Grow your brain
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire and restructure itself in response to learning and experience. Research from neuroscience has demonstrated that it is possible to develop our brains. One well known study to show this looked at how the brains of London cab drivers changed from learning the complex map of London city.
While these changes happened over some years, other studies have shown that physical changes can occur in a few months or even weeks.
What do some of the neuroscience studies tell us about the most effective ways to rewire our brains? Firstly, we need to relax. The reason for this is the neurochemical cortisol, which our body produces under high levels of stress, damages and can kill brain neurons. Cortisol is a handy neurochemical in short, sharp doses but causes damage if present at high levels for long periods of time.
Diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing exercises and different forms of meditation have both been found to have significant relaxation effects. Try out some exercises on this site: http://www.calm.auckland.ac.nz/20.html
As well as learning to relax, there are some other things we can do to improve neuroplasticity. Scott Crabtree from Happy Brain Science has developed the acronym REACH to summarise the key points:
- Repetition. We need to do something repeatedly to significantly rewire our brain.
- Effort. We need to put in significant effort. The activity can’t be easy!
- Attention. We need to focus our attention on the activity.
- Complexity. The more complex and challenging the activity, the more rewiring we’ll get.
- Health. Eat well, sleep well, and exercise regularly to keep both body and brain healthy and ready for growth.
To keep the new circuits going once we have created them, we need to use them. The phrase “use it or lose it” is relevant here.
What kinds of activities are best? It can help to choose something you enjoy as well as something you can do repeatedly, and with effort. Any kind of mental challenge, such as Sudoku, or crossword puzzles or learning a new language, are excellent. Learning a new musical instrument will also fit these criteria.
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