Does Sudoku Actually Keep Your Brain Young?

The Truth About Brain Health and Stay­ing Sharp

When you were a kid, you may have made fun of your grand­par­ents for always los­ing their keys or mix­ing up everyone’s names. But now that you’re get­ting old­er, mis­plac­ing things and for­get­ting names from time to time might not be so comical.

Many old­er adults expe­ri­ence some lev­el of cog­ni­tive decline as they age, like tak­ing a longer time to remem­ber words or becom­ing a bit for­get­ful. As you get old­er, cer­tain areas of your brain — includ­ing ones that are involved in learn­ing and mem­o­ry — start to shrink. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion between nerves in the brain can weak­en, and blood flow with­in your brain can decrease. These changes can then affect how you func­tion, lead­ing to those nor­mal changes in cog­ni­tion that come with aging. 

In an effort to min­i­mize these effects, many peo­ple have turned to puz­zles like cross­words and Sudoku. Oth­ers go to the gym on a dai­ly basis or try eat­ing brain food.” 

So, what is the key to keep­ing your brain sharp as you age?

Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in the Sudoku and Puz­zle Basket

The experts have mixed opin­ions on the pow­er of puzzles.

A large 2019 study from the Unit­ed King­dom found that adults ages 50 and old­er have bet­ter atten­tion, rea­son­ing, and mem­o­ry the more often they play puz­zles like Sudoku or cross­words. Accord­ing to the study, among peo­ple who play word num­ber and word puz­zles, brain func­tion is equal to 8 years younger than their age when it comes to short-term mem­o­ry, and 10 years younger than their age when it comes to gram­mat­i­cal reasoning.

It sounds promis­ing, but not every­one agrees. Some sci­en­tists believe that puz­zles may help you con­cen­trate for a cou­ple of hours, but they won’t have any long-term effects on your brain. Researchers from Scot­land have sug­gest­ed that puz­zles don’t pre­vent cog­ni­tion loss, but they may put people’s brains at a high­er start­ing point — it takes more age-relat­ed stim­uli for puz­zle play­ers to begin the nat­ur­al cog­ni­tive decline that comes with get­ting old­er than it takes for peo­ple who do not play puzzles.

Treat Your Brain Like You Treat Your Heart

By address­ing cer­tain risk fac­tors for heart dis­ease and stroke, you may also decrease your risk for demen­tia — such as dif­fi­cul­ties with mem­o­ry, think­ing, prob­lem-solv­ing, and mak­ing deci­sions that inter­fere with your every­day life. Research has shown that at least 40% of demen­tias could poten­tial­ly be delayed or com­plete­ly pre­vent­ed by doing so.

Steps you can take to pro­tect both your heart and your brain may include:

  • Low­er­ing your blood sug­ar, cho­les­terol, and blood pressure

  • Get­ting enough sleep (most adults should get about 7 to 9 hours per night)

  • Fol­low­ing a heart-healthy diet that includes plen­ty of fruits and veg­eta­bles, whole grains, and lean meats, and lim­its unprocessed foods, added sug­ars, salt, and alcohol

  • Stay­ing phys­i­cal­ly active
    • At least 150 min­utes each week of mod­er­ate-inten­si­ty phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, like brisk walk­ing or ball­room danc­ing, OR at least 75 min­utes each of week of high-inten­si­ty activ­i­ty, like swim­ming laps or running

    • At least 2 days each week of mod­er­ate- or high-inten­si­ty mus­cle-strength­en­ing activ­i­ties, like lift­ing weights

Also read, 10 Tell­tale Signs Your Loved One May be Devel­op­ing Demen­tia: Some of the most com­mon signs to help you catch demen­tia ear­ly

Quit Smok­ing — Even If You’ve Smoked for Your Entire Life

Giv­ing up smok­ing is so impor­tant for pre­vent­ing demen­tia that it deserves a lit­tle extra attention.

You’re prob­a­bly aware of some of the biggest risks of smok­ing cig­a­rettes — lung can­cer, heart dis­ease, stroke, etc. If those warn­ings haven’t been enough to moti­vate you to quit, add anoth­er risk to the list: dementia.

  • Cur­rent smok­ers are about 30% more like­ly to devel­op demen­tia — and specif­i­cal­ly, about 40% more like­ly to get Alzheimer’s disease.

  • The more you smoke, the greater your like­li­hood of devel­op­ing demen­tia. Your risk increas­es by 34% for every 20 cig­a­rettes smoked each day.

  • Glob­al­ly, about 14% of cas­es of demen­tia may be due to smoking.

How­ev­er, even if you have smoked for years, it’s not too late to quit. In fact, a 2019 study found that the high­er risk of demen­tia among smok­ers decreas­es grad­u­al­ly from the time a per­son quits. After 9 years, their risk is no dif­fer­ent than the risk among peo­ple who nev­er smoked. 

Want to learn more about how healthy liv­ing can keep your brain health in check as you get old­er? Make an appoint­ment with a Duly Health and Care pri­ma­ry care provider.

Stay Social

Build­ing and main­tain­ing social con­nec­tions can go a long way in pro­tect­ing your brain health:

  • Lone­li­ness is a risk fac­tor for demen­tia — and may be asso­ci­at­ed with as much as a 40% increased risk 

  • Par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­duc­tive, mean­ing­ful activ­i­ties along with oth­ers can improve cog­ni­tive function

  • Peo­ple with more active social lives tend to have slow­er decline in memory

The ben­e­fits of stay­ing social go beyond brain health — peo­ple who have stronger social con­nec­tions have been shown to have bet­ter health and well-being, and even a longer life expectancy. 

Also read, Grow­ing Old Grace­ful­ly: Steps You Can Take Now That Will Keep You Feel­ing Your Best as You Age”

Keep Up With Your Pri­ma­ry Care Provider

When you take care of your body, you’re tak­ing care of your brain. Med­ical con­di­tions from dia­betes to depres­sion to head trau­ma can increase your risk for demen­tia or oth­er prob­lems with cog­ni­tive functioning.

See your pri­ma­ry care provider on a reg­u­lar basis, and let them know right away if you have any health con­cerns so that they can work with you on keep­ing your health in check and your brain sharp.

  • I find it very important to treat patients as people first by welcoming them to my practice and trying to help them remember that they are an individual who happens to have a neurologic problem - not just a patient with a disease. It is very important to address each patient's medical concerns, but I want to make sure that I understand how these concerns affect their lives so we can work together to manage each problem holistically.