Children and young people are known for their agile and flexible thinking, they are able to learn millions of new words, actions, routines and solve problems during the first twenty years of their lives. From well before they are born, babies are already busy connecting up parts of their brain.
During their early years a child’s brain connects up their neurons, rewires, grows millions of new brain cells (particularly in the grey matter) and rewires again during puberty.
For many years, it was believed that the wiring in the brain was hard-wired during adolescence, meaning that adults were unable to learn new skills and that the brain’s power was degenerative over time. The theory was that during critical periods in the development of a child, their brains developed permanent neural pathways that fixed the way the brain processed things.
In recent years, this has been shown to not be the case. In the 1960s, scientists, such as Livingstone (1966) and Bennett et al (1964) developed the concept of neuroplasticity. This is the concept that the brain can adapt its wiring to maximise its potential. In the 21st сentury, this ability to change small or large scale wiring in the brain was shown to be present in the adult brain, not just those of children (Pascual-Leone et al, 2002). Rakic (2002) and Ponti et al (2008) have demonstrated that the birth of new brain cells still occurs in adulthood too.
Nowadays, it is generally accepted that whilst most large-scale remapping of the brain occurs in childhood and puberty, that there are a host of other rewiring processes happening throughout adulthood.
Apart from helping us when we learn new skills, there are other vital functions of this neuroplasticity. After brain damage or trauma, such as a stroke, the brain is proven to rewire to make up for or avoid the damaged part of the brain in order to try and keep as much functionality as it can.
Things that will help adult’s brain to continue to be adaptive, and encourage neuroplasticity, include:
- Learning new skills every day
- Learning a new language
- Practices like mindfulness or Gratitude to focus the mind
- Learn meditation
- New social situations
- Regular light exercise
- Ensure you have a good sleep routine
- Having a balanced diet
- Consider foods that have high levels of Omega-3, Folic Acid and B12
- Engage in cognitive activities, such as brain games
- Navigate your journey rather than rely on sat nav
- To name but a few...
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