Use it or Lose it: Regularly Exercise Your Brain
You know how people tend to get chubby and lose muscle mass as they age? In a sense, the same thing happens to your brain. Neurons (brain cells) die off slowly from decreased circulation and nutrition, creating gaps in the vast circuit board that is your brain. While the ability to grow new neurons is debated, it is possible to make new connections within this network.
As you were developing in your mothers stomach, your brain was creating neurons at a rate of about 15 billion per hour. Upon being born, you entered the world with over 100 billion neurons. While neurons are pretty amazing little cells, it isnt until they connect with each other that they really shine. Every time you learned how to move a muscle, manipulate something in your environment, or make a noise, hundreds of new neural connections were made. Up through your teen years you continued to create millions of new connections as you learn new things like how to play an instrument and how to speak a foreign language.
As We Age
You can learn best before about the age of 20. After that, neurons slowly being to die off as your bodily systems (cardiovascular, digestive, etc) wear out, delivering less oxygen and fewer nutrients to the brain. So why are we still able to learn when were 30 or 70 years old? Its all about making new connections while reinforcing existing ones.
Repairing Broken Connections
When we learn new things, were essentially creating new memories and then later recalling them. Even after neurons are lost, new connections can be made to restore function. But before you jump down my throat with the What about spinal cord injuries? argument, realize that there is a limit. Severe spinal cord or brain injuries cannot currently be repaired naturally by making new connections simply because there are just too many connections to be made.
Processes that involve fewer connections, however, can be created or strengthened through mental exercises. Examples of mental exercises include learning a new language, writing a story, playing word games like Scrabble or Boggle, solving a series of simple equations, doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles, learning to play an instrument, or painting and drawing.
Mood Affects Brain Function
Brain function can also be greatly affected by mood. Those who find themselves regularly depressed, anxious, or otherwise agitated are significantly less able to learn new things or recall memories. Learning and memory depend heavily on motivation and focus, both of which are disturbed when we become upset. To keep your brain healthy and working at its full potential, treat it as you would a loved pet by giving it plenty of food, sleep, and exercise. Sources: http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-Your-Brain http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg18625011.900
Photo Credit: TZA