Neuroplasticity is defined as the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout our life.1 That means that the nerve cells (neurons) in our brains can compensate for injury and disease and adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environments.
In short, our brains aren’t the permanent, unchanging physical structures that scientists once believed they were. In fact, our brains continue to change and adapt to new experiences, learn new information, and create new memories.2
All this is kind of interesting, but you might be thinking, “Big deal? Who cares if my brain is more “plastic” than scientists once thought?” Well, the big deal is that neuroplasticity means you have some control over what actually happens in your brain, and you can use that power to “rewrite” your brain and actually improve your well-being.
Think of it this way: the brain is like a muscle, and what you use you build. So, with every repetitive thought or emotion, we can reinforce a neural pathway and actually create a new way of being.3 If you continue to think or do something over and over again, you increase its power until it becomes automatic. So, for example, if you force yourself to look for one positive thing in every situation—even difficult ones—eventually it will become second nature to do so. With time you’ll find that you’re always looking for the good without even really trying because you’ve trained your brain to do just that.
How to improve your neuroplasticity
According to Thrive Global4 You can control and set the direction for the kind of changes neuroplasticity allows your brain to undergo by doing the following:
Get enough quality sleep. Our brains reset connections that are important for memory and learning when we sleep, so do your best to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day.
Keep learning and moving. Learning something new improves brain plasticity, so take that dance course, sign up for that beginner’s Italian class, or finally learn how to knit. Exercise boosts oxygen supply to the brain and increases brain volume, so keep moving as best as you can.
Reduce stress. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but do what you can to reduce the sources of stress in your life, because stress diminishes neuroplasticity.
Find a purpose for your learning. Brain changes will be more significant if you’re motivated and alert, so if you find a good reason to learn something new—perhaps learning how to knit will allow you to join a volunteer group that makes chemo caps for your local hospital—you’ll try harder and focus more on the task, both of which have been found to enhance neuroplasticity.
Read a novel. Reading fiction creates heightened connectivity in the brain and, as an added bonus, it’s a good way to relax and de-stress. So, head to the library and stock up on page turners—you’ll be helping your brain when you do so!
For more fascinating information on neuroplasticity, including how it can help with emotional balance, stress and anxiety, and sleep and fatigue, visit Brainworks.
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