6 Surprising Things That Affect Your Brain
Brain scientists in recent years have discovered a number of surprising ways that the brain influences our overall health, as well as how our behavior influences the health of our brain. And unlike in the days of old — when scientists believed the brain was “fixed” after childhood, only to start an inexorable decline in the middle to later years — today, research is showing that the brain is perfectly capable of changing, healing and “rewiring” itself to an unexpected degree.
It turns out that the age of your brain may be a lesser influence on its structure than what you do with it. Pursuits that require intense mental focus, like language learning, “switch on” the nucleus basalis, the control mechanism for neuroplasticity.
In short, neuroplasticity means you have some control over your cranial fitness. While brain function naturally deteriorates somewhat as you age (though not nearly as much as you might think), various strategic approaches can create new neural pathways and strengthen existing ones as long as you live. What’s more, these efforts to build a better brain can deliver lasting rewards for your overall health.
Here are just a few of neuroscience’s most empowering recent discoveries.
Your Thoughts Affect Your Genes
We tend to think of our genetic heritage as a fait accompli. At our conception, our parents handed down whatever genetic legacy they inherited — genes for baldness, tallness, disease or whatever — and now we’re left playing the hand of DNA we were dealt. But, in fact, our genes are open to being influenced throughout our lifetime, both by what we do and by what we think, feel and believe.
The new and growing field of “epigenetics” studies extra-cellular factors that influence genetic expression. While you may have heard that genes can be influenced by diet and exercise, many researchers are now exploring the ways that thoughts, feelings and beliefs can exert the same epigenetic effect. It turns out that the chemicals catalyzed by our mental activity can interact with our genes in a powerful way. Much like the impacts of diet, exercise and environmental toxins, various thought patterns have been shown to turn certain genes “on” or “off.”