EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY: The games we play

I recently saw a headline about a new study that showed that running as little as two miles three times a week could extend your life. That seems doable, I thought, until I asked my knees, who immediately protested that it was not doable at all (you idiot, they added!). Thus, I’ll stick with the original guidance I’ve tried to follow in recent years that a regular walking routine is the key to a healthy aging body. Yet, I am reaching that age where the health of my mind is increasingly on my mind at least as much as my mobility. What to do for that?On Instagram, Maria Shriver offers weekly brain teasers — three people walk into a bar and seven people are related to two of them, tell us why, or something like that. I haven’t spent time trying to crack them because just reading them makes my blood pressure go up, and that can’t be good, right?I do Wordle almost every day. I have since mid-pandemic when the man of my dreams (kidding, David!) created the five-letter puzzle for his girlfriend and then sold it for more than six figures to the New York Times. I’ve long screwed up tracking my actual completion rate, I think yesterday it said I was on day five, even though it was about day 1,005. But I look forward to completing it as part of my morning routine. My average result is solving it in four tries, and I share my yellow and green square emoji efforts with one of my sisters and two friends. There’s some nice element of bonding in that. I also assume that completing Wordle helps bond, or at least, jostle, some aging neurons in my brain. There’s some research to back up that assumption. Dr. Anne Corbett, of the University of Exeter Medical School, led one study that found “the more regularly people engage with puzzles such as crosswords and Sudoku, the sharper their performance is across a range of tasks assessing memory, attention and reasoning. The improvements are particularly clear in the speed and accuracy of their performance. In some areas the improvement was quite dramatic  on measures of problem-solving, people who regularly do these puzzles performed equivalent to an average of eight years younger compared to those who don’t. We can’t say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.”I may be able to make my brain function as if it were eight years younger if I do even more puzzles? Okay, I’m in.Recently, I stumbled upon a miracle of confidence building called the mini-crossword in the print edition of the Sunday New York Times. I’ve never been able to even pretend at the full Sunday crossword, but the mini? I do it in pen! And then I learned there’s a mini every day on the New York Times games app and those have now been added to my morning routine post Wordle. What else? My sister recommended “Connections” in which you tag related words in a series of four, like “pot, ladle, broth, and beans” which would be grouped under “soup” for instance but most aren’t that straightforward and thus it’s a challenge.I tried Sudoku for the first time last week, too. I’m not drawn to numbers like I am to words but I’m guessing they fire a different set of neurons so I’m game to try.  Like so much in life, though, experts advise against relying on quick fixes. Games are just one piece of the cognitive function puzzle, they say, along with diet and exercise. Sigh. These experts are clearly practiced at conveying hard truths. They must be related to my knees. 

Virginia Buckingham
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A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.” 

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