Neuroplasticity and what it means for health
Previously, scientists thought that nerve cells could not be restored. Now researchers are considering that new nerve cells are not restored because new ones are born instead. As it turns out, people can “build” their brain by themselves, to some degree, and all they need is the desire and some practice. According to Glenn Doman, the founder of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, this is possible due to neuroplasticity. If you are new to neuroscience, you might be asking the question “What is neuroplasticity?”
The power of neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is the unique potential of our brains to grow new neurological connections during the course of life. It means the old belief that the brain is formed when the person is young and remains unchanged until the end of life is wrong. Glenn Doman, a pioneer in neuroscience, dedicated a large part of his life to working with children with brain-injuries. He believed, and later proved, that a human brain has a great capacity for recovery. Moreover, even when a person has experienced brain injury, the neuroplasticity of the brain allows a chance for restoring brain connections and memory deficits. “The brain grows by use” – was the mantra of Glenn. The results of his work with children who had brain injury were disclosed in “The Gentle Revolution Series,” “What To Do About Your Brain-Injured Child,” and other books by the scientist. The discoveries published in the books revolutionarily changed the lives of millions of families with brain-injured children and are now used in neuroscience.
The constant acquisition of skills and the processing of new information greatly affects the brain. This is actually what neuroplasticity means. The potential of neural connections brains can make is inexhaustible; thus, we ourselves can build chains that will be responsible for our behavior and mood. We can train our cognitive abilities by brain training. Therefore, the brain, as well as the other muscles of our body, should undergo constant work. To strengthen these capabilities, the following brain exercises are can be done:
- Play board games – there are a lot of games designed specifically for adults, which can help to develop or enhance cognitive abilities and brain plasticity. Among them are chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, various card games, etc. Forcing your brain to think in an unusual direction, you develop memory, concentration, visual-spatial associations, logic, and can even increase your speed of decision making.
- Read books and write down your thoughts – every day by reading and writing you develop the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory. The more thoughts and ideas you write down, the lower your risk of getting dementia may be. Learn poems and prose by heart; this is also a kind of a brain fitness. In addition, you can try reading words reversed. Apart from being funny, it is also one of the most effective brain training games.
- Have a hobby – to have an interest in something means you have an inquisitive mind. The more difficult the hobby is for you to master, the better brain fitness practice it will be. It is better to have several hobbies to engage different areas of brain activity. It is beneficial for brain plasticity and helps to improve brain performance. Among the hobbies can be drawing to develop imagination, or roller skating to improve movements coordination, or sewing and knitting to stimulate fine motor skills of the hands, or others.
- Study – continuous learning is another great way to increase neural plasticity in the brain. Regardless of your age, learning causes structural, chemical, and functional changes in brain activity. Many scientists believe that ongoing training contributes to the creation of new neuronal compounds that can help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Also, learning different languages, especially at an elderly age, can help to defer the aging process of the brain in some ways.
- Travel and discover the unknown – traveling is a wonderful way to discover new aspects of yourself. Changing your location and being in unfamiliar conditions helps in developing the ability of our body, including the brain, to adapt to various non-standard situations. Any change in your habitual way of life positively affects the neural plasticity of the brain, building new neural connections in it. And it does not matter where you travel, you can even just vary your daily life. Change your usual routine, experiment more.
There is one caveat, however, about brain plasticity. According to neuroscience theories and Ronnie S. Stangler, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington, the capacity of neurologic growth decreases significantly after the age of 5. This means that some things are very difficult to retrain or rewire your brain to do after this age. While a person can still train their brain using brain exercise games, it is quite challenging to learn compassion and empathy as a grown-up. However, by using some of the brain training games you may be able to remain emotionally and mentally active for a long time.