Sudoku for a healthy brain

Maki Kaji, the ‘Godfather of Sudoku’, has died from bile duct cancer at the age of 69.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the more people over 50 engage in games such as sudoku and crosswords, the better their brains function.

Researchers looked at data from about 19,100 participants in the PROTECT study to see how often they performed word and number puzzles. Then they used a series of tests to gauge attention, memory, and reasoning.

In short, the more people engaged in puzzles, the better they performed on tests.

Read: A crossword could do all this?

The Japanese inventor of the hugely popular puzzle – in which players must place the numbers one to nine in rows, columns and blocks without repeating them – brought joy to millions with his creation.

Mr Kaji came up with the concept in 1983 – intending the puzzle to be easy for children and people who didn’t want to think too hard – but by 2004 the mathematical mind-boggler had become a global craze after it was published in The Times newspaper.

Mr Kaji made it his life’s work to spread the joy of puzzles and Sudoku is believed to be the world’s most popular pencil puzzle. But they aren’t just for fun, they give your brain a boost too.

Here’s how Sudoku can help your mental health.

Distraction
If you struggle with rumination, constantly worrying about future scenarios that may never happen or replaying events from the past, distraction can be a powerful tool to help you cope.

Focusing your mind on a fiendishly difficult number or word puzzle can take your mind off your worries and stop negative or anxious thoughts from spiralling.

Brain training
Just as lifting weights builds muscle and running increases your cardiovascular fitness, giving your grey matter a workout can boost your brain power. To do so, you need to regularly practise a complex and challenging activity – like a tricky puzzle.

Dr John Morris, director of social and health policy research at the Harvard University affiliated Institute for Aging Research says: “Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy.”

Read: Seven ways to stay focused and sharpen your mind

Sense of achievement
Even with simple puzzles you get a dopamine-inducing rush when you fill in that final letter or number in the grid.

Work your way up to the hardest Sudoku, or get to grips with cryptic crosswords if you’ve mastered the regular kind, and your sense of satisfaction will be even greater.

Critical thinking
Sudoku makes you think – and think critically. You have to think about where you are going to be placing the numbers and if they are going to interfere with the numbers in other boxes and lines.

Read: Reduce your risk of dementia

Relaxation
Games like Sudoku can be very relaxing. Even spending 10 minutes a day on a puzzle can be 10 minutes away from worrying thoughts. And its arguably better for you than social media or watching TV.

Do you set time aside for a daily crossword or sudoku? Do you think puzzles help keep the brain happy and healthy? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

– With PA

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