, knitting or woodwork.
  • Physical, such as baseball, football or other sports, bike riding, swimming, walking or skating.
Jigsaws are a great activity for senior citizens
Jigsaws are a great activity for senior citizens

The Alzheimer’s patients were less active in all these activities except for television watching, notes neurologist Dr. Robert P. Friedland, first author of this latest research. Worryingly, Friedland found that television watching may even be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies have drawn similar conclusions (most notably the MacArthur Study). They also reported that people who take part in intellectual activities have a better quality of life and a longer life expectancy.

But why do brain activities such as assembling a jigsaw puzzles have such a seemingly powerful effect?

Like any other organ, the brain needs regular exercise. Successfully piecing a puzzle together, even just placing one piece in the right place, encourages the production of dopamine, a chemical that improves learning and memory. Doing a puzzle, for example, also works both sides of the brain at the same time (the left and right hemispheres). This creates actual “connections” between the left and right sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. It’s thought that healthier brain cells are better able to control or slow the Alzheimer’s process. Unfortunately there is no evidence that these activities will actually alter the disease.

This latest research from Friedman shows further evidence that simple brain activities have many health benefits and can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Anything we can do to keep our brains active, such as doing jigsaw puzzles, must therefore make sense.

Photo credit: Serious about jigsaw puzzles via photopin (license)

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