Most people can recall doing a brain teaser or two during their formative years, mostly in a classroom setting. Those who enjoyed them often still do various word or math puzzles and other brain teasers simply for the challenge.
However, the big question when it comes to brain teasers is: Do they actually help to keep your mind young or are they simply a way to pass time?
Advocates of brain games say that by regularly exercising the mind, you keep it in good condition. In fact, Patti Celori, executive director of the New England Cognitive Center, recently told Wired News, that people often stop exercising at the neck, when in fact your brain should have regular workouts as well. “The brain is the CPU of our body, and most people don’t do much to keep it as fit as possible,” she said.
Seniors and young people are among those who benefit most from frequent brain exercises. Recently, 20-year-old Leyan Lo set a world record for solving the Rubik’s Cube in just 11 seconds. Lo, who attends the California Institute of Technology, set the record at a competition held by Caltech’s Rubik’s Cube Club, of which he is a member.
Lo broke the record previously set by Jean Pons, a Frenchman, last year at the Dutch Open. Pons had a record of 11.75 seconds.
He also tried, at the event, to gain the overall champion title. However, he lost to 15-year-old, Shotaro “Macky” Makisumi, who is considered to be the fastest Rubik’s Cube solver in the world.
Makisumi says he didn’t have a particular secret to winning the tournament. “I don’t know. Faster first two layers,” he said. Faster first two layers meant that he solved the first two layers before he moved on the last, saying this was his way of winning the competition.
So, what is the benefit of challenging yourself to break records and master mind games?
Some say there is no benefit, particularly in older adults. Margaret Gatz, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, wrote an article that was ultimately published by the Public Library of Science. According to Gatz, too much concentration on cognitive fitness and its benefits, particularly in those with Alzheimer’s disease, could attach an unintentional stigma to those patients. “If mental exercise is widely believed to prevent (Alzheimer’s disease), then individuals who do become demented may be blamed for their disease on the grounds of not having exercised their brains enough,” she wrote.
However, Dale Robinson, R.N. and a Brain Gym teacher for the Tallahassee Senior Center in Tallahassee, FL disagrees with this theory. “Children and seniors can both benefit from brain teasers because research has shown that when looking at the brain through an MRI or a CAT scan, brain teasers actually cause the neurons to fire faster increasing brain activity,” he said. “That being said, brain teasers can be very beneficial to anyone as can other creative puzzles, movement, dancing, reading, to name a few.”
There are a number of books and games on the market that are solely devoted to exercising your brain. The game of Sudoku is one such game, taking its origins from Japan. Sudoku begins with a grid with some of the cells already filled with numbers. The idea is to fill the other cells with numbers from one to nine, with the number only showing up one time in each column, once on each row and once in each region.
According to Mastiff, the company who released Sudoku, a University of Edinburgh study said that Sudoku games have the potential to “awaken” survival genes currently dormant. The study said that by awakening the genes, the brain had a better ability to survive longer and fight off disease.
“When brain cells are highly stimulated, many unused genes are suddenly reactivated,” the author of the study said in a statement. “We have found that a group of these genes can make the active brain cells far healthier than lazy, inactive cells, and more likely to live a long life.”
Robinson agrees that brain teasers, and similar programs, do have the ability to awaken brain cells that were dormant before playing. “Research is showing more and more that using movement and doing brain teasers increases the overall health of your brain,” he said.
While there are varying opinions about the benefit of brain teasers, research continues to occur in this area. Most people, however, choose to focus on the fun, gaming aspect and less on how it affects brain development. This helps to derive true pleasure from playing, thus fueling the popularity and development. New and ever-changing technology affords people easier access to such games, proving that whether they are beneficial for your brain or not, brain teasers are around to stay.