1 - The adult human brain is surprisingly malleable: it can rewire itself and even grow new cells. Here are some habits that can fine-tune your mind
By Emily Anthes
Scientists are finding that the adult human brain is far more malleable than they once thought. Your behavior and environment can cause substantial rewiring of your brain or a reorganization of its functions.
2 - Studies have shown that exercise can improve the brain’s executive skills, which include planning, organizing and multitasking. What you eat can also influence how effectively your brain operates.
Activities such as listening to music, playing video games and meditating may boost cognitive performance as well.
3 - Amputees sometimes experience phantom limb sensations, feeling pain, itching or other impulses coming from limbs that no longer exist. Neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran worked with patients who had so-called phantom limbs, including Tom, a man who had lost one of his arms.
4 - Ramachandran discovered that if he stroked Tom’s face, Tom felt like his missing fingers were also being touched. Each part of the body is represented by a different region of the somatosensory cortex, and, as it happens, the region for the hand is adjacent to the region for the face. The neuroscientist deduced that a remarkable change had taken place in Tom’s somatosensory cortex.
5 - Ramachandran concluded that because Tom’s cortex was no longer getting input from his missing hand, the region processing sensation from his face had slowly taken over the hand’s territory. So touching Tom’s face produced sensation in his nonexistent fingers.
6 - This kind of rewiring is an example of neuroplasticity, the adult brain’s ability to change and remold itself. Scientists are finding that the adult brain is far more malleable than they once thought. Our behavior and environment can cause substantial rewiring of the brain or a reorganization of its functions and where they are located. Some believe that even our patterns of thinking alone are enough to reshape the brain.
7 - Researchers now know that neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons) is a normal feature of the adult brain. Studies have shown that one of the most active regions for neurogenesis is the hippocampus, a structure that is vitally important for learning and long-term memory.
8 - Neurogenesis also takes place in the olfactory bulb, which is involved in processing smells. But not all the neurons that are born survive; in fact, most of them die. To survive, the new cells need nutrients and connections with other neurons that are already thriving. Scientists are currently identifying the factors that affect the rate of neurogenesis and the survival of new cells. Mental and physical exercise, for instance, both boost neuron survival.
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