A fun pastime can also be a rewarding mental exercise
Puzzles are by no means new and have been practiced since the 18th century. They are a fun family or solo pastime and can engage all generations. Nearly everyone you know has done at least one jigsaw puzzle as a child or an adult. And no wonder! While doing a puzzle, we are disconnected, focused, away from the day-to-day stress, and engaged in an immersive task.
Moreover, jigsaw puzzles are easily available. You don’t have to purchase puzzles at the store any more and manage all the small pieces. Online jigsaw puzzle sites offer thousands of puzzles you can play daily
Lastly, another exciting aspect is that solving challenging puzzles for adults gives us a great sense of achievement and satisfaction once we complete the design. And in this sense, the team at Pixels has brought puzzles to the next level by offering jigsaw puzzles created by independent artists from all over the world. In fact, you could say that their puzzles are an art form in itself.
But regardless of whether your interest lies in a 1,000-piece jigsaw, newspaper crosswords, or a wood brain teaser, all puzzles share one key element – they power your brain. In this article, we will reveal to you five ways how puzzles entertain and challenge our brains.
1. Improving Problem-Solving Skills
Solving problems objectively and structure are some of the essential skills a person can learn. School usually teaches children to distinguish nouns from verbs but often neglects to teach them how to use the library or the internet for research purposes.
Puzzles can help us develop these skills. The puzzle pieces’ repeated sorting illustrates the advantage of learning a structured approach to problem-solving. Namely, puzzles require us to take different methods to solve them.
Also, it is not uncommon when you are doing a puzzle to rethink your previously chosen approach, for example, by changing the order in which you place fragments. The puzzle game is particularly suitable for increasing analytical skills, mainly because there is no time pressure like in everyday work or school life. There’s even a lot to be gained from unpacking tougher puzzles and deconstructing them to see how solutions are reached, even if you don’t find the answer yourself. For example, using a crossword answer search to solve clues is useful if you are stuck, because seeing the solution will teach you how to solve future problems.
2. Improving Short-Term Memory and Focus
By facing complex challenges, people improve or develop new skills. Our brain works in a similar way muscles do. With continuous and intensive use, it becomes all the more efficient. Assembling puzzles strengthens the connections between our brain cells. It helps form new ones, directly influencing our short-term memory, which is trained by repeating this process a thousand times.
But how exactly does this process work?
We use our memory in the process of completing a jigsaw puzzle by remembering shapes, sizes, and pieces and visualizing where they can fit in. Moreover, the search for the tailor-made part forces the brain to internalize its characteristics. Studies have shown that the growth of new brain connections formed during these processes helps reduce brain deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients. In addition to the ability to remember, regular puzzles can observe an improvement in the ability to focus and concentrate.
3. Training Perseverance and Lowering Stress
Unfortunately, many of us today lack tolerance and determination. Jigsaw puzzles can be a frustrating occupation itself when that one piece doesn’t want to show up. Nevertheless, one can be sure that the missing element is there. This starting position gives the puzzle-assembler an additional boost in motivation. In this regard, the will to persevere and patience are strengthened in the puzzle game. The beautiful end design beckons as a reward.
Furthermore, even though puzzles stimulate our brains, they are also very relaxing, almost reflective. While we are concentrating on how to solve a puzzle, our minds are focused only on one task, encouraging our brains to go into a meditative state. Solving puzzles puts us in a creative and, at the same time, reflective state—heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate all decrease during working on a puzzle. The constant visualization also ensures that disruptive stimuli fade out, leading to a healthier mindset and better stress coping skills.
4. Enhancing the Mood
When doing a puzzle, the brain stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, responsible for regulating mood, memory, and concentration. It works like a reward system – it is released with every success as we solve it. That could explain why completing a puzzle makes you happy and eager to do a new challenge.
New neuroimaging studies looked at what happens in people’s brains getting ready to solve a puzzle. Interestingly, the results suggested that a particular signature of preparatory activity, strongly correlated with positive moods, can be observed in the brains of people who solve puzzles with sudden insight.
5. Polishing Visual and Spatial Reasoning and Coordination
You need to be able to look at the individual parts in a jigsaw puzzle or the available spaces in a crossword one and try to figure out how to fit the pieces or words into their space. Searching through hundreds of individual parts increases the ability to scan and determine whether a puzzle piece has the right shape and imagine the end motif. The repeated reflection of the picture motif is also helpful in boosting visualization ability. If done regularly, working on puzzles will improve your visual and spatial reasoning skills.
Further, by laying pieces of the puzzle, you train your fine motor skills and increase the coordination between the eyes and the hand. And that is especially important for young children who are learning these skills and seniors to keep themselves in good shape.
The two hemispheres of our brains control different functions. The left side controls analytic and logical thinking, while the right one controls creativity. When working on puzzles, we simultaneously engage the two hemispheres, resulting in a comprehensive mental workout.
This brain juggling has several positive effects, so solving puzzles encourages, among other things, experimentation, short-term memory, and the ability to concentrate. These effects are miraculously beneficial for both young and old, giving us the possibility to benefit from puzzles beyond fun and joy.