Our interactions with the world cause the brain to reorganize synaptic connections. This can provoke new thoughts and ideas, cause significant shifts in behavior, and interfere with or improve our ability to function. Brain reorganization occurs when undamaged nerve fibers grow new nerve endings to connect with neurons that have been damaged. They can also connect with undamaged nerve cells to create entirely new neural pathways that allow a person to accomplish tasks in a different way. This rewiring of neural pathways is especially important in recovery from physical or emotional trauma.
As we age neuroplasticity declines, but it does not stop. New neurons can appear in parts of the brain until the day we die and stimulating our brains can have a significant positive impact on the aging process. The easiest way to nurture neuroplasticity is to choose to open and exercise your mind. Do something new in this new year, especially an activity that offers challenges. Learn a language or any new task, research an interesting subject, read, exercise frequently, make or listen to music, play brain stimulating games, discuss topics that interest you with others. Research indicates that combining physical activity with mental stimulation provides stronger impact on the brain than either alone, so activities such as walking while talking or listening to music or a book, learning to dance, singing or whistling while doing household chores can offer added benefit. It is also helpful to pay attention to your thoughts. Studies have shown that prolonged negative thinking interferes with the brain’s ability to think and remember, and a study by the American Academy of Neurology found a correlation between habitual negative thinking and dementia. Challenging old beliefs and and behaviors, and choosing to look at situations with an open mind can stimulate positive changes in our cognitive function and improve our quality of life regardless of age.