Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change throughout a person’s lifespan. The brain can reorganize its structure, function, and connections in response to learning and experiences. This means the brain can form new neural pathways, strengthen existing ones, and reassign functions to different areas, allowing for learning, memory formation, and recovery from injuries or diseases.

Learning to row a boat is a great new skill to practice.

Brain plasticity is most prominent during early childhood when the brain is still developing rapidly. However, research has shown that the brain remains capable of plasticity throughout life, although it may decline with age. 

Not just any OLD activity will do…

Engaging in new activities, learning new skills, and challenging the brain through mental and physical exercises can promote and enhance brain plasticity, improving cognitive abilities and overall brain health. (This is why Denise Medved created Ageless Grace!) 

Ideal activities to improve brain health are ones that are: 

  • New to you
  • Challenging, but not impossible
  • Physical in nature

And there’s one more ingredient to add in — ongoing practice. It’s not enough to try something a few times. You must practice. Or, as Denise would say, you must play

Play Makes ‘Perfect’  

When a child learns to bounce or throw a ball, they don’t think of it as practice. They are playing and having fun. If you find a new activity that is challenging enough to see a slight improvement every time you do it and enjoy the process, it suddenly becomes play. Practice can sound like a chore, but you can play for hours without becoming bored or frustrated. 

Tips for Better Brain Training:

  • Pick one new activity: Focus your time and attention on one activity to avoid distraction from other interests. (You can build more activities over time, but in the beginning, choose one.)
  • Sign up for a class: Joining a class can help you learn the basics of the new activity, especially those that require specific skills. (There’s an Ageless Grace class online or near you!
  • Physical activities like swimming not only provide cardiovascular and muscle-building benefits but also require constant thinking, processing, and learning.
  • Engaging in creative outlets like painting or learning an instrument can also significantly improve cognitive function. We don’t tend to think of these kinds of creative endeavors as physical, but they are in a different way. Painting and playing an instrument force the learner to use their hands and fingers in new and different ways. You may not break a sweat as you would in an exercise class, but you are nevertheless ‘working out’ your brain.  
  • Schedule play/practice time: Prioritize consistency in practicing the new activity, regardless of the time you can devote. 
  • Increase complexity: Engaging in complex activities forces your brain to work on specific thought processes, such as problem-solving and creative thinking. If an activity becomes easy, it’s time for a new challenge! If you have room to grow within the activity, you can increase the difficulty rather than starting something new. The goal is not to become an expert but to engage your brain in continuous learning.

An important note: puzzles, word games, and crosswords do NOT delay cognitive decline.

Building and maintaining cognitive skills requires regular brain training. Engaging in new activities that meet the guidelines of being challenging, complex, and involving regular practice can significantly impact cognitive function. By continuously challenging your brain, you can keep your cognitive skills sharp and promote overall brain health.