Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and rewire its connections throughout life. Engaging in neuroplasticity exercises can create new neural pathways and strengthen existing ones. This allows the brain to essentially reprogram itself, enhancing cognitive abilities, learning new skills faster, recovering from trauma, and more.
Read on to learn about neuroplasticity, different techniques to rewire your brain, supportive foods and tips to follow an effective neuroplasticity training regimen.
What Is Neuroplasticity? How Does It Work?
Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to change and adapt in response to experiences by reorganizing neural connectivity. The brain can form new connections between neurons referred to as synapses.
It can also strengthen or weaken synaptic connections and even form entirely new neurons through neurogenesis. Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain is capable of repairing and rewiring itself by re-mapping neural pathways throughout one’s life.
When we engage in repeated thoughts or behaviors, we strengthen certain synaptic routes. Neuroplasticity allows these connections to be remolded by introducing new stimuli through learning.
This in turn forms newer synaptic routes while weakening existing ones. Overall, neuroplasticity enables the brain to essentially “re-program” its wiring.
Different Types Of Neuroplasticity
There are several forms of neuroplasticity including:
⚈ Structural plasticity
This involves physical changes in the brain like neurogenesis, the formation of new synapses and neural wiring, changes in synapse strength, and pruning away of old synapses. Overall, the brain’s structure adapts.
⚈ Functional plasticity
This form represents biochemical changes underlying structural remodeling that allows new functions. It involves synaptic signaling strength variations, neurotransmitter levels, epigenetics, and more at a cellular level.
⚈ Sensory substitution
When one sense is lost, the associated brain regions can be recruited by other senses in a process called cross-modal plasticity e.g. blind people’s enhanced touch and hearing.
⚈ Developmental plasticity
The brain demonstrates heightened neuroplasticity in infancy and early childhood as neuronal connections are developing. Environment and experiences rewire the still malleable brain optimally.
⚈ Injury-induced plasticity
Following injuries like strokes, the child or adult brain remolds connections through plasticity under healthy conditions to enable recovery of lost skills.
⚈ Transgenerational plasticity
Changes in gene expression and structure caused by environmental influences can be inherited and influence neuroplasticity potential of subsequent generations.
⚈ Hebbian plasticity
Coined after psychologist Donald Hebb it refers to “neurons that fire together, wire together”. Synaptic pathways activated simultaneously get strengthened via long-term potentiation.
Different Techniques To Rewire Your Cognitive Pathways In Brain
Here are the top techniques to harness neuroplasticity for reshaping your brain’s neural connections:
Perform Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic activities like brisk walking, cycling, swimming etc increase blood flow and oxygen delivery while stimulating brain cell growth in critical regions. Make aerobic exercise a regular habit.
Learn New Skills
Keep exposing yourself to new skills to forge connections between existing and new neurons. Try new hobbies, languages, instruments, etc. Switch up routines and challenge yourself.
Try Cognitive Training
Do brain training exercises like memory games, logic puzzles, and problem-solving activities. Use workbooks or computer programs. Mastering these strengthens cognitive abilities.
Mindfulness meditation helps focus, improves attention control, and forms beneficial synaptic pathways via enhanced self-awareness. Follow guided meditations and yoga.
Follow Brain-Enriching Diet
Ensure your diet includes fatty fish, berries, nuts, seeds, cocoa, turmeric, green tea, and other brain-boosting foods. Key nutrients support neuroplasticity.
Get Good Sleep
Sleep is vital for consolidating memories and learning into neural tissue. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night for the brain to reorganize connections formed throughout the day.
Learn To Play An Instrument
Playing a musical instrument engages many regions of the brain making you learn new skills. It boosts neural connections and gray matter volume in the brain.
This technique uses real-time displays of brain activity to teach self-regulation of brain waves which enhances plasticity and facilitates desired rewiring.
Engage Senses In New Ways
Expose your senses to new stimuli e.g. switch hands used to explore objects, and try new tastes and smells. Novel sensory engagement promotes plasticity.
Retrain Your Brain
Neuroplasticity can be used to retrain the brain to overcome learned negative behaviors, thought patterns, and emotional triggers by creating alternate neural pathways.
Which All Foods Are Good For Neuroplasticity?
Foods rich in the following nutrients help enable neuroplasticity:
➜ Omega 3 fatty acids – Found in fatty fish, chia seeds, walnuts.
➜ Antioxidants – Found in blueberries, prunes, pecans, dark chocolate
➜ Vitamin B6, B9, B12 – Found in chickpeas, lentils, spinach, avocados
➜ Vitamin C, E – Found in citrus fruits, papaya, olive oil, almonds
➜ Magnesium – Found in edamame, banana, pumpkin seeds
➜ Zinc – Found in cashews, oysters, egg yolks
➜ Prebiotics & Probiotics – Found in yogurt, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut
Tips & Precautions To Improve Your Cognitive Pathways
Here are some tips to follow when engaging in neuroplasticity exercises:
Engaging in targeted exercises that stimulate neuroplasticity can allow you to rewire thinking patterns, develop new capabilities, recover lost function and keep your brain resilient. Use a combination of physical, mental, sensory and lifestyle approaches for remodeling your brain effectively through neuroplasticity. Stay consistent and be patient with your training. Your brain has an incredible capacity to adapt and change when guided properly.
Neuroplasticity continues throughout life but decreases with age. Middle age onwards, more effortful approaches may be required for neuroplastic changes.
It takes 4-8 weeks of regular neuroplasticity training to strengthen neural pathways and skills enough to observe measurable improvements.
Blind individuals’ brains demonstrate heightened tactile and auditory function by recruiting visual areas of the brain to process touch and sound.
Glutamate is the primary neurotransmitter that enables long term potentiation underlying neuroplasticity and learning.
Yes, certain antidepressants like SSRIs promote neuroplasticity by increasing serotonin which strengthens neural connections.