2016-05-05 / Editorial

Puzzles and coloring: Some surprising outcomes

By Leslie Rounds

I almost never make jigsaw puzzles at home – even though I (for some weird reason) find it soooo satisfying to locate and slip into place the right piece in a puzzle. However, there are two really excellent reasons why I don’t have a puzzle out at home. One reason is that I have two aged cats. They love to lay on puzzles. When they finally get up to move to some other warm spot to sleep for the other 23 hours in a day, the pieces tend to take a hike on their fur. The more important reason is that when I sit down and start looking for pieces to put in – I CAN”T STOP! Ugh.

But maybe I should keep on with them anyway. Research now shows that making puzzles is surprisingly good for the brain. As you look for the right piece, you have to memorize the correct shape and color and then search through all the numerous possibilities, winnowing out the ones that won’t fit. That’s good for your short-term memory. Besides that, jigsaw puzzles stimulate both sides of your brain, the creative right side and the logical left side. When you work on a puzzle it promotes the development of connections between the two sides, which ultimately help you think better. Finally, getting a piece to fit results in this tiny little surge of a brain chemical called dopamine. That stuff makes you feel good, and also helps you concentrate better. It looks like it’s possible that making jigsaw puzzles is one of those activities (like reading, for instance) that actually helps prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. If you’d like to read more about this, here is the source for this information: http://www.intentionalcaregiver.com/jigsaw-puzzles-benefit-thebrain/.

For the past several months, we’ve been putting jigsaw puzzles out in our magazine room here at Dyer Library. We have determined that the 500 piece puzzles work best because all of us have some hope of finishing them before the vacuum cleaner tragically sucks up a piece. So far, we’ve been very fortunate to have a steady stream of puzzle donations – most of them complete – or was that the greedy vacuum cleaner again?

Another hobby that provides a surprising payoff for brain health is coloring. I’m sure you’ve noticed those fancy, detailed coloring books for adults are all the rage right now. There’s a good reason for that. Coloring those complicated designs promotes mental focus and requires concentration. And as you put more focus into this repetitive activity, your brain has a lovely, relaxing response. It turns out that it’s hard to focus on your worries and cares if you’re busy trying to decide that some shape might look better in orange than green, and then carefully making it so.

Taking that into consideration, in the same room with the puzzles, we have coloring books, markers and colored pencils for you to use. We even have coloring books and colored pencils for you to check out and take home. My personal favorite is to combine a good coloring book with listening to a fine audio book. Bliss.

Leslie Rounds is executive director of Dyer Library/ Saco Museum.

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