We all know about the importance of physical exercise, but, do we maintain our brain function with the same devoted attention? This is the question looming large today, as neuroscience takes a more pivotal role in our mental wellbeing. Just how can we make sure we are optimizing our little grey cells, and what role does neuroplasticity play in that?
Described as the brain’s ability to restructure or ‘rewire’ itself when circumstances show a need for it to adapt, neuroplasticity supports the fact that the brain can continue changing and developing throughout our lives.
According to a recently published article in Healthline, the brain is capable of repairing itself by developing new neural pathways, as is often the case when trauma occurs through an accident. Through therapy and rehabilitation, the brain is able to repair the old pathways or set up new ones.
“Negative thought patterns that occur with depression, for example, could result from interrupted or impaired neuroplasticity processes. Exercises that promote positive neuroplasticity, may help “rewrite” these patterns to improve well-being.” – Healthline.
It goes on to suggest that there are simple ways to ‘rewire’ your brain, and most of them are easy and enjoyable activities that you can carry out at home.
1. Play video games
This hobby can have plenty of cognitive benefits, including motor coordination, visual recognition and spatial navigation, improved memory and reaction time in addition to reasoning, decision making, problem-solving skills, bouncing back from setbacks and creative thinking.
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2. Learn a new language
Acquiring a new language improves cognitive function. In one 2012 study, researchers looked at 10 English students studying German in Switzerland. After 5 months of intensive language study, the density of gray matter in their brain had increased.
Gray matter houses areas associated with language, attention, memory, emotions and motor skills. Increased gray matter density can improve your function in these areas, especially as you age. It could, for example, slow down symptoms of dementia.
It can also lead to stronger problem-solving and creative thinking skills, improved vocabulary, greater reading comprehension and an increased ability to multitask.
3. Try a little music
Music therapy also helps slow down cognitive decline in adults. It can improve movement and coordination and help strengthen memory abilities. It can also help relieve emotional distress and improve your mood and overall quality of life.
According to a 2015 review, musical training also has benefits as a neuroplasticity exercise. Learning to play music in childhood can help protect against age-related cognitive decline. Musicians often have better audio and visual perception, greater focus and attention, better memory and better motor coordination.
Travel may help enhance cognitive flexibility, inspire you, and enhance creativity. Experiencing new scenery and surroundings helps you learn about different cultures and become a better communicator, both of which can have additional cognitive benefits.
It also helps broaden your general worldview and gives you a new perspective on things like career goals, friendships, or personal values.
Exercise offers a number of physical benefits such as stronger muscles, improved fitness and health and better sleep. But physical activity also strengthens your brain. Aerobic exercise particularly can improve learning and memory, fine motor coordination, brain connectivity and may protect against cognitive decline.
It helps promote increased blood flow and cell growth in the brain, which research links to reduced depression symptoms.
6. Make art
Creating art can help you see the world in new, unique ways enhancing creativity and improving cognitive abilities. You might use art to sort through and express emotions, share personal experiences, or gain deeper insight on personal struggles.
Even simple doodling activates your brain’s default mode, which allows your brain to briefly “unfocus”. This occasional mental downtime directly relates to neuroplasticity. Letting your brain rest can improve creativity, interrupt unwanted habits and help you find new solutions to problems.