Our brains are amazing. They do so much for us, most without us actually noticing! And when we have a healthy brain, we can do just about anything. Therefore, neuroplasticity is a must. Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
From my neuroscience-based training in BeAbove Leadership, I was introduced to the five keys to neuroplasticity. They’re necessary to the process of making new neural pathways, or connections. The more imbalanced (or the more one of these is compromised), the harder it will be for the brain to be flexible, agile, and healthy, especially when stress is in the picture.
Here’s a look at the five keys to neuroplasticity and how you can find balance with them to keep your brain aligned, integrated, and all online working hard for you!
Not surprisingly, one of the keys to neuroplasticity is exercise. Exercise oxygenates the blood and provides a strong blood flow to the brain. Both are necessary for creating new neural pathways.
It’s recommended that to keep our brains healthy, we should aim for 30 minutes of activity at least three days a week. That said, if you don’t have 30 minutes in a day, try 15 minutes of intense effort. On the flip side, if you’re not into extreme workouts, you can do a longer length of gentle intensity.
I like to vary my exercise to keep things fresh. Hiking one day, jumping on my Peloton the next, doing a long stretching routine the next, for example. But I know there are lots of people who love routine and will do the same things each day. Whatever works for you, as long as you’re moving!
Also not surprisingly, sleep is essential to a healthy brain! (It’s actually been found that sleep deprivation is akin to drunkenness in terms of mental cognition and motor skills). And certainly when I don’t get enough sleep, I feel out of it — although I’m more cranky when I’m sleep deprived than, let’s say, alcohol enriched!
Here’s why sleep is necessary to neuroplasticity… When we sleep, everything we’ve done during the day is either integrated or cleaned out. So that visualization practice you’ve been doing is locked in (because it’s important) but the name of your cousin’s friend’s dog is most likely going to be lost (unless your brain thinks it’s important).
Another effect sleep has on neuroplasticity is that it prepares the brain for learning and memory function. Our neural impulses are reversed when we sleep — they literally move the opposite way from when we’re awake! This aids in that clearing I mentioned and it also is during this time that our brain cells are primed for future learning.
A good diet is necessary for your body to function well and also for your brain to function well. There are many foods that are inflammatory and make it harder for those neural pathways to be formed and communicate.
It goes without saying, but we should limit those types of food if we want good neuroplasticity in our brain. These are things like alcohol, sugar, certain oils, and some grains. (In other words, stuff that’s “a treat” because we shouldn’t have it often.)
Of course, things like Omega-3s and vitamins help our brain build and grow neural pathways. Berries, deep leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and foods containing B vitamins are all great “brain food.”
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Here’s a fun one! Novelty is essential to neuroplasticity and brain health. Challenging the brain with new experiences stimulates neural connections. Here’s why: If we don’t know how to perform a certain task or how something is done, we don’t have a pathway already created to help us perform it.
That’s why things like having positive self-talk aren’t automatic when you begin focusing on them. The connection that already exists is for that negative self-talk that’s automatic. So you have to create a new pathway for that new behavior.
When we do novel things, our brain works to make these new connections and in doing so, it gets stronger and more agile!
Be mindful to keep doing it, though, because to reap these benefits, the challenge has to grow as the brain does.
The final key to neuroplasticity is focus and attention. These are things like studying or meditating. When we pay close attention, we increase our neurotransmitters and create new neural pathways. And as we know from the section on novelty, those new pathways help to strengthen the brain.
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Especially if we feel stuck or stagnant, we need to focus on our neuroplasticity. These five keys will give you a framework to make sure you’re adding in enough of each to keep your brain running well. In addition, the more we do these things, the more stamina we have to get through this hard part of 2021!
Having an agile brain, or a lot of neuroplasticity and the ability to make quick connections, is key to keeping your brain healthy. And the more agile your brain is, the more you can accomplish in your life and business.