TEACHING AN OLD BRAIN NEW TRICKS

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March 16–22 is Brain Awareness Week. So let’s explore a feature of the brain about which you may not be aware. Your brain is pliable—it can adapt and change.

Your brain is composed of billions of cells known as neurons. Each neuron is connected to thousands of other neurons. These connections allow your neurons to send information back and forth—or to “talk” to each other. These connections are what make your brain work and allow you to do everything that you do. They allow you to play the piano, recite a poem, or recall your phone number, for example.

When you are a child, your neurons are forming new connections all the time as you learn new things. Your brain is developing, in other words. Scientists used to think that, at a certain point in childhood, your neurons stopped forming new connections. And all the connections that existed were set in stone, so to speak.

But now, research has shown that neurons can form new connections throughout your whole life. They can do so in response to new situations or changes in the brain itself. Regardless of how old you are, your brain can still develop. In fact, even if your brain is damaged in some way, your neurons may be able to form new connections to make up for those that were lost due to injury or disease.

So what does this mean for you? It means that you can learn new things and keep your brain agile as you age. Here are some tips to help foster new neural connections and general tips to help keep your brain healthy.

Brain Training
Studies show that using your brain in certain ways can help foster new connections in the brain. This can improve the way you think, remember, and learn. To keep your brain active and engaged, try:

  • Learning a new skill or language
  • Reading and learning new information
  • Working on puzzles
  • Drawing
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Volunteering

Exercise
Many studies also suggest that aerobic exercise can help your brain stay active. It can help boost memory and thinking. Other research shows that strength training can improve cognitive function in older adults. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity and 2 days a week of strength training. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. That way you can be sure to create one that benefits both your mind and your body.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits
And finally, many of the habits that keep your body healthy will also help your mind stay healthy. Along with being active, you can help keep your mind healthy by eating well, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying tobacco-free. Also, be sure to protect your brain from injury. Wear a seatbelt in the car. Wear a helmet when you ride a bike or motorcycle. Balance, strength, and flexibility exercises will help prevent falls that may lead to a brain injury.

When it comes to your brain, it turns out that you can teach an old brain new tricks!