The Youthful Brain

Did you ever hear that phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”?

Well it turns out, as I learned while working on the story Brain Waves, that phrase is wrong. You CAN teach an old dog a new trick. In fact, our brains have the ability to physically change no matter how old we are. An 80-year-old can learn something new just as well as a person who is 30 years old. Everything you have learned and experienced has been encoded within millions of pathways or networks of neurons in your brain and you can keep building new pathways as you get older and learn new things. The scientific property is called neuroplasticity. It means that mental training can improve your mind by physically changing the structure of your brain.

But scientists say to keep your brain young, it’s important to consider the brain a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it eventually atrophies and dies. Conversely, if you exercise a muscle it will get stronger. The same is true with the brain. It must be kept active or it too will atrophy and wither away.

So, here are some tips to keep your brain young.

  1. Physical Exercise — This exercise is physical in nature. There is evidence that regular aerobic exercise not only helps your heart, lungs, and bones, it also improves brain function.

  2. Exercise Your Brain — Become a life-long learner. The brain continuously changes, strengthens and grows its networks the more you learn. And that learning can take many forms, from reading the newspaper to taking an online course, to even playing video games.

  3. Be Positive — It may sound silly, but thoughts and attitude impact the chemistry of the brain. Positive thoughts equal positive chemistry. People think and perform better in a positive environment.

  4. Be Social — Along the same line as point #3, being social helps to stimulate the brain as well as promote a positive attitude. Take a class, volunteer, keep in touch with family and friends. It all helps the brain.

It all makes sense. Our thoughts impact and change the physical structure of the brain. And when you learn something new, the neurons in the brain physically change by making new pathways. Those new pathways are needed to store and retrieve the new information. Think new thoughts, and the brain stays forever young. 

See, you just learned something new!

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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