Our understanding of the human brain has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Until about the 1970s, the scientific community largely believed that the brain was only “plastic,” or changeable in early childhood, and was then “set” for the rest of one’s life.
However, the world of neuroscience has been flipped on its head. Decades of research now show that many aspects of the brain remain changeable throughout one's lifetime. These studies demonstrate that substantial changes occur in the lowest neocortical processing areas, and that these changes can profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to experience. Neuroscientific research now indicates that experience can actually change both the brain's physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology).
This is GREAT NEWS!
As a result of this new realization, three terms have emerged as driving concepts in the world of neuroscience: Neuroplasticity, Cognitive Reserve and Neurogenesis.
Neuroplasticity - also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that describes lasting change to the brain throughout an animal's life course. It is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations, or to changes in their environment. Simply put, the brain adapts, and changes itself, based on input from the body, and from the environment.
Cognitive Reserve - describes the mind's resistance to damage of the brain. In other words, it is the idea that mental exercise, social interaction, and brain-stimulating activities, like cognitive training, can build up “reserve”, thereby helping to stave off declining memory, thinking, and cognitive function. Think of it as your brain’s way of paving extra side routes, in case there is an accident on the main highway.
Neurogenesis – is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. We now know that neurogenesis can occur throughout ones life. Learning new things, proper diet, some forms of exercise, and a healthy lifestyle can all enhance neurogenesis.
What does this mean to you…
Your brain is always changing/adapting based on how much, and in what ways, you challenge your brain each day, as well as your exercise and sleep habits, diet, ability to manage stress, and social interactions.
You can help direct the way your brain changes! Your brain is constantly trying to improve itself. You can help your brain thrive, by engaging in targeted cognitive exercises, specific physical exercises and a healthy lifestyle. The choice is yours!
The articles and studies below are just a sampling of the latest research in the world of neuroscience.