According to oprah.com, your brain never stops growing.
Scientists once believed that some of our brain cells died off when we got older. But it’s now clear that we not only hang on to our neurons—we grow new ones, too. Throughout a person’s lifetime, the brain continually reshapes itself in response to what it learns.
Learning rewires our brain. At first, the new skill might feel stiff and awkward but as we practice, things get smoother and feel more natural. According to The Science of Practice, what practice is actually doing is helping the brain optimize for this set of coordinated activities through a process called myelination.
Scientists have found that myelination increases the speed and strength of the nerve impulses by forcing the electrical charge to jump across the myelin sheath to the next open spot on the axon, instead of travelling in a straight line down the axon.
As we get older, growth of myelin happens at a slower rate and requires more effort, but increased neural activity still generates more of it onto our axons. As we practice, whether by writing, taking up ping-pong, or playing Wordle, we trigger a pattern of electrical signals that, over time, triggers myelination, increasing the speed and strength of the signal, like replacing dial-up with broadband. The more we practice, the stronger these connections become.
Frontiers for Young Minds likens the process to walking through a forest. Beating a new trail through the undergrowth is difficult, but the more you use the track, the easier it becomes as your path develops. When you stop using that route, the vegetation grows back, and the trail disappears. This is similar to what happens when you stop practicing something: the connections between neurons weaken and fade away.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with blog posts or articles that advise training our non-dominant hands, to stimulate the brain by mapping new neural pathways. Alzheimer’s websites advocate brushing our teeth with the other hand to improve “brain fitness.”
It seemed to me a good idea, to train my left hand to fill in my sudoku at mealtimes when I have a fork in my right hand. It would save having to keep swapping implements while my meal goes cold.
Except… on trying it, I find my brain can’t concentrate on the puzzle while it’s busy trying to move my left hand in some semblance of legibility.
I may be asking too much of it. My writing is barely legible when I use my right hand. Perhaps I should instead try eating with the fork in my left hand instead.
But now I find BrainFacts.org, which says this belief that stronger connections between my brain’s hemispheres will make me smarter, isn’t backed up by researchers. My new skill’s enhanced neural wiring and hemispherical balance won’t necessarily be beneficial to other brain activities. While there are plenty of reasons to train both hands, such as an injury to my primary hand, or a wish to entertain grandchildren with juggling, boosting brain power isn’t one of them.
I did find another tip though, among the oprah.com tips for enhancing brainpower.
If you can’t remember where you stashed your glasses? Try wiggling your eyes. Memory researcher Andrew Parker, PhD. explains that rapid horizontal eye movements from side to side cause the brain’s two hemispheres to interact with each other more efficiently which, in moments of temporary amnesia, may help you pull up information.
It hasn’t worked for me so far, but I’ll let you know.
What new skills are you taxing your brain with?
Does eye-wiggling work for you?
Me neither. 😦