Have you taken up a pandemic hobby? Developed some new skill that you never had before, such as baking bread or gardening?
Or maybe it was something that pushed your brain a bit harder. If so, you’re benefiting more than just beating boredom and taming anxiety.
We now know that adult brains contain stem cells, which allow us to generate new brain cells. These newborn brain cells have the capacity to develop into mature functional neurons to aid in memory and learning, and when we put them to work, we benefit from neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity simply means change in the nervous system. Contrary to the popular belief of days gone by, the brain has an intrinsic and dynamic ability to change in structure and function throughout our lives in response to new experiences.
Thanks to functional MRI technology, neuroscientists also know that there are two types of neuroplasticity: structural and functional.
Structural plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to alter its neuronal connections. There are new neurons constantly being produced and incorporated into the central nervous system throughout one’s life.
Structural plasticity relates to the actual volume of grey matter in the brain. That plays a role in both basic motor function and sensory perception, while functional plasticity comes from working your brain:
Functional plasticity, however, is the brain’s ability to modify and adapt the functional properties of its neurons. These changes could be the result of activities done to acquire memory, such as when we take in the information needed to perform a new kind of task, like playing a new instrument.
Here are some of the best ways to get functional neoroplasticity going:
1. Keep Working: Ever wonder why some people experience a rapid decline in cognitive abilities after they retire, especially when compared with those who keep going? Research by the Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology finds that those who do mentally challenging work are cognitively stronger as they age thanks to neuroplasticity.
2. Learn a New Language: Language management calls upon executive functions such as attention control, cognitive inhibition, and working memory; and there is mounting evidence that bi- and multi-lingual people are better at analyzing their surroundings, multitasking, and problem solving. Plus, bilingual people develop superior judgment and a lowered chance for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.
3. Take Up an Instrument: As with complex work and learning a new language, studying music as an adult protects your cognitive abilities. And especially in the case of learning to play an instrument, your brain is actually enhanced, no matter what age you start. Is it harder to learn guitar at age 50 than at age five? Yes, but that’s also why it helps your brain so much.
And as Steve Jobs liked to say, “Oh yeah, there’s one more thing”:
It’s never been much of a secret that regular, vigorous exercise is good for the body — but the evidence continues to build that it’s good for the mind as well — particularly when it comes to high intensity interval training and continuous sessions of moderate exercise.
Let’s go to work.
Bad to the Core
“The core muscles really are the foundation of the human body. And much like building a house, when it comes to fitness, you need to start with a strong foundation.”
Save Like David Lee
A Roth IRA may be the perfect vehicle for those who are worried about potential future tax increases. But the window of opportunity is closing, and a Roth is always better than a Hagar.
Walk This Way
People practicing Eastern traditions have been doing walking meditation for millennia. Check out this piece for steps to master this ancient art of attentiveness and tranquillity, and how to incorporate it into your modern life.
Trudi is talking about breathing below, something you do constantly to live, but may not be doing well. And in the Flashback, “Now the world is gone, I’m just one ….”
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Breathe Better to Live Better
By Trudi Roth
There are tons of old-school practices enjoying a resurgence during the pandemic: sourdough bread baking, gardening, and, most recently, tie-dying.
If you’re looking to throw it way back to a simple diversion with life-enhancing benefits that requires no external tools, consider breathwork. With roots in ancient India and China, practitioners have long promoted mindful breathing as powerful medicine for body, mind, and spirit.
Today science has proven that intentional, deep breathing — what James Nestor, author of Breath, calls a “lost art” — is key to health and longevity.
Every breath you take
COVID-19 makes it painfully clear that we can’t take breathing for granted. From necessary mask-wearing to the virus’ telltale signs of a cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath, there’s a new focus on this involuntary bodily function.
And nasal breathing is a far more effective, healthy way of taking in oxygen while simultaneously releasing stress and toxins:
Aside from filtering, warming, and humidifying the air you breathe, the nose is your first line of defense against allergens and pathogens. The mucus and cilia inside are designed to block these outside invaders from going farther down the respiratory tract and making you sick. And nitric oxide (NO), which is what the sinuses release when you breathe through your nose, is a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
Not only do your lungs have to work harder when you breathe through your mouth, it’s also why your mask might be particularly stinky or why adult braces are a sign of a midlife crisis. Bad breath, crooked teeth, gum disease, dry mouth/throat, sleep issues, snoring, and sleep apnea are all related to mouth breathing.
The winner, by a nose, is slow, deep nasal breathing.
Waiting to exhale
From several years of researching, Nestor found the perfect controlled breath to be a 5.5-second inhale, and a 5.5-second exhale. Put it in play by trying the yoga practice of Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), an easy breathing exercise recently shown by researchers from Harvard and Yale to support decreased anxiety and increased happiness and creativity.
- Sit up straight, eyes closed, and close your right nostril with your right thumb.
- Slowly inhale through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger and briefly pause.
- Open your right nostril, and release your breath slowly through the right side.
- Pause at the bottom of the exhale, and then repeat on the right side.
- Alternate this breathing pattern, 5-10 cycles.
With benefits as plain as the nose on your face (last one, promise), controlled breathing is worth doing as if your life depends on it. Because it just may.
- How Nasal Breathing Keeps You Healthier (Medium)
- Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art (Amazon Associates)
And Justice for All, 1988
No song rocks harder than Metallica’s One does … eventually. (YouTube)
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