Neuroplasticity: Our brains can change

Dr. Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D

“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.”  ― Santiago Ramón Cajal

It was once thought that, after childhood, the human brain was formed and mental capacities were fixed. It was also thought that a decline in brain function was irreversible.

Today, neuroscience research indicates that the human brain is “plastic”, meaning that at various levels, the brain can change and grow – from structure to chemistry to physiology – it can literally re-wire itself in response to interactions with the environment.

Research into brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, shows that our brains can undergo daily renovation when we engage in appropriate, stimulating and meaningful tasks. This is encouraging news.  At any age, we can rejuvenate our brains.

Dr. Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., has proven just that. In his cognitive neuroscience laboratory, known as the Gazzaley Lab at UC San Francisco, he intervenes with cognitive-focused video games to reverse cognitive decline due to age and improve quality of life. Gazzaley explains the link between brain and behaviour and how positive neurological changes can be preserved.

For a better understanding of this fascinating phenomenon, I invite you to listen to the podcast – The Tim Ferriss Show – an interview with Dr. Gazzaley by clicking here.

I recommend the following 10 tips for a healthy brain:

1. Consume wholesome foods and supplements (eg. Vitamin B12; Turmeric) that are good for your brain.

2. Exercise regularly. Alternate cardiovascular exercises with muscle training.

3. Stay curious. Read, listen to podcasts or music and watch interesting documentaries.

4. Go to new places, visit new sites and meet new people – near or far from home.

5. Try new things. Learn to play a musical instrument, try a different sport or dance, a new board game, brain training games (e.g. Einstein or Luminosity brain games) or a new way to cook.

6. Relax, meditate or go for mindful walks.

7. Keep-up with creative hobbies, for example, writing, painting, drawing, fashion, gardening, crafts, decorating or woodwork.

8. Avoid loneliness. Spend time with friends, family, community.  Get a house pet.  Join an interest group.

9. Be attentive to your sleep pattern – at night, you should get more than the bare minimum sleep. Take mid-day naps.

10. Slow down. Focus on one task at a time. According to John Medina, molecular biologist, the brain CANNOT multitask. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time.

Photo credit:
Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

4 thoughts on “Neuroplasticity: Our brains can change

  1. Great article on how to improve the brain – my daughter suffered a TBI and was in many studies at Mt Sinai hospital in NY – exercise, rest, diet and having a meaningful sense of purpose – all important to her recovery.

    1. Dear Madeline, It brings me comfort to know that this article gave you and your daughter that extra bit of courage to heal and move forward from such a frightening experience. I wish you, your daughter and family happier days ahead. Julie

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