Incorporate these neuroplasticity exercises and practices into your daily life. They will create new brain pathways with the help of your mind and a healthy lifestyle.
These practices help to gradually reduce the tendency that we humans have to stay in routines, in what we know, and in our bias toward negativity.
Include at least two exercises or practices each day. Keep in mind that changes will be progressive. Constant repetitions of positive aspects are required to create new circuits in the brain.
1. Start Your Day with Gratitude
Studies have shown that the brain develops different areas of the brain under the influence of feelings of gratitude, self-esteem, guilt, or indignation. It was discovered, for example, that people who can experience gratitude more easily have greater volume in the right temporal lobe of the brain.
Another important research found that making a weekly list of things for which we are grateful is associated with a more positive and optimistic perception of life, more physical exercise, and fewer diseases. This same study found that the daily habit of being grateful for the good things in our life substantially improves emotional well-being. It also relates to a greater willingness to help and support other people.
Practice this neuroplasticity exercise based on gratitude every morning, upon waking up:
• As soon as you open your eyes, breathe deeply, and make the exhalation a little longer.
• Think of something for which you feel grateful in your life. For example, your family, your children, your work, your talents, your home, the light of dawn, your pet, etc.
• Feel the gratitude and the sensations it brings into your body.
• Now think of something else for what you feel grateful. Repeat the above procedure.
• Think of a third aspect that makes you feel grateful.
• Finally, think about two aspects that you want to achieve on this day, two objectives that inspire and motivate you. For example, doing volunteer work, developing a new project, or reading a new chapter of your book.
2. Take In the Good
By actively experiencing positive events in your life, you can create new brain pathways. This daily practice will help you develop emotional resilience, joy, and a more optimistic view of life.
For “taking in the good” you can do the following:
• When you notice something positive as you move along your day, pause for a moment. It could be a beautiful flower, the smile of a loved one, or the kind gesture of a stranger. Let the sensations and feelings associated with this experience merge with your mind, heart, and body.
• Connect with these positive sensations and feelings for at least 3 minutes. Intensify them, enjoying the mental and sensory experience.
• Absorb this experience and allow it to register clearly in your mind, body, and brain.
• Throughout your day, continue to notice positive moments. Allow an opening, warmth, and relaxation to occur whenever you take in the good.
• Also notice positive feelings within yourself, such as gratitude, joy, and peace.
• At the end of the day, before going to sleep, recount what happened. Remember the “three things for which you feel grateful.”
3. Try Something New Every Day
We usually repeat the same habits every day. This includes, for example, the way we get out of bed, how we brush our teeth, what we eat, and the route we take to work.
These routines become automatic and unconscious habits that we perform without realizing it. These routines also create circuits in the brain. They become patterns that keep us in our “comfort zone,” in the known, and making us resistant to change. These patterns prevent us from trying new things that can enrich our lives.
Get out of your comfort zone a little every day. It is recommended that you avoid passive and repetitive activities, for example, watching television for long hours.
Try something new every day. When you experience new and more complex activities, it will stimulate the brain and allow you to open up to the unknown in a safe way. Here are some suggestions:
• Search the dictionary for a word you don’t know
• Learn to play a musical instrument
• Participate in artistic activities and creative manual arts
• Read fiction books that make your imagination work
• Brush your teeth with the other hand
• Learn acting or singing
• Sleep on the other side of the bed
• Prepare new food dishes and use different spices
• Listen to music from other countries
• Write stories or poetry
• Learn something new about a subject
• Assemble puzzles and solve crosswords
• Use the computer mouse with the other hand
• Take a new route to work
• Learn a new language
• Start a short conversation with an unknown person at the bank or supermarket
• Travel to nearby places that you don’t know (maybe that little town you’ve never been to)
• If possible, visit other countries
4. Eat a Healthy and Balanced Diet
The brain needs nutrients to develop and maintain its structure. A proper diet helps prevent diseases and premature aging.
The brain is made up of 60% fat, and a diet with healthy fats helps maintain a good level of energy, cognitive ability, and motor skills. A healthy diet also helps reduce inflammation in the body, which is also important for the brain.
Other studies describe what good nutrition for the brain should include:
• Eat fish weekly (8 ounces / 250 grs)
• Six servings of vegetables and fruits a day
• One daily serving of unsalted almonds and walnuts
• Reduce red meat
• Eat healthy proteins such as legumes, seeds, and grains
• Avoid trans fats found in industrially made foods with vegetable fats
• Reduce sugar consumption
• Reduce the consumption of processed foods
5. Share Time with Your Family and Friends
Science has consistently demonstrated that interaction with other people helps maintain brain health. The chances of suffering from depression and dementia increase when we are isolated or alone.
Studies in rats have shown that when they are isolated for four weeks, less new cells grow in their brains and fewer neural connections occur. The good news is that these effects can be reversed with social interaction. When those same rats were connected again with their families, their brains regained the ability to create new neurons and connections among them.
These findings indicate how important it is to cultivate and maintain our relationships with other people. At birth, we have an innate need to be with each other, which continues throughout our lives.
Here are some recommendations to achieve an optimal level in your social relationships:
• Define your role and purpose in life: What is your contribution to your family, community, and society?
• Develop a network of friends and acquaintances. Maintain communication with them and enjoy shared moments.
• Get closer to your family, heal tensions from the past, and discover new opportunities for growth together.
• Attend social gatherings and activities where you can share and talk with other people.
• Use technology to keep in touch with your friends and family.
• Do not isolate yourself when you retire. Use your free time to join a club, do volunteer work, and other activities that you enjoy with other people.
6. Meditate 15 Minutes Every Day
Chronic stress is detrimental to general health and brain health. Several studies have confirmed that meditation (mindfulness) is effective in reducing stress and anxiety levels. Meditation has also proved to reduce other emotional conditions such as panic attacks and depression.
If you find that you like to meditate, you can incorporate 15 minutes of meditation every day. The best time to meditate is in the early morning, before starting your daily activities, or at the end of the day.
Other related activities are as follows:
• Use prayer as a practice of gratitude and forgiveness.
• Practice yoga regularly.
• Take slow, deep breaths three times a day for 5 minutes.
• Relax all the muscles of your body progressively. You can perform this exercise sitting or lying down.
• Stop your daily activity for 5 minutes three times a day. Stay still, observe your thoughts, emotions, and feelings as they are at that time. Allow yourself to simply be there without doing anything.
7. Make Time for Physical Exercise
The brain needs 25% of blood from each heartbeat. Therefore, performing exercise that requires some cardiovascular effort is essential for brain health.
Studies indicate that aerobic exercise increases the cognitive capacity of older adults. Positive changes in the structure and functioning of the brain have also been observed. For example, greater volume in the hippocampus, an area responsible for the formation of new memories, spatial memory, and orientation.
The following exercises will help you maintain the cognitive ability of your brain:
• Walk approximately one mile (15 blocks) a day. This amount of exercise by itself may be enough to stop cognitive impairment and reduce brain atrophy for several years.
• Practice yoga and perform moderate weightlifting.
• Perform aerobic exercise several times a week.
• Dance frequently to the rhythm of music.
• Reduce the time you spend on a chair and other sedentary behaviors
In addition to preventing cognitive impairment, physical exercise may be able to reverse it.
Recommendations for Making Neuroplasticity Exercises More Effective
Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor and researcher of neuroscience at the University of California, describes some essential aspects of transforming the brain with neuroplasticity exercises.
• You need to achieve a specific amount of motivation and keep your focus on what you are doing. In this way, the brain will release the neurotransmitters that promote learning and positive changes in the brain.
• As you practice these neuroplasticity exercises, connections between neurons will be strengthened or new connections between neurons will be created.
• Through these exercises, connections between neurons that are no longer needed will be weakened. In particular, it is important to weaken connections related to negative thoughts and life habits that do not serve you.
• The more you practice these exercises and habits, the more connections will change and develop in your brain.
• When you include more sensory elements (for example, images, sounds, aromas, and sensations), more connections between neurons will be strengthened.
• Initial changes will be temporary. For this reason, constancy with these neuroplasticity exercises and practices is very important. The changes will be more permanent if the brain considers the experience interesting, new, and important. Likewise, relevant changes in behavior will also help make changes in the brain more stable.
• When your brain learns a new skill, it remembers the successful attempts and dismisses failed attempts. In this way, it is possible to progressively improve a new skill.
• Mental exercises that use imagination, visualization, and meditation are as effective in changing the brain as external and tangible practices (physical exercise, yoga, learning a new skill or language, healthy diet, etc.).
• Remember that neuroplasticity can work in a positive or negative way. You can create new connections and circuits to improve your life, but also to make it more difficult. It is you who decides!
Recommended Books and Courses
Audio Course: Self-Directed Brain Change (Rick Hanson)
Graham, L. (2013). Bouncing back. California: New World Library.
Hanson, R. (2016). Hardwiring happiness. New York: Harmony Books.
Nussbaum, P. (2015). Brain health for the self-empowered person. Journal of the American Society on Aging. 39(1), 30-36.