Brain Coach Answers: Aren’t crosswords and sudoku sufficient brain exercise?

Q: I do cross­word puz­zles and sudoku reg­u­lar­ly. Why would I need brain fit­ness, isn’t what I’m already doing enough?

A: Great! What you’re doing is fun and can’t hurt. But nor is it com­plete. Recent rec­om­men­da­tions made by a pan­el of experts review­ing a poll by the Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging stat­ed: “A sin­gle activ­i­ty, no mat­ter how chal­leng­ing, is not suf­fi­cient to sus­tain the kind of men­tal acu­ity that vir­tu­al­ly every­one can achieve.” 

Using your brain to solve cre­ative chal­lenges is excel­lent prac­tice and will help slow down the effects of aging. The lim­i­ta­tion with your cur­rent brain work­out pro­gram is that it does not have enough vari­ety or nov­el­ty to work out all your men­tal mus­cles. Have you ever seen the guys in the gym with the buff upper bod­ies sup­port­ed by lit­tle chick­en legs? The same thing can hap­pen in your brain. Just as you crosstrain in your phys­i­cal fit­ness rou­tine (mix­ing car­dio with strength train­ing and flex­i­bil­i­ty) to get a bal­anced work­out, you need to crosstrain your men­tal fit­ness to exer­cise your brain through motor coor­di­na­tion, emo­tion­al under­stand­ing, mem­o­ry, focus and atten­tion, sen­so­ry com­mu­ni­ca­tion, lan­guage skills, and men­tal visualization. 

Fur­ther­more, how can you gauge your improve­ment if you don’t have a way to mea­sure it? Using com­put­er soft­ware to give you a base­line score, work out, and fol­low up test gives you a mea­sure of your improve­ment. So basi­cal­ly, right now you are doing a high­ly focused work­out using lan­guage and mem­o­ry but with incon­sis­tent chal­lenge and lim­it­ed feed­back. A struc­tured pro­gram should give you assess­ment, nov­el­ty, and per­for­mance-based chal­lenge while (hope­ful­ly!) being fun. That men­tal stim­u­la­tion can dra­mat­i­cal­ly increase the rate of neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis, or the cre­ation of new neu­rons and the con­nec­tions between neurons.

A recent ran­dom­ized con­trolled dou­ble-blind study just pub­lished in August “demon­strates that inten­sive, plas­tic­i­ty-engag­ing train­ing can result in an enhance­ment of cog­ni­tive func­tion in nor­mal mature adults.” As shown in past stud­ies, enhance­ment of cog­ni­tive func­tion leads to learn­ing or neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. So keep doing cross­words and sudoku, espe­cial­ly if you enjoy them, but don’t neglect the rest of your brain!

Your ques­tions and com­ments are welcome!

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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