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Can you train your brain?

Experts previously believed that your brain could no longer change or develop further after a given point in life, but now we know this isn't true. With time and patience, you can rewire your brain, which may help protect against cognitive decline.

 Neuroscience is showing that we can change our brains during our life. This is the plasticity of the brain. As our brain continues to reform and rewire itself based on how much or how little neural pathways are used. That means that we can learn new behaviours, and change our mindset by building new neural pathways. There is a saying, "Cells that fire together, wire together." Which, in essence, means that the best way to learn or create new behaviours for ourselves is by doing the new task a few times so that the neurons "fire together" and eventually "wire together".     

The Firing and Wiring of pathways is a result of the connections of neurons in our brain. Each neuron has about 1,000 "arms" called dendrites that connect it to other neurons, and the connection between the cells is called a synapse.

 Our growing knowledge of neuroplasticity demonstrates that we should all engage in healthy lifestyles to protect our brains. Brain training can have many different meanings for each individual - adopting an attitude or lifestyle whereby you' care for your brain' as much as you can – look after and care for your brain, through – diet, sleep, exercise, social interaction – talking and communicating with others, reading, mindfulness practice – activities that are keeping the wiring and firing happening. Self-hypnosis and visualisation are two techniques sportsperson use as part of their mental training for a competitive match or game.

Games and puzzles are a great activity to do for several reasons. When you are doing a game or puzzle, you are often absorbed in it – so you give your busy 'overthinking' mind a rest – you calm the mind, and being in that 'focussed state' on the puzzle – you are engaged in a form of mindfulness which has well-documented health benefits. You are also engaging in problem-solving and learning – all firing neural pathways. Neuroplasticity is largely driven by changes in the connections (synapses) between existing neurons. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Learning something new and practicing it forms new neural pathways - and then repeating this same action over and over strengthens the connections of these newly formed neural pathways in your brain. 

 Another great cliché is - Use it or lose it - the more you use your brain, the better it will work. 

 Regardless of age group the key pillars for brain health are the same :

  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Social interaction
  • Learning – e.g. reading, trying something new.

For specific brain training exercises there is a lot of debate - rather than focus on exercises a great tip is to read a story or article and then read it out to another person (also excellent for children!!).  Explain the story to someone else aids in engaging your brain functionality - memory, empathy (understanding the story), cognitive process - telling the story.    

Top Tips to Train your brain

Try something new.  
Something simple like a new hobby, a new cafe or listening to a new kind of music style.

Read a Good Book
Reading a novel can improve your brain function -  becoming engrossed in a story enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function.  People who engage their minds in mentally stimulating reading activities experience slower memory decline, according to recent study.

Mix things up
Use your non-dominant leg to brush your teeth or write you're to do list for the day. Move your keyboard mouse to the other side. Mix things up to take your brain off autopilot.

Change of Scene
A change of scenery wakes your brain up, sparks creativity, and challenges your brain. 

Be social
Meet people and listen and engage with what they are saying (put your phone away!)

 

References

1 https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function

2 https://n.neurology.org/content/81/4/314

CLAIRE ARISTIDES

Clinical Hypnotherapist and Founder of Mindology.app

Mindology App an app to calm and empower the mindset available on apple and android. Download the app on the app store and googleplay. 

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