Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis

Bad news!  Your brain is shrinking.  Good News!  Your brain can still grow.   

Although contrary both these facts are true at the same time.  It’s a biological fact that for average human beings after about age 30 our brains shrink just a little bit (0.25%) each year.  And that’s a normal biological process reflecting the physiological process of synaptic pruning and atrophy.  It also reflects a maturing process about the way we use our brains as we get older and the fact that many of us just stop adding new skills and knowledge to our repertoire.  

Lifelong Learning for all

Yes, the training folks are right!  Lifelong learning is exactly what we all need.  Adding new knowledge and skills, and then USING them encourages the physiological generation of new neurons and the neural pathways.  These allow us to grow our memories (knowledge) and to continue to, quite literally, expand our mind! 

The process of growing new brains cells, Neurogenesis, is constantly ongoing. It just happens at a slower rate for many of us as we age.  So with the natural pruning that occurs with the aging process losing more neurons than we grow results in shrinking.  But Neurogenesis is a natural process that can be encouraged and supported by several key behaviors and conditions.  

The other aspect of cognitive growth and learning is Neuroplasticity.  This is the ability of our brains to add new memories and associations and establish new knowledge.  While this occurs on a regular and ongoing basis, there are quite remarkable examples of the effects of neuroplasticity being discovered all the time.  Turns out our brains are incredibly versatile! 

Neuroplasticity in action

A great book (The Brain That Changes Itself) highlighting the extremes of neuroplasticity was published by Norman Doidge, a Canadian psychiatrist, highlighting extreme examples of neuroplasticity and explaining the underlying neuro-science behind the principles.  Doidge shows how the brain can adjust its capacity to take account of catastrophic damage from disease or injury.  With appropriate assistance, coaching and training that process of rewiring can be applied to everyday brains too. 

The cool thing is Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity support each other.  The more we encourage neuroplasticity, the more we create demand for neurogenesis.  Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are emerging and growing areas of scientific knowledge, and just as with physical health and wellness our brain and mind’s health can be exercised to support that growth. 

Exercise builds brains

Exercise…yes, yes…I know everyone is tired of hearing it over and over again, but the science is overwhelming.  Exercise improves your brain health and creates greater neurogenesis and improved neural pathway development.  In fact, some research says it is the single thing you can do to get the biggest improvement to your mental capacity and capability.  It appears that what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain, increasing blood flow through the brain and inspiring an increase in the generation of Neural Growth Factor.

(Damn, all those athletes at school were right, you can train yourself smarter!!) 

If Music be the food of brains….

Music stimulates the brain.  Sure, listening to music inspires greater memory association and it’s a great idea to learn lyrics of your favorite songs and singalong…even if only in your head.  But learning to play a musical instrument and even better to read music and practice…that’s a real brain enhancer.  Even when musician’s listen to other people play music, their brains engage in a much wider pattern of brain activity.  Musicians see the music in their brains, their motor center’s get engaged as they visualize the kinesthetic moves required to move their fingers or lips to perform a particular passage.  Neuron’s fire like crazy right across the brain.  So learning a musical instrument even late in life, will encourage neurogenesis. 

One great truth is out there though…the harder it gets, the harder it gets – no gain without pain – the work takes work….seriously I could go on and on here. So, finding cognitive strategies to apply through out the remainder of your lifelong learning journey is vital.   

Mind Maps to stimulate learning and growth

Using Mind Maps is one such strategy and a globally applicable one.  Mind mapping is strongly linked to engaging your whole brain and visual charting provides the maximum opportunity to empower your mind.  Learning to leverage the power of strong association across your brain and then the discipline of switching from focused to diffuse thinking will enhance your creativity, bolster your memory and recall and promote neurogenesis and increased neuroplasticity. 

So, engage your brains and take the first steps to stemming the tide and look forward to many more years of growing your brain and expanding your mind. 

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