Creating New Pathways
The term, “neuroplasticity,” refers to the brain’s ability to heal and “re-wire” itself in response to both training and injury. Scientists used to believe that all brain damage was permanent and that adult brains eventually become “hard-wired” due to their habits. However, the latest research shows that this isn’t the case. This should come as good news to those who believe that they’re born to be addicts or alcoholics. We may have spent years drinking and drugging, training our neural pathways to point to our substances of choice. But that same concept of repetitive action can help us create new pathways that will bypass those old ruts. Through practice, we can build neural connections that strengthen our recovery, making sobriety one of the keys to our happiness.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Consistent, repeated behavior is the name of the game. However, researchers have found that some activities are more effective than others when it comes to promoting new connections in the brain. One such activity – as you might have guessed – is exercise. Studies show that exercise can help to generate new brain cells. The increased blood flow to the brain can increase both grey and white matter. Dr. Art Kramer recommends 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, three days a week in order to achieve positive neural effects. And those who are averse to spending their time packed into a gym need not worry. A mere three hours of brisk walking a week can prevent brain atrophy and promote new growth.
Another activity that’s often associated with neuroplasticity is learning a new language. Researchers with the Higher School of Economics in Russia and the University of Helsinki found that language learning both promotes brain growth and increases learning capacity. While leaning a new language may seem like a Herculean task, don’t fret. A Penn State team studying native English speakers learning Chinese found that participants’ brain networks improved connectivity and efficiency after only six weeks of lessons. In fact, a genuine effort made toward learning any complex skill or subject can yield positive benefits. Other activities known to promote neuroplasticity include learning a musical instrument, juggling, and creating artwork.
Neuroplasticity and Meditation
A third activity known to promote positive neuroplasticity is meditation. We’ve gone over the benefits of meditation a few times in this blog and it’s such a powerful tool that it’s worth mentioning again. Sara Lazar, a professor at Harvard, wondered about the veracity of her yoga teacher’s claims regarding meditation and mental health and decided to start studying the effects of meditation on the brain. She found that participants’ brain volume increased in four areas including the hippocampus and temporoparietal junction after eight weeks of mindfulness exercises. Furthermore, the size of the amygdala – the structure responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response in times of stress – actually decreased.
Ocean Recovery has been successfully treating addiction and eating disorders since 2002. We offer therapy, exercise, mindfulness techniques, and more, helping our clients to reset, rewire, and recover. If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Start building your foundation for success.