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A Better Brain At Any Age: Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity

A Better Brain At Any Age: Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity

Can brain training techniques really enhance and safeguard brain function? Research says yes! Similar to how we exercise our bodies to improve physical health, exercising our brains can lead to better brain function and protect against cognitive decline. 

You can achieve these results because of neuroplasticity, which is your brain's remarkable ability to adapt, change, grow, and even heal itself. 

In the past, experts believed that neuroplasticity had a limit and would plateau as we age. However, researchers are now discovering that the brain can continue to develop at any age – an important factor in preserving brain health. 

In this article, we delve into the science of neuroplasticity and its impact on long-term cognitive health. Additionally, we will review practical ways to actively harness the power of neuroplasticity, so you can ensure that your brain remains sharp and healthy at any age. 

What Is Neuroplasticity?  

Neuroplasticity is your brain's extraordinary capability to reorganize its structure, functions, and connections in response to various experiences, such as learning, injury, or trauma. 

Let’s dive into the details of how this all works.  

Your brain is made up of several interconnected regions that control how you think, feel, and act. Each region plays a unique functional role, working together like an all-star team to achieve optimal brain function so you survive and thrive.  

For instance, your brain's frontal lobe oversees attention, concentration, language, and emotions; your parietal lobe handles your sense of touch; the temporal lobe manages hearing and memory; the cerebellum controls motor functions, and the brain stem ensures your heart keeps beating and your lungs keep breathing. 

These separate regions coordinate their functions through a vast network of neuronal (brain cell) connections, much like the electrical wiring in your house.  

Your brain uses this network to exchange information and create systems to enable you to regulate emotions, learn new skills, form memories, and solve problems. 

Often described as “brain rewiring,” neuroplasticity describes how your brain continuously changes these connections and functions based on your experiences to operate more effectively and efficiently within your specific environment.  

Think of it like a computer programmer constantly refining their code based on inputs. Your brain refines its operating system in response to new experiences, like learning a new instrument or meeting a new person.  

Through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), scientists have observed neuroplasticity in action, witnessing changes in brain matter in response to experiential stimuli, including:   

  • Repair and strengthening of brain cells.  
  • New brain cell growth. 
  • Reorganization of synaptic connections (the links between brain cells). 
  • Reassignment of brain functions (like speech, vision, or motor functions) to different brain regions.  

These dynamic changes highlight that your brain is not just an information processor; it can continuously adapt, grow, heal, and learn. 

But does neuroplasticity decrease with age? Previously, neuroscientists assumed neuroplasticity plateaued after a certain age, limiting the ability to affect brain capacity later in life. However, newer research shows that your brain can adapt and evolve throughout your lifespan.   

Moreover, researchers believe you can actively support your brain's ongoing development through self-directed neuroplasticity activities, which could significantly impact long-term cognitive health.   

A Better Brain At Any Age: Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity

More Examples of Neuroplasticity  

Learning and Memory: When you acquire new knowledge or skills, like learning a new language or navigating a new route to work, new neural pathways form to help you recall and apply that information. These changes can strengthen reasoning, visual, auditory, motor, and spatial functions.     

Stroke Recovery: After a brain injury like a stroke, unaffected parts of the brain can take over the functions of damaged areas, allowing for the recovery of lost abilities. 

Mental and Emotional Health: Cultivating positive thinking techniques can develop and strengthen neuronal connections related to optimism, leading to improvements in mental health.  

The Importance of Neuroplasticity To Health   

The experiences and activities that occur most frequently in your life significantly impact how your brain organizes itself. Your brain will reinforce related pathways and connections to address these needs effectively.   

As a result, neuroplasticity can positively or negatively impact your overall health, depending on the nature of these experiences.  

For example, a study found that exposure to chronic stress and other negative stimuli can rewire your brain to make you more susceptible to mood disorders.

On the other hand, engaging in activities that promote positive adaptations in your brain can help:  

  • Boost overall brain performance. 
  • Improve the ability to learn new things. 
  • Protect mental health, particularly related to depression and OCD. 
  • Recover from trauma and injury.  

These positive impacts are especially meaningful when considering how they could protect your brain through aging. Could neuroplasticity be the key to age-proofing your brain?  

Neuroplasticity And The Aging Brain  

Brain shrinkage and declines in core cognitive abilities are characteristics of the normal aging process. Memory loss and diminished information processing skills can occur as a result.  

This functional decline significantly impairs independence and quality of life for some people.  

However, understanding that your brain can still grow, adapt, and heal means these don’t have to be guaranteed occurrences. Research suggests specific activities can engage a neuroplasticity growth mindset and protect you against age-related cognitive decline.  

One study found that adults participating in spatial navigation training could stop age-related brain shrinkage in the hippocampal region. The training included participating in a virtual reality navigation game every four days for four months.  

Another study in adults between the ages of 60 and 87 found that participation in brain plasticity training for three months significantly improved memory function.   

Furthermore, a study observed improvements in executive functioning among older adults who participated in a 5-week computer-based brain training program. What’s more, these improvements were maintained throughout an 18-month follow-up period.   

These results show that you can improve your brain's performance later in life, but there are a few criteria you need to follow to train your brain effectively.   

Principles of Neuroplasticity Training For Better Brain Health  

To fully harness the power of neuroplasticity, it's essential to move beyond occasional activities like reading a book or doing crossword puzzles. Experts suggest engaging in brain training activities that align with the following neuroplasticity principles: 

  • New and challenging. Your brain only changes when exposed to new experiences and behaviors that require adaptation.  
  • Intentional. The activities you choose should have meaning and relevance. Enjoying what you are doing will help you maintain progress.  
  • Fully Focused. Give your full attention to the task you are completing.  
  • Repeated with Increasing Intensity. The more you exercise the brain, the stronger and more connected it becomes. Challenging yourself with new or harder activities will help you maintain and sustain performance gains. 

5 Proven Brain Boosting Activities to Engage Neuroplasticity  

Ready to get started with activities to boost brain health? Consider the following ideas shown to engage neuroplasticity to support long-term cognitive health.  

1. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation  

Meditative practices have become mainstream. The psychological benefits of meditation are well accepted, resulting in about 45% of baby boomers saying they meditate at least once weekly.  

However, beyond helping you find finding your zen, research points to meditative practices as an effective intervention for stimulating neuroplasticity and protecting long-term cognitive health.  

Focused attention meditative techniques are particularly effective. This style of meditation involves focusing on a specific mental or sensory activity, like breathing or a precise mental picture.  

Studies have linked neuroplasticity meditation with physiological changes in the hippocampus and improved attention and memory. 

A Better Brain At Any Age: Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity

2. Play Games That Challenge your Brain  

Not just for kids, games that keep your mind stimulated can protect your long-term brain health, particularly in people at high risk for conditions that cause significant cognitive decline.   

A large observational study showed that adults over 40 who played games like cards, checkers, crosswords, or puzzles daily had larger brains than those who didn’t. But that’s not all. Frequent gamers also scored better on cognitive tests of memory, speed, and flexibility. 

3. Learn New Skills  

Now is the time to pick up that hobby you’ve been meaning to start. Studies show lifetime learners protect their brains from early cognitive decline.  

Learning a new skill requires your brain to create new neurons and connections and strengthen existing communication pathways.   

Like how you could implement a new process at work to address a new job function, your brain develops new processes to handle new tasks. The result is a stronger overall system.  

In one study, older adults who learned to juggle for the first time significantly increased gray matter throughout different areas of the brain 

4. Socialize with Intention:  

Frequent social engagement is known to protect older adults from cognitive decline.  

According to research, socially active older adults have greater structural integrity of brain regions responsible for perception, emotion, motivation, and behavior.    

Keep in mind this is only true of social engagements that are enjoyable and fulfilling. Stressful relationships can hasten cognitive decline. So, don’t overfill your calendar just to have something to do. Instead, focus on meaningful social interactions.  

If you feel like you need to expand your social network, start rekindling old friendships. Picking up where you left off can be less stressful than meeting someone new.  

5. Move Your Body  

Healthy body, healthy mind. Researchers have found regular aerobic activity can prevent brain shrinkage  

Moreover, a 2021 study observed that exercise can boost neuroplasticity by influencing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a protein that impacts nerve growth.  

Aim for the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week and two days per week of strength training.  

Factors That Influence Neuroplastic Ability 

With all of neuroplasticity’s potential, it’s equally important to understand its limitations. First and foremost, it’s crucial to acknowledge that this is an active area of study, and there is still a lot to learn.  

Neuroplasticity capabilities also vary from one individual to the next based on biological and lifestyle factors, including:   

  • Genetics 
  • Substance abuse and exposure to toxic chemicals 
  • Diet 
  • Sleep 
  • Stress  
  • Trauma and injury 

How do biology and experience together enable neuroplasticity? Scientists still don’t know for sure, but they believe the best way to optimize brain plasticity is to use brain training exercises as part of a holistic approach to brain health.   

This plan should include following a diet full of brain-boosting foods, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and adequately managing stress.  

Certain supplements, including omega-3 fatty acids, may also be beneficial as they may help prevent age-related brain shrinkage.   

Key Takeaways 

Neuroplasticity is a remarkable phenomenon that offers hope for a better brain at any age. The brain's ability to continuously change, adapt, grow, and heal provides an opportunity to counteract age-related cognitive decline.  

You can promote neuroplasticity by engaging in brain-stimulating activities like meditation, puzzles, games, and socialization. The more you do, the better chance you have to experience positive outcomes such as improved memory, executive function, and emotional well-being.  

Pairing these efforts with a holistic brain health plan that includes healthy sleep, diet, and stress management habits will give you the best opportunity to take charge of your long-term brain health.  

Getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is another important component of a holistic brain health plan. If you struggle to include rich sources in your diet, supplements can help you meet recommended amounts.  

ProHealth provides supplements, including Neuronal DHA, specifically for supporting long-term cognitive health so you can enjoy a long, vibrant life. 


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