You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Actually, while that may be true for canines, it’s a completely false statement for us humans.
Exploring the role of neuroplasticity in our extraordinary brains offers up some exciting insights as to how we can harness this process and become smarter.
What is neuroplasticity? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize or rewire synaptic pathways to suit its needs. Whether recovering from trauma, illness, or depression or even in response to a learning experience, our amazing brains can shift, grow, and remap.
This understanding comes with exciting outcomes. Not only can the brain recover from a stroke or other trauma, but it can act as a willing slave to positively impact our life, health, and well-being.
The more science learns about our brains, the less they understand how these extraordinary organs work. What medical science does know, however, is that the efficacy of our neural plasticity depends on how we treat our minds and bodies.
Can I Really Become Smarter?
Given the right environment, we can actually rewire our brains to allow us to be whatever we want to be. Neuroplasticity occurs whether we want it to or not, but we can control the changes it makes and consciously set the direction of our mental remapping.
What an incredible thought!
What should we do, then, ensure that we keep our brains in optimal health for growth, development, and improved neural organization?
Our brains need downtime from conscious thought. When we sleep, our minds set to work resetting connections, storing memories, and taking out the trash that we won’t need tomorrow.
When we don’t get enough sleep (seven to nine hours per night), our brains can’t perform these essential maintenance tasks. This impacts our memory and cognitive functions.
The reason for this is simple and can be compared to a juggler having too many balls in the air at once. A good night’s rest allows thoughts, memories, emotions, and millions of other pieces of information to be taken off the table and safely stored away. Insufficient sleep results in a hyperconnected brain, in other words, too many balls.
Restorative sleep wipes the slate clean and provides the perfect platform to learn and function optimally the following day.
Our brains have been compared to a muscle; the more we use it, the stronger it becomes.
In the same way that our physical bodies benefit from regular exercise, the brain is strengthened by learning. Whether you’re learning a language, a musical instrument, painting, drawing, taking more time to read and write, or in fact, anything new and challenging, you improve your brain plasticity.
Our brains undergo functional changes when we absorb new information. Therefore, the more we attempt to learn, the greater our learning capacity.
Every scientific and medical journal available encourages us to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and keep moving. We know this benefits the body, but the effect on the brain is just as potent.
Cardiovascular exercise floods our brains with oxygen and increases brain volume. It also bathes the brain in an incredible chemical known as BDNF that stimulates the development of new brain cells (neurogenesis) by some 300 percent.
Half an hour of exercise three times a week is enough to trigger the release of the BDNF that we need for neural healing and growth.
Known as the silent killer, stress affects us daily. On its own, a little stress is not a problem. But ongoing, chronic stress places us in a perpetual state of ‘fight or flight.’ Those feelings of anxiety and fear erode the brain’s ability to function efficiently and release chemicals that reduce our ability to deal with it.
However, we can mitigate the impact of stress by eating and sleeping well, exercising, and spending time in our beautiful natural environment.
Peaceful personal time surrounded by nature has been proven to lower anxiety levels and allow stress to bleed away quietly.
Diet and Supplements
We are, literally, what we eat. Our modern diet is devoid of so many essential nutrients that our brains and bodies require to function efficiently. Therefore, a diet rich in natural, organic foods and lower in processed foods is the foundation for a healthy brain.
Besides a sound eating plan, doctors recommend certain supplements to boost brain function. Magnesium, for example, has been shown to increase synaptic plasticity of the brain and improves cognitive functions. Taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements will enhance the creation of new brain cells and has been shown to protect the brain against depression and cognitive impairment.
Nootropics are natural or synthetic compounds that positively affect the brain, particularly functions of memory, creativity, and motivation. Tianeptine, for example, is proving a promising treatment for depression and other mood disorders. This nootropic assists the brain with the structural changes neuroplasticity requires to rectify recurrent or hard-to-treat mental disorders.
Train Your Brain
It’s thrilling to know that harnessing the largely untapped benefits of neuroplasticity is within our power. This knowledge allows us to create the ideal environment for our brains to adapt and respond to trauma or illness. It also gives us the tools to cope with more common disorders such as depression or chronic anxiety in ourselves or others.
We have the ability to create a smarter, happier version of ourselves by making manageable changes to our lifestyle. We can, in fact, be whatever we want to be.
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