Neurology, the scientific study of the brain, is a relatively young field of study compared to other branches of science. Due to the complexity of how a brain works, scientists were never able to see how a brain works until recent years.
With technological improvements and sophisticated equipment, neurologists are now able to observe the intricate workings of the brain. This is why it’s only in recent years, 1998 to be exact, that neuroscientists found out that the brain is capable of “neurogenesis”, a process in which your brain grows new brain cells.
Although there were a handful of scientists who believed otherwise, before 1998, the accepted view is that the brain is fixed and if you suffer from cognitive decline, there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. Now we know otherwise.
In this article, I’ll introduce to some techniques that you can adopt to encourage neurogenesis. This is beneficial not just for the older generation because the more brain cells you possess, the better your brain function is. You could learn faster, remember better, react faster and even live an overall happier life.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.
- Various studies involving brain scans found that every thought that passes through your mind affects your brain just like an action would. For example, when you practice a certain skill over a period of time, your brain will learn and thus you’ll master the skill. But a scientific study showed that mental practice alone can yield the same result.
This sort of “visualizations” thus stimulates the brain. Stimulation, as I have mentioned before, encourages neurogenesis. Scientists have always observed how people who think positively tend to live a healthier life – now they know why.
- You don’t use, you lose. This is the first principle that governs the way your brain works. I mentioned previously how practice makes perfect. This is because as you practice, your brain grows new brain cells, called neurons, and creates synapses between those neurons.
Synapses allow the brain to work more efficiently by creating cause-and-effect relationships between neurons. Neurons that fire together, wire together through these synapses so that they’ll always fire together.
But these synapses break down if the neurons no longer fire together. Thus if you spend most of your time sitting down, or if you live an extremely sedentary life, it is inevitable for you to lose your ability to balance yourself on your legs as the synapses in you motor cortex breaks down.
This can be seen in people who were in a serious accident and had their legs in a cast for months on end. Though physiologically we should not have any problem walking, they often couldn’t because they need to relearn it.
Thus frequent exercise, something as simple as a slow walk, could prevent you from losing your independence later in old age. The same applies to your memory and your learning ability. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
- Neurogenesis requires energy to be carried out. Most of the energy that you possess, you acquire from your diet. Thus by consuming a healthy diet is crucial to a health brain. Stimulation alone will not be sufficient if your brain does not have the building block for neurogenesis.
Generally speaking, any food beneficial for your body will be beneficial for your brain. The first change you should make to your diet is to consume more leafy green vegetables. This is because they contain large amount of anti-oxidants, which combat the process of oxidation. As you might have known, oxidation kills cells – including brain cells.
But there’s one particular vitamin that I want to single out here in this article. Vitamin B12, is crucial for normal cognitive function but unfortunately, it cannot be found in any plant source. Beef and eggs are excellent sources of B12 but if you’re a vegan, be sure to supplement your diet with this vitamin.
Extreme cases of B12 deficiency can cause psychosis and mania.
- You can get most brain stimulation from your daily life. But if you want to reverse a particular condition – say memory loss or even Alzheimer’s – or if you want to improve a particular function of your brain, I would recommend that you perform specially designed brain exercises.
There are various brain exercises, ranging from those that stimulate auditory processing to those that stimulates visual processing. Because these exercises are specially designed, they are generally more effective at correcting a specific problem than general techniques that you can do yourself.
Brain exercises that target the auditory processing, for example, increase your ability to make out sounds and thus allow you to remember verbal stimulus better (things that you hear). That that targets visual processing, on the other hand, allows you react faster and remember visual stimulus better (such as the written word and facial recognition).
Thus it is a mistake to assume that brain exercises benefits only the older generation. Fact is, everyone could use a little brain exercises to improve mental functions.