Debunking brain myths

This month’s myth:
As we age we have fewer brain cells because the brain doesn’t grow new ones.

The good news is that scientists have recently found that older brains CAN grow new cells and that brain plasticity allows us to continue to reorganize the connections within the brain.

In the past it was believed that brain development peaks in childhood and that over time older brain cells die and we can’t grow new ones.

“Although we do lose efficiency in brain functioning as we get older, there’s lots of brain potential as we age,” says Donald Stuss, a senior research scientist with the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. “We’ve shown through research that as we age we can learn new strategies and techniques to adapt to changes and help our memory.”

Our memory may not be as sharp and we may find it more difficult to focus attention in environments which have lots of distraction, but our brain can adapt to compensate for these changes.

Keeping the brain AND body active and stimulated can help form new connections and networks within the brain, and even new brain cells.

What can you do to build new brain cells and networks?
Boost your brain by challenging yourself with enriching activities such as travel, learning a new language, doing puzzles, taking a new route home or socializing. These help build new networks. More importantly, you can learn new strategies and techniques to help brain functioning be more efficient.

Can exercise help grow new brain cells?
Exercising is very important in maximizing brain functioning. One main reason is that exercise increases blood flow to the brain. It also helps minimize problems such as high blood pressure, which may result in a stroke. Research has found that when mice exercise and are intellectually stimulated, new brain cells develop in the hippocampus, an important area for memory functioning. Scientists are now studying whether exercise has the same effect in humans.

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