Brain Neurogenesis

At 64 years of age, I am delighted to find information about brain neurogenesis, which is the capacity of the human brain to grow new neurons on a daily basis.

That is very exciting to me, and, of course, it is the result of current scientific endeavor.

I grew up with the old paradigm in regards to brain capacity, that we grew all the brain we were going to have when we were children and then growth stopped, the brain was set, except that it began to disappear a few thousands of neurons per day, until my ability to function in the world eroded to the point that I was shipped to the home to await the inevitable.

Now at 61, I notice some of the changes that come with my age, like not being able to find just the right word at just the right time, and that worries me, because I make my living with words.

A year or so ago, I came across a book by Norman Doidge, MD, called The Brain That Changes Itself, which I was curious about, since the more knowledge I have the better I ought to be able to do as I age, which I read with increasing amazement.

Especially his interview with Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., one of the creators of the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program.

The interview with Dr. Merzenich was extremely exciting for me, because he was saying that the brain is an extremely plastic organ, and can rewire and reconnect itself based on what we are paying attention to, and that neuroplasticity could certainly include the new neurons we grow everyday.

In fact, according to Dr. Merzenich, and others in the field, like Simon Evans, Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt, Ph.D., co-authors of Brainfit for Life, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity could be encouraged and enhanced with certain life style changes, including a good diet, (no more packaged foods), good sleep, effective stress management, novel learning experiences, and physical exercise.

It turns out that physical exercise is the most important thing that we can do to enhance and encourage neurogenisis and neuroplasticity.

And the physical exercise does not have to involve an exercise club membership, expensive coaches, and outfits, or even a big, heavy sweat.

But it does need to be regular. Evans and Burghardt talk about beginning an exercise regime by doing more of what we already do, adding in walking up the stairs, rather than taking the elevator, parking further away from our destination to add extra walking, ect. and then as strength and endurance increase, you can begin switching from increased physical activity to physical exercise, which can be done at home using a program like Scott and Angie Tousignant teach, called More Love, Less Fat which goes into detail about a home grown exercise program using nothing more sophisticated than your storage room and a skip rope or exercise ball, and ten minutes of your time.

But that ten minutes of time needs to be regular for brain neurogenesis to really be maximized.

Brainfit for Life offers an extraordinary amount of information about other lifestyle choices we need to make and why.

For example, Burghardt and Evans speak to the need for omega 3 fatty acids and the different kinds of omega 3 fatty acids necessary for maximized brain neurogenesis, and how to get that into your diet safely.

If you are going to use a supplement rather than risk mercury poisoning from eating the best source of omega 3, which are ocean going fish, then make sure the supplement has been processed to clean the mercury out of it also.

Computerized Brain Fitness and Neuroplasticity

Merzenich and his company Posit Science have created one of computerized brain fitness programs commercially available today, the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, which has been reseached for effictiveness in the IMPACT study, published in April of 2009.

(By the way, both the control group and the researched group in the IMPACT study were Senior Citizens, over my age of 61).

The Posit Science folks say that a computerized brain fitness programs can be a significant aid in the neurogenesis and neuroplasticity hunt, if the program provides the right kind of challenge and feedback.

Dr. Merzinich is quite specific about that, so as you evaluate computerized brain fitness as part of your antiaging program, then be sure to look at whether your desired program is a game or a novel learning tool.

Evans and Burghardt mention the research using the dual n back task, a computerized brain fitness program which increases what is called fluid intelligence, or my brains ability to work in new environments, where I have no familiarity, or crystallized intelligence. For me, a counselor, that would be learning a new language, or how to play chess.

The dual n back task definitely qualifies as challenging. I love to practice it, takes about 20 minutes, and really shapens my brain. It is almost like a cool feeling in my brain after a practice.

That research that Evans and Burghardt mention has now been adapted commercially for your enjoyment by Martin Walker, at Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, and the links are below.

I should mention that I went ahead and tried three of the commercialy available programs, and I like them all.

I am sure there is benefit to be had from the programs I have not tried, and I am sure there will be more programs available, because more Baby Boomers are getting to be my age, and are worried about their brains and their effectiveness in their retirement.

But I have tried Lumosity, the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, and Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Program.

For my money, since I like to work out, and am making my diet more healthy, get good rest, and do not have time to undertake what most researchers say is the most effective kind of novel learning experiences (learning a new language, new career,ect.), using computerized brain fitness programs is an excellent life style addition for increased neurogenesis.

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