Use it or lose it, right? Researchers may not be ready to claim that word puzzles can help stave off age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer's, but a major new study shows that there does appear to be a link between word puzzle play and improved cognition. Analyzing data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and older collected in an online trial, researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Kings College London announced that when it comes to tests on short-term memory and grammatical reasoning speed, people who play word puzzles enjoy cognitive health that is equivalent to 10 years younger than their actual age. That performance was not only consistently better in people who engage in puzzles, but actually improved incrementally with the frequency of puzzle play.
It's an exciting enough finding, per Fast Company, that researchers now want to conduct a clinical trial to see if playing crosswords and other word puzzles can actively help reduce cognitive decline. "We can't yet say that crosswords give you a sharper brain—the next step is to assess whether encouraging people to start playing word games regularly could actually improve their brain function," one researcher says in a press release. The Alzheimer's Society's director of research adds that in the meantime, "Our top tips to reduce the risk of developing dementia are keeping physically active, avoiding smoking, and eating a healthy, balanced diet." The findings were unveiled at this week's Alzheimer's Association International Conference in London. (Your "ums" and "uhs" could be a clue to mental decline.)