We’ve all heard the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, it turns out you can teach “dogs” of any age new tricks! And this is even more so the case when it comes to the lifelong process of learning.
Research today has shown that not only is it never too late to learn new skills far into your golden years, but learning and reinforcing new skills is absolutely crucial for maintaining brain health. In fact, learning new information promotes neuroprotective benefits that improve quality of life, combat age-related neurological disease, reduce the “tip of the tongue” memory issue, and more.
How Learning Shapes the Brain: A Look Into Neuroplasticity
From our time in the womb until mature adulthood, learning shapes the brain on a cellular level. With nearly 100 billion neurons in the brain, activities such as learning, speech, memory, and movement are all made possible through a series of neural connections and networks between independent neurons.
When human beings continuously learn, these neurological pathways are protected and strengthened over time. As we get older, important memories solidify, and skills become stronger and more accessible.
What makes this phenomenon possible? Neuroplasticity.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity (also called “brain plasticity”) is the brain’s ability to be malleable, adapt to new information, and offset the side effects of aging.
Incredibly, the positive effects of neuroplasticity can be seen and measured through MRI scans today. Recent studies have revealed positive physical changes in the brain as increased learning occurs. Individuals who actively engage in activities that promote neuroplasticity have been shown to have larger brain volumes as grey and white matter increases in density.
And this brain matter plays a crucial role in offsetting the degenerative effects of aging.
Learning & Anti-Aging
The old saying “use it or lose it” certainly rings true with brain health.
As the years progress, our brains experience the inevitable process of aging. This is where neurological connections become weaker and shrink and fray, leaving space in the brain, much like Swiss Cheese. If these neurological connections are not strengthened, they go away. In extreme cases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, this process is often accelerated and irreversible.
When it comes to brain health, prevention is protection. The more we strengthen our brains, the stronger they become!
Ways to Promote Brain Plasticity
Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill, such as playing an instrument, learning a language, exercising, engaging in art, puzzle making, doing word games, and more, have been shown to promote brain plasticity.
And it doesn’t stop there. The same activities that promote brain plasticity can encourage psychological benefits, too. Activities such as reading fictional books, mindfulness meditation, and CBT therapy have all been shown to improve feelings of overall well-being and minimize stress responses. In conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and mood disorders, working with Neurofeedback, as well as Biofeedback therapy, can utilize real-time brain activity data to help regulate brain function.
Neurology Office's 5 Tips for Maximizing Brain Plasticity
We can all enjoy the benefits of neuroplasticity by taking an intentional approach!
1. Never be afraid to learn new things
You never know what you don’t like until you’ve tried it! Trying out a new activity or hobby is a sure way to promote the creation of new neurons in the brain. It is never too late to join the party.
2. Opt for fun rather than perfection
Our perfectionism often stands in the way of expanding our abilities or learning a new skill. As a bonus, engaging in fun activities with loved ones is a great way to stay connected.
3. Reinforce what you love
When we love what we do, we do more of it. Don’t hesitate to dedicate time to craft a new skill, revisit a pastime, or engage in sports & hobbies.
4. Get sleep
Building strong neurological pathways is crucial to better brain health, and sleep is essential for this process. A healthy sleep cycle helps to preserve learning and memory.
5. Eat Brain Healthy Foods
Diet can play a massive role in boosting the neuroprotective benefits of brain plasticity. With attention, proper hydration, and foods rich in antioxidants and Omega 3 fatty acids (fatty fish, seeds, nuts, seafood & plant oils like flaxseed and hemp oil), this can help all efforts go a long way.
For more Neurology insights into brain health, check out the following Neurology Office resources:
A Message From Dr. Kandel
“As I explain to my patients every single day, the brain continues to learn until the day we die. So, continuing to improve your brain health by exercising your brain is essential. I constantly remind my patients to stay active, stay focused, and always, always stay curious.”
Feel free to share this with the people in your life who may benefit from this information! For more insights on neurology, check out our weekly tips on our Neurology Office Facebook page.
“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”
Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates
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