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How to Rewire Your Brain for Health

4 ways to harness the incredible power of neuroplasticity


By Austin Perlmutter, MD

 

 

Each day, with each passing moment, our brains are changing. This reality reflects an incredible opportunity as well as potential risk. So how do we harness brain change for our benefit, rather than watching as our brains change for the worse? In this article, we’re exploring the science of rewiring the brain and practical steps to take to ensure it goes in your favor.


The idea that the human brain changes across the lifespan is one of the most potent ideas in all of neuroscience, countering hundreds of years belief that brain was generally “fixed” in adulthood. In scientific circles, brain rewiring is called “neuroplasticity,” and the basic idea is that the strength and number of connections between our brain cells is dynamic and is altered by our interactions with the world around us. Brain rewiring can be observed at the level of an individual brain cell, or at the level of network changes and activation patterns across large areas of the brain.


Neuroplasticity is believed to be driven by a host of different pathways at the molecular and cellular level. While the specifics are complex, the general theme is that the activity of brain cells changes the strength and number of connections between them. This concept was famously described by psychologist Donald Hebb, who proposed that brain cells “that fire together, wire together.” 


The effects of neuroplasticity on our understanding of human brain health are far reaching and significant. For example, neuroplasticity after stroke is believed to help explain recovery of lost brain function, while neuroplasticity linked to meditation is related to beneficial effects of this practice on cognitive and mental health. But while neuroplasticity is generally seen as a positive, it’s important to understand that this is not always the case. Early life adverse events (ACEs) and other forms of psychological trauma may lead to long-term brain issues through neuroplasticity.




How do we harness neuroplasticity for our benefit?

One of the most critical ideas to understand as it relates to benefiting from neuroplasticity is incredibly straightforward: our brains are always changing, and we get to decide if that change is directed at better or worse brain health. To this end, taking a more conscious role in directing our brain change for our benefit means paying attention to what we consume and how we consume it. Here are 4 key steps:


1. Build healthy new brain connections with novelty, artistic experiences, and new learning. Research shows that when we stretch our brains it may activate healthy neuroplasticity. This can be anything from learning an instruments or language to traveling, practicing a new language, trying public speaking, or engaging in artistic pursuits.


2. Activate neuroplasticity pathways through exercise. Of all the activities linked to healthier brain function and prevention of dementia, exercise may be the most important. One reason for this appears to be through physical activity’s effects on neuroplasticity. In a host of studies, researchers have shown that people who exercise demonstrate changes in brain imaging and lab analysis suggesting an amping up of healthy neuroplasticity. Moving your body for 20-30 minutes is therefore an incredible neuroplastic tool.


3. Mitigate the effects of chronic stress when possible. Stress is a part of all our lives, and there’s no doubt that some stress is both healthy and helpful for our brains. However, chronic, unmitigated stress is linked to host of brain issues, and the mechanism is in part through its effects on neuroplasticity. To this end, evidence-based stress-mitigation practices to consider include meditation, time in nature, breathwork and other mindfulness practices. For some, seeking the care of a mental health professional can be an important step in this process.


4. Skip highly processed food and excessive alcohol consumption. While the effects may be more subtle for many dietary changes, research shows that consuming an ultraprocessed diet is linked to a variety of markers of unhealthy brain changes. This work suggests that eating too much junk food including foods and beverages with added sugar may compromise healthy neuroplasticity. Alcohol use has been associated with lower levels of BDNF, a protein involved in neuroplasticity.






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3 Yorum


Great tips! I might go back to the gym tomorrow. Thank you!

Beğen

Thank you so much! This information was so useful and necessary

Beğen

This kind of info is not just useful But also necessary.

Beğen
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