Neuroplasticity – How does brain training work?

Is it possible to improve capacity for creativity, memory and analysis through brain training? Do websites like Luminosity.com make a difference? Before the 20th century, most people believed they had to live with the brain they were born with- but they were wrong.

Brain training can teach an old brain new tricks

The human brain is a dynamically-powerful organ, but many are unaware of what unlocked potential the mind holds – and what effect deliberate training can have.

By exercising the brain at any age (yes, using repetition and habit like a regular body workout regimen), you can regenerate, rejuvenate, and reactivate old connections and create new ones by a process known as neuroplasticity.

Imagine your neural pathways are like roads or highways on which information travels to and from areas of the cerebral cortex for storage and recall.

Neural pathways allow you recall and stockpile knowledge on anything and everything, acting as a searchlight or GPS guide on an ever-changing map.  Neuroplasticity is what gives us the ability to create new, tangible roadways.

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity- also known as Brain Plasticity- is defined as the ability of the brain to form new neural pathways or synapses, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH)

As we learn new skills and information, our brain structure (and road map) physically changes. These transformations are observable on MRIs.  

An example of neuroplasticity

One of the best examples of neuroplasticity at work can be found in a timeless study published in 2011 that compared MRIs of the brain of London taxi cab drivers to those of people with desk jobs.

Every black-cab driver in central London- in order to be an official london taxi cab- must memorize the map of the capital, including some 25,000 streets and thousands of landmarks. There’s an actual exam that usually takes 12 attempts to pass.

According to the report, successfully packing this detailed roadmap to memory causes actual structural changes in the brain, affects memory and creates a greater volume of nerve cells in the brain’s hippocampus.

How to train the brain

Effective ways to train the brain and increase neuroplasticity include:

  • Online brain training games
  • an eight-week mindfulness based stress reduction course (MBSR)
  • meditation
  • learning something such as a new language
  • physically exercising regularly
  • performing a new task or action repeatedly such as dance or Tai-Chi
  • spending quality time with loved ones

Research backed by the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, insomnia, and the incidence, duration, and severity of acute respiratory illnesses (such as influenza).

Results of a randomized clinical trial by the NIH, published in January 2014, showed training gains for aspects of cognition involved in the ability to think and learn, but memory training did not have an effect after 10 years, so it’s important to train the brain routinely.

In addition to exposure and ingestion of toxins, and physical injuries, it’s important to keep in mind that stress is the greatest enemy of the brain.

Prolonged stress results in increased levels of Cortisol and Adrenaline, causing a variety of defects across the human system.

Studies have shown stress can actually cause brain damage, and MBSR addresses this common habit we can all fall into of ‘overthinking’ and stressing out.

MBSR has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders.

Brain training will mean less embarrassing situations (never forget what-his-face’s name again), make you a speeder learner in all things, and help you avoid diseases as you get older.  Remember, no one is ever too old to learn and teach your brain new tricks!

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