I recently got an unexplainable urge to do a jigsaw puzzle — something I’ve never done as an adult and I have no specific memory of doing them as a child. So, I received one for my birthday from my niece, and this past weekend, I set it out so that it’s centrally located in the house. Anyone can play. I found it quickly addictive — we made slow progress at first, though we did pretty well for two days work, on and off, whenever one of us would pass the credenza and feel the pull of the puzzle.
It’s probably not news to anyone that this kind of thing is good for your brain, but I don’t think I realized how beneficial it can be. According to this blog:
Research is now showing the quantifiable benefits of carrying this activity into adulthood. Studies, like the notable MacArthur study, have shown that keeping the mind active with jigsaw puzzles and other mind-flexing activities can actually lead to a longer life expectancy, a better quality of life, and reduce our chances of developing certain types of mental illness, including memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease (by an amazing third).
But how does this simple toy accomplish such amazing things? Most likely it is due to the simultaneous use of both sides of the brain. The left brain hemisphere, our analytical side, sees all of the separate pieces and attempts to sort them out logically. The right brain hemisphere, our creative side, sees the “big picture” and works intuitively. Both types of thinking are required in order to successfully piece the puzzle together. In exercising both sides of the brain at the same time, we create actual “connections” between the left and right sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. These connections increase our ability to learn, to comprehend, and to remember. In addition, completing a puzzle, or even just the successful placement one piece, encourages the production of dopamine, a brain chemical that increases learning and memory.
The connections made while working on jigsaw puzzles aren’t limited to our brain cells. Exercising both sides of the brain simultaneously also allows the brain to move from a Beta state, the wakeful mind, into an “Alpha” state, the same mental state experienced while dreaming. The Alpha state is where we tap into our subconscious mind. Jigsaw puzzles naturally induce this state of creative, focused meditation where connections can be made on deeper levels.
I’ve never been a puzzle person (although quilting is a lot like a puzzle, in some ways), but I like jigsaws in particular because they are tactile and you end up with something you could frame, reuse, pass on, etc. But all puzzles have some benefits. My father, who lived to the age of 91 — did Word Search puzzles for years, into his late 80s before his eyesight made it harder. I think the jigsaw is nice because it’s also a social activity — we can work on it together, or anyone who visits can try to find a piece.
And maybe it’s a coincidence, but after two days working the puzzle (and a day of quilting and baking, also good for the brain, I think), I worked out several writing problems at once, all in the few moments before bed on Sunday night. All the pieces started to fall together.
Do you do puzzles? what kind? Do you like some more than others?