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Plastic Brains: The Secret to Longevity

As we get older (as I can assure all of you most certainly are), we may become resolved that we are as smart as we’re ever going to get, and it’s only downhill from here.

Recent research has shown that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Neuroplasticity refers to “changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.”

This means, in essence, that your brain doesn’t just stop developing.

It also suggests that your brain has ways of healing even in the case of head injury. In fact, through subjecting your brain to challenges and different types of exercise, you have the ability to ‘re-wire’ your brain. “Neuroscientific research indicates that experience can actually change both the brain’s physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology). Neuroscientists are currently engaged in a reconciliation of critical period studies demonstrating the immutability of the brain after development with the more recent research showing how the brain can, and does, change.” What does this mean for you?

I recently attended a talk of renowned researcher, Tiffany Chow, a Senior Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Behavioural Neurology. She specializes in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and was looking for ways to stave off the negative effects of each (memory loss, confusion, personality changes, etc). There are ways to encourage brain plasticity by avoiding beta-amyloid blockages in the small arteries of the brain. Beta-amyloids are consistently found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.  Here are some of her tips.

READ: Read everything you can get your hands on. “It can expand how you are encoding new information.” That means you can develop your capacity to do tasks in several ways, so that if you forget one of them, you have a back up. “The important thing,” says Chow, “is to build up that repertoire so you can compensate when amyloids build up in your brain.”

DEVELOP SOCIAL NETWORKS: Not Facebook, but your face to face, real life social networks. This ensures that you remain adaptable, that you can read and gauge people’s reactions to you, and that you can deal with situations that are a little out of your comfort zone. Total comfort can create atrophy

EXERCISE: This is key, particularly exercise that has a social component. Learn Buffet can help you find new classes that meet the dual purpose of getting that physical exercise as well as the social component of meeting new people and learning a new skill.

KEEP YOUR STRESS LEVEL DOWN: Everyone has stress but it is important that we eliminate the factors in our life that we CAN control that are causing us a great deal of distress. This may be a terrible relationship, or a bad work environment, etc. etc. If you can step away from it, do so, before it gets the better of you.

Keep these tips in mind and you will hopefully keep your brain plastic for a long time to come.