Understanding neuroplasticity

What is neuroplastcity?

At its most basic, neuroplasticity is a term that relates to the way in which the brain alters its physical properties based on how it is stimulated. When we gain physical skills, for example, we often put it down to muscle memory. In many cases, however, it is because the brain has altered that we get better at an activity or that it becomes second nature. Like other parts of the body, including other organs, the brain is in a constant state of renewal as cells die and are replaced. In the brain's case, this means it can be reshaped, rather like the way plastic can be melted down and altered. As such, scientists use the term plasticity to refer to the brain's ability to reshape itself according to individual circumstances.

 How does neuroplasticity work?

When the brain regenerates itself, it devotes more neural pathways to the most demanding parts of brain function. When people suffer from adult blindness, for example, their visual cortex may be unused in some ways and – over time – this may mean that this part of the brain is given over to other tasks. The brain's grey matter and its synapses – which carry electrical signals – can literally alter their functions so that we can continue to adapt mentally. People who have suffered irreparable brain damage, for example, will often recover somewhat because working parts of the brain slowly 'relearn' how to perform cognitive tasks that were previously carried out in the parts of the brain which have since been lost.

Can neuroplasticity alter IQ levels?

Essentially, IQ levels are merely determined by the ability to solve the sort of logic puzzles found in IQ tests. If you do enough of these sorts of puzzles, then you will get better at them, either solving more correctly or applying your knowledge of simple ones to solve harder ones. This is neuroplasticity at work. So, neuroplasticity does work for IQ tests but also for many other aspects of life, such as riding a bike, playing an instrument or even in your ability to meditate more deeply.

How do you promote greater neuroplasticity?

Research is ongoing in this field, but it is known that exercise is good since this promotes oxygen flow to the brain. Repetition is also beneficial since it helps to send electrical signals down the same neural pathways. In addition, some studies have shown that chemicals in turmeric and fish oils can promote brain growth, an essential element in neuroplasticity, of course.

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