Neuroplasticity is the ability of human brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
Our brain does this by axonal sprouting, in which undamaged axons grow new nerve endings to reconnect neurons whose links were injured or severed. Undamaged axons can also sprout nerve endings and connect with other undamaged nerve cells, forming new neural pathways to accomplish a needed function. For example, if one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the intact hemisphere may take over some of its functions by reorganizing and forming new connections between intact neurons. In order to do so, the neurons need to be stimulated through an activity.
Neuroplasticity is also called brain plasticity or brain malleability.
Its Characteristics –
- Neuroplasicity is at work throughout our life.
- Most of us have very different behaviors and thoughts today than we had 25 years ago. This is because of action of neuroplasticity resulting in changes in brain structure and organization as we experience, learn, and adapt.
- It is the ‘muscle building’ part of the brain. With every repetition of a thought or emotion, we reinforce a neural pathway. Similarly, with each new thought, we begin to create a new way of being.
- As we age, change doesn’t come so easily because the brain loses some of its plasticity and we become more fixed in how we think, learn, and perceive.
How to improve neuroplasticity? –
The research has shown conclusively that the brain can form new neural pathways and create neurons throughout life. Notwithstanding our genes we inherit, our lifestyle plays an important role in improving this unique quality of brain. The following are ways that help you improve your brain fitness by harnessing neuroplasticity:
Do exercise regularly – Regular exercise and increased fitness promote brain functioning through a variety of mechanisms, including increased brain volume, blood supply and growth hormone levels.
Undertake intermittent fasting – It is a great way to increase brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). In the brain, the BDNF protein is active at the connections between nerve cells (synapses), where cell-to-cell communication occurs. The synapses can change and adapt over time in response to experience, a characteristic called synaptic plasticity. Moreover, it detoxifies the body and recycles old proteins with new ones through the process of autophagy. The brain will benefit from this as well since a short fast has profound effects on neuronal autophagy.
Do meditations regularly – There is a ton of evidence that regular meditation has profound effects on the brain. The neuroscientists now view meditation as the top way to upgrade your brain, with the potential to transform your life in many big ways. Mostly it has to do with increased attention span, improved memory and higher activity at the prefrontal cortex. There are also a number of studies showing that it enhances cortical thickness and the density of grey matter.
Take adequate sleep – Sleep might be the most essential nutrient for neuroplasticity. The sleep deprived brain is muddled with connections, causing disorder of nervous information. Sleep restores that. Sleep provides a soft wipe of the brain, giving you the opening necessary to lay down new connections, form new memories, and learn new skills.
Remove stress – Stress dampens neuroplasticity in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex while increasing it in the amygdala, which is associated with fear, anger, anxiety, and other autonomic emotional responses.
Learn an instrument – Music training enhances brain plasticity. The research has found that children, who engage in musical training, show increases in IQ, verbal memory, and linguistic ability, even when the control group is composed of kids with otherwise similar backgrounds such as socioeconomic status, academics, etc. except for the music training. Merely listening to the same music doesn’t have the same effect. You have to actively participate in its creation.
Learn something new – The process of learning something new improves brain plasticity. Learning and practicing a new language or an art skill has been found to strengthen the brain.
Read a novel – The researchers at Emory University have found that reading fiction creates heightened connectivity in the brain. Apart from this, reading stories provides a chance for you to relax.
The crux –
Neuroplasticity is a unique characteristic of our brain to reorganize itself so as to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust to changes in our situations and environment. It is at work throughout our life but with age there occurs a gradual decline in this special ability of the brain. We can improve this unique ability by taking appropriate measures.
The old adage was “practice makes perfect; use it or lose it”. The 21st Century neuroscience version is “neurons that fire together, wire together and neurons that fire apart, wire apart”.