Older adults who regularly do word and number puzzles have better brain function, a study has found.

The more often adults aged 50 and over attempted challenges such as crossworks and Sudoku, the sharper their brains, according to the findings.

University of Exeter and King’s College London academics carried out research into more than 19,000 participants of an online survey.

They were asked to report how often they engage in word and number puzzles, and to undertake a series of cognitive tests sensitive to measuring changes in brain function.

The scientists found the more regularly participants engaged with the puzzles, the better they performed on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory.

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Regular playing led to better brain function
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Regular playing led to better brain function

Researchers used their results to calculate that people who engage in word puzzles have a brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age, on tests assessing grammatical reasoning, and eight years younger than their age on tests measuring short-term memory.

Study leader Dr Anne Corbett, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We’ve found that the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning.

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“The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance.

“In some areas the improvement was quite dramatic – on measures of problem-solving, people who regularly do these puzzles performed equivalent to an average of eight years younger compared to those who don’t.

“We can’t say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.”

The study used participants from the Protect online platform, run by the two universities, which allows researchers to conduct and manage large-scale studies without the need for laboratory visits.

The two linked papers are published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.