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Top Tips for Health and Wellbeing – Brainteasers and Other Puzzles 

Keeping the mind active once we’ve retired can be a challenge – particularly with so many channels vying for our attention on the TV. Once the goggle box has been turned on, it can be hard to switch it off again – and many’s the morning wasted because we’ve switched on to watch the news and ended up watching back to back popcorn until lunchtime.

Perversely enough, the TV can actually be a good place to start. Late afternoon quizzes certainly keep the mind active: and then there’s evening fare like University Challenge, which is guaranteed, if nothing else, to have you throwing things at the screen in sheer frustration at the trickiness of the questions!

All of this mental activity keeps us glued to the sofa, though: hardly good for the body as well as the mind. The ideal brain athletics are those that can be done on the move – with a smartphone or laptop, for example, taken to a favourite pub or café; or, horror of horrors, in an actual book.

Sudoku books and compendia of brain teasers can be purchased form most high street newsagents and some bookstores, meaning you get to combine a walk to the shops with a wander on to find somewhere nice you can sit down and start exercising the grey matter. On those odd warm days we’ve started to have, you can even find a park. Fresh air and mental aerobics combined make for a nice way to fill a morning.

The science of mental activity is – unusually for science, which normally spends most of its time finding ways to disagree with itself – quite unanimous. Mental activity can forestall the onset of many forms of dementia. Dementia is here taken to mean any form of degradation in the normal functions of the brain through the ageing process.

The Alzheimer’s Association points out the nuts and bolts of the research: which says that if you keep your brain working, you carry on creating new connections between cells, or developing new neural maps (a neural map is what is created when you make a new memory: the distinct pattern of neurons that fire together to encode the information).

According to basic psychological theory, motivation is an important factor in the recall process (where memories are dredged up after you’ve made them). For example, if you know you will get a reward because you can recall something – or understand that you will receive punishment if you don’t – you are more likely to make the link and retrieve your neural map. That’s probably why games are so good at keeping the brain active. We all like to succeed – so winning the game is the reward.

There are a number of digital devices that allow us to play all sorts of brain teaser games and puzzles: from the Nintendo DS to the smartphone – which can download apps designed to keep the brain in great shape.