Do Puzzles and Brainteasers Really Improve Brain Function?

Numerous studies have been conducted on the benefits of puzzles and brainteasers on brain function and cognition, and, while results have been inconclusive, the consensus among the public, as well as the medical, mental-health, and scientific communities seems to be: “It can’t hurt.” “My feeling is that the brain is like a muscle – you use it, or you lose it,” says longtime New York Times crossword-puzzle editor Will Shortz, a Pleasantville resident who has also been the “puzzle master” on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday for 30 years. “If you want to keep your brain in good working condition, you need to exercise it, just as you need to exercise your body to stay in good physical shape.” However, Shortz says that there is no proof that such exercises improve brain function or slow mental decline. 

Though a recent study by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor concluded that brain exercises may have a positive effect on fluid intelligence (the ability to reason and solve new problems independent of past knowledge), WESTMED neurologist Billy Yung, MD, says, “The most honest answer is that we don’t know.”