Myth Busters

Myth: Doing Crossword Puzzles Will Keep Your Brain Fit

I almost decided this myth was too beloved a belief to challenge, but I have never been one to back away from pointing out that the emperor is, in fact, naked. Unfortunately, researchers find that doing crossword puzzles will not keep your brain fit. During a September 2018 visit with Dr. Sandi Chapman, Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, and author of Make Your Brain Smarter, she told me, “Doing crossword puzzles makes you good at crossword puzzles.” In her book, she further elaborates, “The important idea to recognize is that you will get better and better at whatever you practice, regardless of age. The limitation to most tasks and activities is that practicing specific tasks makes the person primarily better at the skill practiced, but the brain gains rarely generalize to other skills.” Dr. Fred Wolinsky, at the University of Iowa and creator of the Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study (IHAMS) found the same to be true.

So, if not crossword puzzles, then what should we do to keep our brains more engaged? That is a multifaceted question I will spend the next few posts discussing, but Dr. Wolinsky and Norman Doidge, MD, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, find that doing specific brain training exercises, other than working crossword puzzles, is better at improving several different types of cognitive function. Dr. Chapman adds, “Rather than playing so-called brain games like Sudoku [or doing crosswords], more effective ways to improve memory are to exercise, sleep, and engage in deeper-level thinking.”

Several high-quality, brain-training programs are available for downloading on to your laptop, iPad, or iPhone. Spend some time looking at them and find the one that speaks to you. Develop a consistent practice schedule, and be on your way to thinking and remembering better!