Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change. Moreover, you may not know that you can stimulate it to supercharge your brain power. This article will reveal the ways to do it.
The brain is easily one of the most important parts of our body. In order to properly function, our brains use up the most energy, accounting for about 20% of what our bodies produce each and every day. Neuroscientists often refer to how our brain changes due to age or overtime as brain plasticity or neuroplasticity.
The sad fact is that our brain becomes weaker as we age, eventually leading to neurodegenerative diseases that can’t be cured. But the good thing is that you can reverse the hands of time and use neuroplasticity to supercharge your brainpower!
Let’s talk about brain plasticity and the things you can do to make it work in your favor.
What Is Brain Plasticity?
Neuroplasticity comes from two linked words – Neuron, which means nerve cell, and Plastic, which is inherently moldable. The emphasis on flexibility is actually very important in keeping the brain working in peak condition and in “molding” our unique personalities.
Believe it or not, your brain can be molded to have more neural connections, synapses, and brain cells, thereby increasing its power and capability. What’s more, you can have this change at any point in your life.
Our brains are one of a kind because each of us has different life experiences, grew up in different environments, and has our own unique thoughts. Brain plasticity also has a hand in determining our outcome. Our brain’s capacity to change can singlehandedly impact brain development at a young age, opening up a whole world of possibilities along the way.
How the Brain Changes
The research of brain plasticity is alive and well. Numerous scientific studies have discovered that the brain can actually grow or shrink in size, that gray matter and neural connections can be weakened, strengthened or broken apart.
Physical changes have a significant impact on our physical abilities. For example, the brain develops new neurological pathways whenever one learns something new, i.e., dancing, drawing, etc. The brain puts out new pathways that contain the specific information of what you’ve just learned. When you start forgetting things, you can be sure that neural pathways are degenerating and breaking apart.
Ready to Supercharge?
There’s something you can do to improve your brain’s plasticity. You can play an active hand in keeping the neural pathways alive and the connection flowing.
Lifelong learning encourages brain plasticity. Did you know that the brain doesn’t stop developing new connections if you decide to learn something new every day? For example, enrolling in art classes will increase your IQ, hold your focus and attention, develop fluid intelligence, and of course, brain plasticity. Making music helps with attention, memory, and enhances neuroplasticity. Best of all, there isn’t an age limit on learning!
Studies find that dancing has beneficial effects on the human brain too. It stimulates the production of BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes neuron plasticity, maintenance, and growth. These things are essential for improving memory and learning.
Learning a new language activates the brain’s hippocampus and actually makes your brain’s physical size bigger.
Last but not the least, there are new brain training programs that are designed from the ground up to exercise the grey matter. There’s a number of them available as software, apps, or programs available in smartphones, tablets, and computers. Each activity tickles the brain and stimulates it into action, thereby shaping the mind and improving brain plasticity.
Strengthen Brain Plasticity with Exercise
Doing physical exercises such as tai chi or yoga strengthens the mind, the body, and the psyche.
You can get more benefits out of the exercise as you age. In a study conducted by the University of Texas’ BrainHealth Center, participants who had daily exercise were shown to have an increase in brain and memory health and physical fitness as well.
Complex thinking coupled with an aerobic exercise program can make the brain more pliable and change the brain’s structure for increased cognitive functions.
Encourage Brain Plasticity with Meditation
Calming the mind may be better for your brain than you might think. Meditation is believed to be a potent cognitive enhancer. Though it doesn’t seem like hard work, training your brain to be more alert and calm at the same time will take weeks of dedication and practice. But the health benefits are well worth it!
Numerous studies have found mindfulness meditation to be a very effective treatment for many cognitive disorders, including anxiety, stress, pain management, and even PTSD symptoms.
With constant practice, you can quiet your mind using time-honored meditation practices and impact your brain’s development for the better. People who constantly meditate are found to have stronger neural connections as compared to those who don’t.
One specific study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital was able to record the remarkable changes in brain structure for patients who were led to an 8-week meditation course. Images showed how grey matter concentrations increased, with areas tied to cognitive functions having the most improvement.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best because it mainly focuses you on non-judgmental feelings of sensations, feelings, awareness, and the state of mind. Over time, you gain health benefits such as decreased levels of anxiety, stress, and other telltale symptoms of burnout.
The study made by the Massachusetts General Hospital documented a notable increase in brain density around the hippocampus, which is the area responsible for memory retention and learning.
Support Brain Plasticity with Food and Supplements
Learning new things can strengthen the neural network in your brain and add to plasticity. But you will need to support its growth with the right nutrients to get the best results.
A diet that has plenty of superfoods will jumpstart your brain plasticity process. It will enable your brain to absorb the essential nutrients needed to protect, maintain, and create new brain cells and form new neurotransmitters.
There are brain-enhancing nutrients that contribute directly to more brainpower. Adding them to your daily menu leads to better cognitive functions and mental abilities.
Here’s a list of essential nutrients that are proven to enhance cognitive functions and form the groundwork for new neural pathways:
- Flavonols that are often found in cocoa and dark chocolate.
- Polyphenols that are found in berries.
- DHA and essential omega 3 fatty acids. These are major components of the healthy development of the brain.
- Magnesium, Vitamins D, and E.
- Curcumin, often found in turmeric and other spices.
- Gotu Kola, an herb found in Asianic regions.
- Gingko Biloba, a popular ingredient in memory enhancing supplements.
Other Prominent Ways to Help with Brain Plasticity
It’s a worthwhile investment to start exercising your grey matter. The effects may be slow at first, but you can do seemingly simple tasks regularly, which will add up over time.
Reading is often passed over for more entertaining things, such as watching TV, surfing the web, etc. but it’s a very effective brain exercise. New information passes on from the page to your mind; the calm, relaxing nature of reading relieves stress and daily tension.
What’s more, reading allows your mind to wander and trains it to use imagination. Your eyes go through the words while the mind puts a picture to it. You adapt to new ideas while exercising creativity.
Sleep benefits us in a number of ways, but did you know that it can improve brain plasticity as well? This becomes evident when we lack sleep – you’ll find it hard to concentrate and do your job well. Sleep resets the mind and prepares you for a fresh start in the morning.
It’s also the body’s way of processing everything you’ve learned and indexing it to your memory. So it goes without saying that you should get the recommended amount of sleep to keep your brain healthy and well.
Are you afraid to step outside your comfort zone? It may be affecting your brain’s plasticity.
Have the courage to try and experience something new. It stimulates the brain and actually creates new neural pathways! Plan something new or add changes to your routine to increase your intelligence and change your brain structure for the better.
It could be as simple as trying out a different exercise, tasting new food, going to a different coffee shop, etc. Map out changes that you’d like to try regularly and your brain will thank you for it.
Spatial Relationships / Skills
GPS navigation may be a technological wonder that benefits drivers everywhere. But you can exercise your brain and go without relying on these devices. If you have the time and energy, get from Point A to Point B by using your gut and your brain.
Paper maps help stimulate the spatial areas of your mind. Looking around will help you get a feel for your surroundings. You have the innate ability to get to any place you need to go!
Don’t Rely On External Devices Too Much
Relying too much on calculators, computers, and GPS devices may be convenient. But unfortunately, it is not good for our brain’s plasticity. Brainpower increases when you use it constantly. The more cognitive skills you can use on a day-to-day basis, the better your intelligence will be. Try small brain exercises at first and don’t take to your gadgets immediately.
The bottom line is that our brains will change whether we like it or not. But what we can control is whether you can change your brain for the better or for worse. You have the power to bring about the changes you need to live a fuller life!
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