Brain Plasticity

Our brain is like any other part of our body. It will loose its abilities if it is not used regularly. It will atrophy just like any other muscle if it is not used. I have heard an expression long ago that has resonated throughout my life – we start to die when we stop learning new things. I took that literally for a long while. Part of being alive is to be learning all the time. Learning stimulates the brain. But it is much more than that.

The brain has billions of neuro-transmitters that form connections that serve lots of functions. Memory, speaking, moving, understanding concepts, and so on. When we learn to tie our shoe laces, our brain forms a series of connections that are a pathway and that pathway is triggered when ever we need to tie our shoe laces. That is stored and accessed with very little effort so as to keep the brain ready for higher and new things coming in.

Dr. Doidge, in his great book, “The Brain That Changes Itself”, shows us how the brain is quite plastic. We have thought that the brain has certain functions that are exclusive to certain parts of the brain. If that area is injured or destroyed, we loose that ability forever. Not necessarily! Our brains have a remarkable capacity to form new networks and linkages if properly trained.

Where am I going with this? The brain is a sort of muscle. If we work it out and exercise it, it will stay healthy and actually grow (and I mean that literally). Our brains have stem cells that regularly form new brain cells all the time. So we have room for lots more capacity if we have new brain cells being formed throughout life. However, most of the new brain cells die quickly because they are not given a function. We don’t use them, so they simply die!

How can we keep more of the new brain cells? How can we keep our brain active and working? How can we stay sharper as we age? Can we fight off the ravages of time?

Our brains work a lot like our muscles. They build in a “memory”. We can do most things without thinking about it very much at all. What about if we just did things differently sometimes? Studies have shown that if we change up how we do a regular activity, our brain adapts and forms new pathways and that stimulates other areas of the brain to be able to do more. In other words, we can work our brain just by doing things differently once in a while. That has the effect of keeping some more of those new brain cells.

What can we do?

Change things up to exercise your brain and slow down the aging process. Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand for a week. Drive a different way to work. Try using other senses when you are taking a shower (close your eyes and keep them closed while you undress, turn on the shower, get in, find the soap, wash yourself, shampoo your hair, turn off the water, get out, dry yourself, get dressed having set out your clothes in advance). Give your other senses a chance to show you what they can do. This forms more and new pathways.

In short, do regular things in different ways. Life-long learning is not just “book learning”. It is everything. Stay engaged. Observe and experience always. By all means learn new stuff, but also enjoy new experiences and regular experiences in new ways every day.

Live well, love always and laugh out loud every day! (And brush your teeth with the other hand ;))

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