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A lot of people I know see solving Sudoku puzzles as a way to train their minds.

howtoincreasememorypower.com recommends doing a Sudoku puzzle a day to increase brain power.

Researchers rank solving sudoku puzzles daily among the top ten non-traditional and alternative ways to boosts brain power.

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They stress that just as physical exercise keeps muscle loss at bay, sudoku exercise keeps brain cells from dying and also encourages better brain function. Education is important, but studies actually show that students who do mental workouts like sudoku have higher IQs than students who do not. This only shows that doses of sudoku are more than just ways to pass time. They actually help in improving your ability to comprehend more complex ideas.

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Other experts agree with these findings, saying that solving challenging mind games like sudoku puzzles inhibit or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Health trends also show that adults with demanding, and intellectually challenging jobs benefit from better mental function when they age. Sudoku functions just like these jobs because it requires brain exertions.

Is there evidence that solving puzzles like Sudoku provide good mental training?

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    The evidence I collected suggests strongly that they are boring :) – Timwi Mar 19 '11 at 19:01
  • -1 Sorry, I just think the question body could have a little more text that explains the connection with skepticism or the claim being refuted. – Mark Rogers Mar 19 '11 at 19:18
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    +1 I think it stands fine on its own. I did post an edit that I think might help. It doesn't expand the body much but makes the question a little more pointed. – FYG Mar 19 '11 at 20:09
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    Bah, I don't know the sources, so I'm just posting a comment. I've heard of research (I think it was The Guardian's Science Weekly podcast, way back) that pointed to the contrary: solving sudokus will make you better at solving sudokus, but the skill doesn't seem to transfer to other tasks. – David Hedlund Mar 19 '11 at 21:12
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    I don't think mental training is sufficiently well-defined to provide a worthwhile answer. A more answerable question might be "Does regular Sudoku exercise stave off mental decline in people at risk for age-related mental illness?" or "Does Sudoku exercise make you faster/more accurate at doing tasks other than Sudoku?" – kojiro Mar 19 '11 at 23:43
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No Gain From Brain Training

The largest trial to date of 'brain-training' computer games suggests that people who use the software to boost their mental skills are likely to be disappointed.

A total of 11,430 volunteers aged from 18 to 60 completed the study, and although they improved on the tasks, the researchers believe that none of the groups boosted their performance on tests measuring general cognitive abilities such as memory, reasoning and learning.


Statistics

Although improvements were observed in every one of the cognitive tasks that were trained, no evidence was found for transfer effects to untrained tasks, even when those tasks were cognitively closely related.


The study has been criticized, though: [1], [2], [3]



Scientific American - Do Brain Trainer Games and Software Work?

Neuroscientist Peter Snyder of Brown University reviewed nearly 20 software studies and concluded that, as a group, they were underwhelming.

They are marred by flaws that induce confounding factors, such as a lack of control groups and follow-up, Snyder warns.

More than a third of those he reviewed were too shoddy even to include in the analysis he printed early this year in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

One paper, however, exceeded expectations: in a new study Snyder called the “most well-designed” of those he evaluated, the Mayo Clinic tested the Brain Fitness Program by Posit Science.

Encour­agingly, the researchers found that the software boosted the brain in ways unrelated to the training. Rather than simply learning to parrot back what they had practiced, participants improved their test scores across a range of brain functions, says clinical neuropsychologist Glenn Smith, who led the study.

Still, the boost was minimal. Subjects who played improved their memory by twice as much as did those in the control group (who spent an equal amount of time watching educational documentaries). After eight weeks of training, that improvement was only about 4 percent.



There have been studies that suggest that mentally stimulating activities in old age helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease/dementia.

"The more you do mentally stimulating activities -- such as crossword puzzles or playing chess -- the better it is," said Dr. Joe Verghese, an assistant professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Verghese recently co-authored a study that found that seniors who engage in a wide variety of mental pursuits while at leisure -- such as playing a musical instrument, reading and playing cards or board-games -- seem to dramatically lower their risk for developing dementia.

But he stressed that it's never too early to incorporate mental exercise into the daily planner. In fact, it's a habit that should be encouraged starting in childhood, experts say.



But Crossword puzzles and other mentally stimulating pursuits may just hide, rather than prevent, the progress of Alzheimer.

Researchers in the US said the reality could be that, even without symptoms, the brain was suffering progressive damage behind the scenes.

Mentally stimulating activities might help the brain "rewire" itself to circumvent the effects of dementia. However, once the disease was diagnosed, damage to the brain was likely to be greater than it would be in someone who was not mentally stimulated.

Dr Robert Wilson, from Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said the research team's results suggested that the benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline might come at the cost of more rapid dementia progression later.

The 12-year-study involved evaluating the mental activity of 1157 people aged 65 and over - none of whom had dementia at the start of the study.



More:

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    +1 this was the study I was referring to in comments, and it really does seem like the most rigorous take on the subject. – David Hedlund Mar 21 '11 at 12:10
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    Many of the beneficial activities (e.g. playing cards) are social activities: which sudoku isn't. Social activity is stimulating. – ChrisW May 30 '11 at 12:00

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