20, 30, 40? all new beginnings

birthday2I’ve got great news for you: twenty -OK, let’s be nice: twenty-five- is no longer the end of the world! With our life expectancy increasing every year, I have to say that’s a relief. Imagine… rather than imagine just do the math for a moment: about 95 years life expectancy, of which 25 years of amazing growth and joy and then, some very long 70 years of decline, atrophy, crumbling and more. This is enough of a scenario to give everyone reading this, a good chill down their spine, and a good reason to open that bottle of wine forgotten at the back of the kitchen. And actually that bottle of wine –in moderation of course- maybe a good idea… Indeed some studies show that it can actually help the response time of…

…our brain of course! And yes, I am talking about the life of our brain.

The notion that our brain stopped growing and evolving once we reached 20 years old, coupled with the belief that we stop producing neurons around 25, had probably been one of the biggest myth of this past century and one myth many of us would have gowned with. And yet, at the end of 19th Century, William James already debated on the brain capability for growth, his concept based on observations. However our society, completely addicted to scientific data and logical proof, had to wait for the development of MRI and other brain imaging technologies for finally recognizing the constant capability of our brain for evolving, changing, repairing itself and growing. Yes, we can produce neurons and this even after 70 years old and more. Yes, we can change our brain and this even after 80 years old and more. Finally, twenty is no longer the end of the world, and this capability of our brain is what is called Neuroplasticity.

More precisely –thanks to Wikipedia- “Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions, as well as to changes resulting from bodily injuries”. One of the most documented aspects of Neuroplasticity is probably the one linked to the treatment of brain damage, where a brain activity associated with a given function may relocate to a different location, the brain simply “rewiring” itself. Fascinating research is now available; like the work of Paul Bach-y-Rita on sensory substitution and brain plasticity, or the work of Norman Doidge on stroke recovery. Norman Doidge actually coined the terms of  “positive plasticity”, such as recovering capabilities after a stroke with some re-mapping of the brain, and “negative plasticity” which can be created by negative habits such as drug addiction, an obsessive-compulsive disorder or alcoholism.

Enough about the hard stuff -the theory- and time for some practical application, and of course I am talking about those famous “change muscles” we talked about last week in my post “Survival is not Mandatory”. That very simple exercise of using a different washing up liquid, paying attention to the differences, somewhere is actually creating brain plasticity as a result of the learning experience created -yes the paying attention to the changes and the new information.

How does that work?

Picture a garden blanketed with a deep layer of snow and you want to cross from your house to the shade: the first crossing is hard work, the second time is easier, and the more you repeat walking over that path the easier it becomes until you actually stop thinking about it, you just walk. This is kind of what happens in your brain with Neuroplasticity where crossing that path in the snow means developing a new neural path/network.

So go walk where you have been yet, and keep celebrating how your brain grows every single day!

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