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Brain Plasticity

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

By: Lisa Kadavy

Edmond Family Counseling

Brain plasticity also known as neuroplasticity is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. Neuro refers to neurons, the nerve cells that are building blocks of the brain and nervous system and plasticity refers to the brains malleability:

How do you increase neuroplasticity in the brain? How do you improve your neuroplasticity? The suggestions listed below are a great start:

  • SLEEP Get enough quality sleep! Your brain needs sleep to reset the brain connections that are important for memory and learning.
  • Continue LEARNING and keep MOVING.
  • Reduce STRESS
  • Find a STRONG PURPOSE for what you’re planning to LEARN.
  • READ a novel.
  • DRINK a lot of water every day.

Did you know the brain can rewire itself after an injury? Living things can repair themselves. Perpetually responding to its environment, the brain possesses a remarkable ability to REWIRE itself, to actually reroute sensory impulses and change its physical structure.

Our brains are surprisingly dynamic. We do things every single day that affect their structure and chemistry. The following information presents ten ways we can literally change our brains for better or for worse:

- EXERCISING - Physical exercise benefits your brain. Physical activity can improve your brain’s plasticity-a cerebral quality that affects memory, motor skills, and the ability to learn. A study was conducted with a small group of adults in their late 20’s and 30’s who participated in a 30-minute session of vigorous activity. Immediately after the session, their brains showed a significant increase in neuroplasticity. Exercise makes you happier and smarter at the same time.

- SLEEPING - Everyone needs it! Sleep is an essential activity that not even science can fully explain. Going without sleep can cause memory loss, irritability, and in extreme cases, slurred speech and even brain damage! When you sleep, your brain gets to work archiving memories, making creative connections, and cleaning out toxins. Also, a short afternoon nap can provide you with a boost of energy equivalent to 1-2 cups of coffee, increased retention facts, and greater creativity. If you are not feeling on your toes at work, the most effective thing you can do is get some rest.

- MEDITATION - (Me Center of the Brain)

If individuals don’t meditate, they are more likely to interpret physical sensations of anxiety or fear as a personal problem, something directly related to themselves. As a result, they are more likely to experience repeated thoughts about their lives, mistakes they’ve made, and what people think about them. “Me Center” isn’t particularly rational.

In contrast, people who meditate regularly show weaker connections with “Me Center” of the brain. This helps meditators take the problems less personally and approach them more logically. Sitting still and trying to focus on the present moment for as little as 15 minutes per day significantly reduces stress and essentially makes you a better person overall.

- COFFEE - When coffee enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain, it blocks “adenosine” receptors. Adenosine is a central nervous system neuromodulator that has specific receptors. When adenosine binds to receptors, neural activity slows down and you feel sleepy. Caffeine acts as an adenosine-receptor antagonist. This means that it binds to these same receptors, but without reducing activity. That is what gives you the boost of energy and alertness, improved memory and cognitive performance, increased focus and even increased accuracy of reactions. Caffeine literally changes your brain chemistry and it is best in moderation.

- READING - Reading assists heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex of the brain, the area of the brain associated with receptivity for language.

- LISTENING TO MUSIC - Listening to music can lead to significant increases in feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and dopamine.

- WANDERING IN NATURE - Spending time in outdoor green spaces has been linked to improvements in mood, concentration, and creativity. 

BROODING - is not healthy-replaying what is wrong in our minds, this fretting is not healthy or helpful. It is a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside an urban area. A study suggests taking time to wander in nature can in fact change your brain in ways that make you happier.

- MULTI-TASKING - Constant multi-tasking actually changes the “pathways in our brains”. Your attention span is considerably shortened and your emotional intelligence is stunted. At the same time, you become worse at sorting through information and completing creative tasks. It is time to close some of those browsers.

- EATING SUGAR - Sugar consumption has scary effects on your brain’s health. Overconsumption of sugar may impair neurological functioning. Eating too much sugar can impair memory and learning skills. It may even contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Too much sugar can increase depression and makes it more difficult to regulate our mood.

Finally, it turns out that simply believing you have the power to physically change your brain can in fact help you change your brain.

- MINDSET -Just the words “yet” or “not yet” we’re finding give kids greater confidence and a path into the future that creates greater confidence and greater persistence. We can actually change students’ mindsets. Every time children are pushed out of their comfort zones to learn something new and difficult, neurons in their brain can form new and stronger connections over time so they can get smarter. The benefits of a growth mindset aren’t limited to school children. Approaching challenges with an attitude that embraces growth and improvement can give adults the grit we need to push our limits and strengths, benefitting neuron connections and creating entirely new ones well into old age. I find that incredibly comforting!

Recent research has shown brain plasticity and behavior can be influenced by a myriad of factors, including both pre and postnatal experience, drugs, hormones, maturation, aging, diet, disease, and stress.

Research has also shown the brain never stops learning. Plasticity is the capacity of the brain to change with learning. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of connections between neurons: new connections form and the internal structure of the existing synapses change. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself.

Amenclinics.com is an educational, interactive website geared toward mental health. The website contains a wealth of information and resources to help you learn about and optimize your brain. The more I discover about brain health, the more encouraged I am about the aging process and taking care of the largest organ in my body-my brain! Knowledge is power and learning about the brain is fascinating. We need our brains for literally everything we do, and I am motivated to be as healthy as possible moving forward in 2022.

(Edmond Family Counseling is a non-profit organization. Our therapists may be reached at 405-341-3554 to schedule a counseling appointment. Donations may be made to Edmond Family Counseling, 1251 N. Broadway, Edmond, OK or online @www.edmondfamily.org by clicking the yellow Donate button)

Lisa Kadavy, M. Ed., NBCSC, is Elementary School Group Facilitator for Edmond Family Counseling.

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