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Neuroplasticity: an old dog CAN learn new tricks

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by Guy Joseph Ale

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]europlasticity is the brain’s ability to constantly adapt to changing circumstances throughout life. The human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells. Neuroplasticity enables the brain to regularly form new communication pathways between these cells and continuously reconfigure existing ones. This process enables us to acquire different skills, memorize new information, and generally adapt to existence through experience.

Scientists long believed that the brain stopped this process of neural regeneration at around the age of four. However, research since the beginning of the twenty-first century has shown that the brain’s neural connections never reach a fixed pattern that cannot change further. Rather, recent studies are showing that the brain is changing constantly, in response to learning, disease, exercise, and other stimuli – through our entire lifespan.

This freshly understood innate plasticity of the human brain across the length of a lifetime means that a person can stay active and engaged in life for as long as they practice a lifestyle that stimulates both the body and the mind.

The capacity to function, communicate, and adjust to changing circumstances – to remain flexible and plastic – is crucial for the survival of every living organism. This inherent adaptability of the human brain further provides the basis for our aptitude to learn from past mistakes and improve our approach to life. Tomorrow is not yesterday. We don’t have to carry forward bad habits only because we’ve done them in the past. Every minute approximately one million cells in your body die and are replaced by an equivalent number of new cells. Your old cells, containing negative beliefs and behaviors, leave your body and you can substitute them with new beliefs and behaviors that are more conducive to your health and wellbeing.

With every thought and feeling we reshape the neural networks in our brains. The higher quality of our thoughts, the better lives we create. If you look at it correctly, the best years of your life can be ahead of you. Your body changes and it cannot do at forty-five what it did at eighteen. However, your understanding of yourself has now grown, you don’t need to repeat youthful errors, and can make choices that balance all the aspects of your mind, body, and spirit.

To stay vital and brain-healthy into our higher decades, the key is to take up activities that utilize several different aspects of your being: mental, physical, and emotional. The more complex the task the more synapses (new connections) are generated in your brain. Make this activity as challenging as possible, but not too challenging so it becomes a chore. You want to maintain a sense of fun and novelty. Some of the best activities are:

  • Learning a new language: far from your native tongue. That means a different family of languages, with unfamiliar alphabet and uncommon pronunciations. For example, if your first language is English, try tackling Chinese, Japanese, Urdu or Arabic. But if these languages don’t excite you, no worries, even learning Russian or Finnish will stimulate new regions in your brain.
  • New dance: stimulating your mental and motor skills, with the added benefit of a social interaction, which is a boost for longevity.
  • Travel to exotic places: to absorb different culture, pace, food and customs.

It’s good to remember that the brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more flexible and stronger it is.

Guy Joseph Ale is President of Lifespan Seminar and Vice President of Asia Pacific Association of Psychology. Lifespan Seminar received the ‘Best of Beverly Hills (California) Award’ in Health and Wellness two years in a row, 2013 and 2014. Guy’s upcoming book is LIVE YOUR LONGEST LIFE: Discover Practical Tools to Help You Optimize Your Lifespan Potential. Learn more at www.LifespanSeminar.com

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