Mental Yoga Week #28: Neuroplasticity and the Brain

I spend most of my time on this blog talking about the mind and how to get the most out of it. But researchers have been working for years now on the concept of neuroplasticity, the flexible brain. And, turns out, anything that improves your mind will also have a positive effect on your brain. Some research is now showing a connection between improvements in the brain and other organs, like the heart.

From a strictly lay person’s perspective, it makes perfect sense to me. The brain is the CPU for the body. It regulates the rest of the body by sending nerve impulses where needed. Then it stands to reason that a brain that is more flexible and open to new experiences can make new and better connections between ideas and stimuli to increase operational efficiency of the entire body.

In an ezine article for SharpBrain’s, Dr. Pascale Michelon, Ph.D., has this to say about neuroplasticity, “For a long time, it was believed that as we aged, the con­nec­tions in the brain became fixed. Research has shown that in fact the brain never stops chang­ing through learn­ing. Plas­tic­ity IS the capac­ity of the brain to change with learn­ing.”

Don’t you know some older people who just don’t seem to age? Their minds stay sharp. I do. Uncle Ernie, my “playmate” will be 81 years old in a week. My younger friends find him delightful. One of the things he has done every day for decades is the NY Times crossword puzzle.

Another feature of neuroplasticity that Dr. Michelon points out has to do with developing an expertise. She cites the example of the differences in brain development. When you become an expert in a spe­cific domain, according to Dr. Michelon, the areas in your brain that deal with that skill set get physically bigger.

“For instance, Lon­don taxi dri­vers have a larger hip­pocam­pus (in the pos­te­rior region) than Lon­don bus dri­vers (Maguire, Wool­lett, & Spiers, 2006). Why is that? It is because this region of the hip­pocam­pus is spe­cial­ized in acquir­ing and using com­plex spa­tial infor­ma­tion in order to nav­i­gate effi­ciently. Taxi dri­vers have to nav­i­gate around Lon­don whereas bus dri­vers fol­low a lim­ited set of routes.”

So today’s Mental Yoga exercise is to explore the Sharpbrains’ website and learn more about neuroplasticity. It will strengthen your own brain, unless you already happen to be an expert in it. In the latter case, visit the link to Sharpbrains’ list of the 50 best brain teasers (below.) I stayed up until 2 a.m. doing some fascinating “biology of the human body exercises” from the BBC.

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