Ask the Expert – The Problem with Puzzles



Prevention Bulletin

puzz2-fwOur October expert is Deborah Blacker, MD, ScD, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Professor and Deputy Chair, Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dear Dr. Blacker,

I understand that memory games and crossword puzzles are supposed to be good for your brain health. But the problem is, I don’t enjoy them. What else can I do to engage my brain now that I’m nearing retirement and how much is needed to benefit my brain?



Dear Julia,

It seems every time I go online there’s information about another brain building exercise. And you’re right, they’re not for everyone.

There’s been lots of research into the role of brain games and other activities in preventing or delaying dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. You’ll be relieved to learn you can put down the crossword puzzle, step away from the memory game and take up something you enjoy and still benefit your brain.

Here’s how I know: Recently, my colleagues and I tackled an exhaustive review of studies to learn if mid to late-life brain activity reduces Alzheimer’s disease and dementia risk. Our conclusion was that these activities are indeed somewhat helpful.

What kinds of brain activities did we find to be beneficial? While more research is needed to learn the best types of activities, the studies we reviewed included a wide range of possibilities. So, if crossword puzzles aren’t your thing, there are lots of other options. Here are some ideas:

•    Read a novel, a non-fiction book, a magazine, or newspaper.
•    Play board games with your children or grandkids.
•    Volunteer for a local organization.
•    Host a weekly card game for friends.
•    Register for an adult education class at your local college.
•    Look for art, cooking or other fun classes in your community.
•    Play video games with a young person in your life.
•    Attend a play or visit a museum.

The key, Julia, is to do something you enjoy. A bonus of many of these activities? Physical activity and social engagement also are also probably good for your brain.

You also asked how much time you need to spend on these activities to benefit your brain. Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to that question…yet, but we think it’s likely that more is better—that’s another good reason to choose activities you enjoy.

Today, however, I encourage you to embrace activities that engage your brain with gusto. It may benefit your brain health. It definitely will help you enjoy retirement.


Dr. Blacker



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