Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis, two terms commonly used when it comes to brain health. We, just don’t need to dive so much into Neuroscience to learn what they mean and how we can help ourselves to keep our brain healthy. Brain health is important because as long as our brain is healthy, we keep learning new things and our memory is intact. As ageing progresses, we can prevent ourselves from certain chronic conditions like dementia, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease by maintaining good brain health.
Neuroplasticity, meaning that our brain is continuously changing through our entire lifetime depending upon our experiences, the environment, habits, behaviour. Neural pathways keep rewiring and dewiring depending upon what is necessary and what is no longer useful. Therefore, being in a positive environment, thinking and feeling positive is all very important.
Neurogenesis meaning formation of new neurons, that is our ability to learn new things and retain in our memory. Previously, it was believed that neurogenesis stopped once we reach our adulthood, that is around the age of 20. Now, researches have shown, that neurogenesis occurs throughout our lifetime. So, we can learn until the day we die. In our brain, the neurons are formed from the neural stem cells and progenitor cells which are in the Hippocampus mainly and also in other regions of the brain. Though every day, new neurons are formed, before, theycould get matured, many of them get pruned. A special protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) has been identified which is responsible for promoting the maturation, survival and maintenance of the neurons.
So, how do we facilitate this process of neurogenesis and maintain the level of BDNF? 5 simple ways
1. Exercise: Any exercise which can increase the heart rate mainly aerobic exercise, running, brisk walking.
2.Food: Rich in omega 3 fatty acids like fishes (salmon, tuna, sardines), avocados, chia, hemp seeds and nuts. Other sources which help are turmeric, blueberries, goji berries, lotus roots, algae, green tea, coffee. However, too much caffeine is detrimental to neurogenesis.
3.Emotions: Experiencing positive emotions like joy, excitement, love and feeling good, stimulate Neurogenesis. Such emotional experience can appear by being creative, learning a new skill, going out in Nature, proper sleep, listening to Nature sounds, good music and sex. A positive relationship with partners, peers, relatives is helpful. Being in chronic stress, anger, anxiety are detrimental to neurogenesis.
4.Mind stimulation: Cognitive abilities like reading, learning, memorizing, discussing new ideas, taking up music lessons, problem-solving, all stimulate neurogenesis. Cognitive reserve (resilience against brain damage) can be built up by engaging mind stimulating activities or intellectual work.
5.Meditation: Prayers and meditation can stimulate neurogenesis. Practising mindfulness, compassion, being in silence, stillness all facilitate neurogenesis.
Some lifestyle factors which can decrease neurogenesis are a high intake of carbohydrate, sugar, fried foods, inflammatory foods, chronic caffeine intake, smoking, alcohol, obesity, chronic stress, lack of sleep, negative emotions like sadness, depression, lack of engagement, boring life. Direct trauma to the head can be very detrimental to neurogenesis. Nowadays, even environmental pollution is quite hazardous to brain health.
If you are intending to learn more about lifestyle changes that you can do to improve your brain health, I recommend the book: Neurogenesis diet and lifestyle by Dr Brant Cortright