While undoubtedly they are a known source of fun and entertainment for those not so keen on spending every waking hour on social media — are they really a boost to your brain health?
It seems psychologists and scientists are divided on the issue. Some assert the benefits of tackling a crossword or word puzzle for keeping the mind sharp, while others argue that there’s just not enough scientific evidence to back such claims.
But now adults are finding new ways of de-stressing and are turning to exotic colouring books — once believed to only be for children’s enjoyment. Not only is colouring in relaxing, but the complex patterns in these books are said to have “meditative” qualities.
“Puzzles teach about spatial relationships and perception,” said Dr Linda Blokland, chairwoman of the Clinical Psychology Forum.
“Similarly, as adults engage in crosswords or other mind-challenging games they maintain flexibility of thought, exercise memory, and remain cognitively stimulated," she said.
"Research shows that exercising the mind both promotes development and maintains cognitive health. This is why there is a market for so-called ‘educational toys’. In fact, many different types of play and games can promote cognitive development."
Doing brain teasers, crossword puzzles and other challenging mental activities can stimulate the brain to access old memories and pieces of knowledge that you may have stored away. By occasionally accessing these areas and promoting outside-the-box thinking, brain teasers and word puzzles can help to bulk up your brain power.
Earlier this year, a Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care stated that one third of dementia cases might be prevented if brain health was improved throughout life by targeting certain risk factors.
A UK study, also published earlier this year, by researchers at University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London, showed that the more regularly the participants of the study did word puzzles, the better their speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks.
These tasks included attention, reasoning and memory.
But Cathy Malchiodi, an art therapist and psycotherapist, was critical about colouring-in being meditative.
She said: “There is some sketchy evidence that the repetitive nature of colouring may be a form of self-regulation and self-soothing. Participants themselves are providing a large amount of anecdotal, post-hoc data on the outcomes in this respect.”
She added: “A relationship with an adult colouring book is not a form of meditation nor is it a form of mindfulness. The fact that the concepts of meditation and mindfulness are being used to describe colouring pre-made designs is, in fact, insulting to these practices that have deep cultural, and spiritual foundations.”
Be that as it may, adult colouring in books remain among the best sellers in their categories in many book stores.
While colouring in books and puzzles are arguably great stimulants for the brain, getting cognitive stimulation doesn’t need to cost you anything.
Blokland said: “Playing with mud (is stimulating). Activities in which more than one sensory function is involved provides more complex stimulation. Such activities take on more significance in the absence of other cognitive stimulation.”