How puzzles can help you relax, improve your memory, bond with family and more.
Posted in , Mar 7, 2019
I’ve never been very good at quieting my mind. I don’t do yoga. My attempts always end up the same——fast asleep on the mat. And as many methods as I may try, meditation success continues to prove elusive.
But two years ago, I inadvertently discovered my perfect path to mindfulness: jigsaw puzzles.
Growing up, I didn’t care for puzzles. They were about as interesting to me as cleaning my room. But after an ankle injury left me alone all day in a Vermont ski lodge with (gasp!) no cell phone service, I begrudgingly picked up a puzzle, dumped the pieces on a table, and went to work. I was instantly hooked. And as it turns out, I was not alone either.
All around the world, Jigsaw puzzles are enjoying a robust resurgence. Last year, Ravensburger,the renowned German company that has been crafting beautiful, high-quality puzzles for over a century, partnered with Target to offer a new line of puzzles for the masses. This trend is not surprising; after all, the many mental, physical and social benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles are well-touted.
Mindfulness and Relaxation. Talk about being fully in the moment. When working on a jigsaw puzzle, my worries melt away as my attention remains laser-focused on one thing: where does this puzzle piece fit? It is similar to gazing at a painting in a museum. Looking intently at the beautiful image in front of me is relaxing, and according to some studies, can translate to physical benefits, including lowered blood pressure.
It’s Social. While I prefer to do my puzzles solo, many find working on a jigsaw puzzle is a perfect family or group activity that encourages both creativity and conversation. (As an added benefit, everyone gets off their digital screens for a little while, too.) Jigsaw puzzle clubs are also common. Check out Meetup.com to find one near you.
Sharpen Your Brain. Doing a jigsaw puzzle uses both sides of your brain: the logical left and the creative right. This amounts to a vigorous brain workout that improves problem-solving skills and increases concentration, according to several studies, including one at the University of Ulm in Germany. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bill Gates is a puzzle aficionado.
Improve Your Memory. Doing puzzles reinforces the existing connections between our brain cells—and even creates new ones. Jigsaw puzzles are particularly useful for our short-term memories mainly because of the skills required: recollection of shapes and colors and the ability to imagine the bigger picture. Puzzles also help our brains produce more of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has a host of benefits, but is particularly useful in enhancing memory.
Soothe Alzheimer’s Patients. A study published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society found that people already living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia can be comforted by working on simple jigsaw puzzles. The Alzheimer’s Association sells a variety of dementia puzzles from four to 48 pieces. Many of these can easily be wiped clean, have precise interlocking edges and feature familiar scenes. The puzzles that make a sound when the last piece is placed are especially popular!