It’s a sad fact that in our everyday lives we tend to not maximise the use of our brains.
Scientist have discovered that your brain is more adaptable than we’ve ever thought before. It has the ability to make changes and is constantly optimising and reorganising itself by shifting cognitive abilities from one area of the brain to another, particularly as you age. After a brain injury, for instance, your brain can restructure itself to regain lost functions.
Doctors who treated many of the prisoners of war who were placed in solitary confinement, noticed that they had developed unusual cognitive capacities. This appeared to be because the only activity they could do was to think. The only task they had available to them was to exercise their brains.
This discovery has been the catalyst for the development of new therapies for depression and anxiety as well as new approaches to learning and memory retention.
A real-world example of the brains ability to rewire and adapt to specific needs can be seen in the lifestyles of the “Moken”, or “Sea Gypsies”. These semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer people who spend a great deal of their time in boats in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand have developed unusual underwater vision — twice as good as Europeans. This enables Mokens to gather shellfish at great depths without the aid of scuba gear. How do they learn to do this? Simply put, the brain orders the body to adapt to suit its needs.
Another example of neuroplasticity has been found in London taxi drivers. A cab driver’s hippocampus — the part of the brain that holds spatial representation capacity — is measurably larger than that of a bus driver. By driving the same route every day, the bus drivers don’t need to exercise this part of the brain as much. The cabbies, on the other hand, rely on it constantly for navigation.
When certain senses are restricted — like vision, for instance — your brain adapts in a similar way. Your brain is an amazing survival mechanism which can rewire itself, opening neuro pathways to heighten other senses to compensate for the loss of vision.
In a more practical sense, we know that physical exercise is good for the body and brain because it helps create new neurons. Similarly, when we exercise an old brain… it can learn some new tricks too. So exercise your body and exercise your mind!