At one time, scientists thought our brains stopped developing after childhood. New studies have shown that the brain is constantly changing through a process called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and adapt via neuron connections and pathways. The processes of neuroplasticity allow us to learn new skills, change our mindset, create new memories, and change our habits. The brain's gray matter controls everything from muscle control, memory, seeing, hearing, speech, emotions, decision-making, and self-control. The white matter connects the regions of the gray matter together. Neuroplasticity builds new and strengthens old neural connections, even with injuries such as stroke or traumatic brain injury. This means we can rewire the brain to work in a new way! Not only does the brain adapt to change by strengthening neuron connections, but it also kills off weak neuron connections. The saying "Use it or lose it" is a real thing. So, how do we maximize the benefit of neuroplasticity? Repetition, repetition, repetition! Let's talk about the best ways to nourish the brain and build newer, stronger neural connections.
Now that we know how neuroplasticity works, what are the best ways to nourish the process? One of the best ways to improve your brain is through Exercise. Exercise increases the blood flow to the brain and can stimulate and strengthen neural connections in the brain's cells. Some studies show that Exercise increases the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are the body's chemical messengers, allowing the neurons to communicate. Endorphins are the most common neurotransmitters released during Exercise. Endorphins have an analgesic effect, meaning they block pain perception and create a feeling of well-being. Additional neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are your body's natural happy pills. The release of these neurotransmitters is beneficial in those with the Parkinson's Disease diagnosis by slowing the disease progression and making new neural connections. It has also been shown to improve fine motor coordination and may protect against cognitive decline. Exercising at least 150 minutes a week may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's and dementia. So what type of Exercise is the best for neuroplasticity? Cardiovascular Exercise is definitely in the top runnings for better brain health. Physical therapy is also a great way to improve your brain health. Specialty physical therapy can improve your cognition with specific exercises. These exercises can improve your balance, motor planning, and daily functional movements. We all know that Exercise improves your physical health and improves your mood. You can now list your brain health as a benefit!
Another way to improve your neuroplasticity is by learning something new. Most learning involves rewiring or making and strengthening connections between neurons. Learning new skills increases your brain's ability to adapt to change. You can challenge your brain by doing puzzles, brainteasers, taking a new route, learning a new language, etc. The more you repeatedly practice a new activity, you strengthen the brain's neurons. "Cells that fire together wire together."
Now let's discuss how to support new neural connections. Sleep is essential for supporting your brain. Sleep is the only time that our bodies heal and recuperate. It is also time for our brain to rest and organize what it needs to do to prepare for the following day. REM sleep is essential for motor memory consolidation. This is when the neural connections become more stable and concrete. Without appropriate sleep, the brain can not create or maintain the ideal level of neural connections. It is essential to know that the quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity. Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep to gain the proper brain function. Many factors, including medication, sleep disorders, schedule, stress level, and more, can influence sleep quality. There are many ways to improve your sleep quality to ensure the appropriate rest for your brain.
1. Prioritize your sleep. The best way to prioritize your sleep is to get a sleeping schedule. Going to bed each night at the same time, weekends included.
2. Set the stage for a comfortable atmosphere. You can do this by keeping a cool room temperature, keeping your room free of electronics, and keeping your room dark. The darker, the better.
3. Exercise. Here it is again, Exercise. It not only strengthens your neural connections but improves your sleep quality.
Neuroplasticity is excellent news for everyone, including those with an injury or diagnosis impairing cognitive function. Incorporating Exercise, especially forced intensity, can bring blood to the brain, release neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), and form new and strengthen old connections in the brain. We can support the process by getting good quality and appropriate quantity of sleep. Physical therapy is a great place to start if you are looking for the appropriate types of Exercise to improve neuroplasticity in your brain. Wellness 360 physical therapy and massage specializes in neuro-rehab, focusing specifically on post-stroke and Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis. Check us out at www.wellness360fitness.com.