Everyone knows the importance of exposing young minds to various ideas and knowledge. We want to teach useful skills and instill good values early because of the notion that children’s brains easily adapt to stimuli and therefore learn faster. This principle may be useful in shaping the minds of youngsters, but it may discourage an adult from learning something new with the thought that studying at a later age becomes more difficult. We have this misconception that the brain’s functions start to diminish as we grow older. Unsurprisingly, we tend to associate old age with weakening mental faculties such as memory loss or disorientation. Fortunately, this way of thinking is now being challenged with the theory of brain plasticity.
What is brain plasticity?
Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity debunks the notion that the brain stops developing at a certain age. On the contrary, it suggests that the human brain has this remarkable ability to adapt to various changes and further develop or repair itself.
Brain plasticity is the product of years of research in the field of neurology as scientists discovered that new nerve cells or neurons are born everyday throughout your lifespan. The growth and production of these nerve cells are affected with our lifestyle, diet and experiences.
Why is neuroplasticity important?
The old field of study used to claim that once brain cells die, they are irreplaceable. This theory sadly implies that old people just have to deal with deteriorating mental health. Neuroplasticity breaks this old belief as it shows that the brain can continually evolve and change. This means that we are capable of remaining brain fit until old age.
The ability of the brain to regenerate itself does decrease as we age, which explains why children can indeed absorb new ideas and master new skills faster. Still, brain plasticity supports the idea that the elderly can enroll in classes or develop new skills without fear that learning will be extra challenging. Brain plasticity is also an important breakthrough in the field of mental health as it suggests that the mind has the power to fully recover from brain injuries or emotional trauma. Moreover, illnesses related to aging and memory such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease can easily be avoided.
Ways to keep the mind sharper
If you do not take care of yourself, brain plasticity will decrease as you age. The following are some of the things to keep in mind to maintain and even increase your mental aptitude as the years pass:
Inactivity slows down the production of new neurons, so engage in any form of physical activity such as walking or running to stimulate the brain. Research done by neuroscientist Dr. Sandrine Thuret showed the effect of physical activity helped the growth of new brain cells. In this research, a group of mice were placed in a cage with no running wheels while another group were placed in a cage with one running wheel. Brain scans of the mice showed that the group in a cage with a running wheel were significantly growing more neurons than the mice who did not have a running wheel.
Get an adequate amount of sleep.
Do not abuse your body and mental abilities by pushing it to the limits. Our body, including the brain, needs rest to recover and replenish itself. The best way to give your body a break is by getting enough sleep. It is important to make sure you get enough hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation decreases the size of the brain as proven by a 2016 research study by a group of scientists.
Expose yourself to new things.
Exercise your brain by constantly immersing yourself in new mental stimulants. This means being open to new ideas and always being eager to learn new things. Traveling or going to new places and trying new activities are also fun ways to keep the brain’s health at its best.
A happy mindset is essential for a healthy brain. Stress and depression will not only lessen your quality of life, but it will also reduce your brain’s ability to function. This is backed by a research that was published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine which revealed that stress negatively affects brain functions.
Eat more brain food.
To nourish brain health, it is recommended to eat a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids and decrease intake of calorie-rich and sugary foods. Instead of munching on junk food, it is best to snack on nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds, walnuts and sunflower seeds. You should also cut back on dishes full of saturated fat and your alcohol intake should be in moderation. Some of the things you can indulge on are dark chocolate, red wine and blueberries.
Neuroplasticity erases the fear that we have to succumb to memory loss as we age. It gives hope that you can literally grow older and wiser. However, to fully benefit from the idea behind brain plasticity, you will need to consciously mind your lifestyle, diet and mindset.