Calisthenics for the Brain. The Authors Collection

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DO YOU WORK on crossword puzzles?

How about Sudoku?

No.

Maybe jigsaw puzzles?

Many of us on occasion work on puzzles of various kinds. It may be a way to relax, or perhaps avoid boredom. For others it represents a challenge, one where a result can be achieved in a short amount of time.

But there are many people who believe that solving puzzles is to the brain like physical exercise is to the muscles. In fact, there is a growing number of sites actively studying if and how solving puzzles effects the brain.

James R. Callan
James R. Callan

It would be nice if a consistent result came from these studies. But, alas, that is not the case. Some find evidence that, for example, working with crossword puzzles does not reduce age-related decline in brain functions. Yet another team using similar parameters reported more encouraging results.

Consider this simple question. What is yours yet others use more than you do? Solving this does not require your brain to expand its ability. But possibly it does cause the brain to move out of its comfort zone, or in today’s vernacular, to think out of the box. And this could be considered exercising the brain. Or keeping it more agile.

Often, solving the puzzle does not require more information, but rather in combining information already in the brain, or looking at information in a different light. Again, comparing this to the physical, I can bend down and pick up a stick off the ground. But if I do that often, my back will become or remain more limber and the task will become easier. With the brain, making the combinations or associations or extensions necessary to solve a puzzle might help it stay limber and perhaps get stronger.

There are many people who exercise because they like to, or they believe it will make them stronger. The same is true of puzzles. Some people solve puzzles because they enjoy the challenge and the good feeling when they solve it, while others believe it will improve brain function. And today, as our population grows older and mental faculties sometimes wane, perhaps a little brain gymnastics will keep us in better mental shape.

This naturally segues into mysteries, which I write. Why do people like mysteries? They are puzzles. We can enjoy the well written scenes and the interesting characters, and at the same time, we can try to solve the mystery. Who killed poor old Syd? And who tried to poison Father Frank?

And just in case there is someone who hasn’t bothered to give the answer to the question above, the answer is: “Your name.”

Solve a puzzle today.

James R. Callan is the author of Over My Dead Body.

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