Our brains are truly incredible organs with seemingly endless capabilities and, according to researchers, remain plastic for the entire durations of our lives. Neural plasticity is the concept that refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells. It is a process that takes place in the brain all throughout our lifespans and helps us learn new things for as long as we live. However, the expression “use it or lose it” also definitely applies to the brain. Just as our bodies need regular physical exercises to stay in shape, our brains need to stay active in order to function smoothly and effectively. Here are some tips to always keep your brain sharp:
- Learn a new language
According to scientific research, learning new languages is important for preventing brain disorders associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Brain imaging studies have revealed that having to transition back and forth between two or more languages causes the brain to work harder and activates the brain regions responsible for complex problem solving and multi-tasking. These brain workouts potentially cause reorganization and consolidation of many important neural networks, such as the ones used for “executive control functions,” including reasoning and planning. Often, these are the brain regions that are first to suffer loss of function during the onset of disease processes related to aging. In turn, learning new languages protects these areas from deteriorating as we age.
2. Try new things
Apparently, our brains love novelty. Research has shown that new experiences trigger the release of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is the chemical messenger (otherwise referred to as a neurotransmitter) that makes us feel good and plays an important role in helping us feel motivated. Interestingly, the same study also revealed that exposure to novelty helps us in learning and information processing. If you want to you use these findings to your advantage, try incorporating novelty when studying or learning new things. For example, change your learning environment once in a while. If you usually study at home, try moving to a different room or to a nearby café to learn in a new setting. Another strategy to try is to study after doing something new, since during this time, our brain cells are more open to making new connections, making it an ideal time for learning or studying.
3. Read as much as possible
Reading can be an excellent workout for your brain and is generally considered to be a great way to stay sharp. Reading books, magazines and news articles is helps to exercise the regions of the brain responsible for language processing. Recently, neuroscientists have revealed that reading a novel can do wonders for your brain. Specifically, the scientists used brain imaging techniques to show that that reading a novel improves brain function simultaneously on many levels. The researchers found that reading a novel increased readers’ brain connectivity, and improved their ability to take on the perspective of a different person. In addition, reading is a great way to stay sharp throughout life and to prevent aging-related memory loss.
4. Stay curious
Learning is a very important process for the brain that not only “updates” existing neural networks, but also creates new ones. Many people associate learning with school, memorization and frustration, but it doesn’t need to be this way! Practicing a new hobby that you enjoy or developing a new skill that is interesting to you also count as learning processes, and are great for further developing your brain and keeping you healthy. An interesting study by researchers at University of California has shown that curiosity helps to prepare the brain for learning and long-term memory storage. Therefore, piquing your own curiosity not only makes things more interesting, but can also help you learn and better retain information.
5. Get enough sleep
Although most of us already know that getting enough sleep is important, we often fail to make those seven or eight hours of sleep a priority. However, poor sleep quality also interferes with brain function. In fact, research studies show us that sleep deprivation negatively impacts our attention span and memory. Lack of sleep not only negatively affects our memory recall, but also prevents memory consolidation — our ability to make new memories. In addition, it is during sleep that the waste and metabolic products are eliminated from the brain and brain connections are remodeled and modified. Sleep does wonders for our brains, so make sure you don’t shortchange it get the rest you need.
6. Diet and exercise
A healthy diet and physical activity are also very important for our brains. Eating well and getting enough exercise are well known for their positive effects on our cognitive function. For examples, studies have demonstrated that exercise increases the production of new brain cells in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is important in learning and memory. In addition to making our bodies healthier, regular aerobic exercise also boosts our memory function and thinking skills. There are also certain foods that can improve our brain function. Complex carbohydrates and foods with a low glycemic index allow for a steady supply of glucose to the brain, helping us to stay alert throughout the day. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish and nuts, support brain function, prevent depression and may even protect us from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Hi! We’re Team NeuroGum, aficionados of all things brain-related, from creativity to working out. With backgrounds in art, science, and athletics, we love delving into all the potentials of the human body.
Ways to keep your brain sharp and healthy at all times was originally published in Think Tank by NeuroGum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.