For a long time, we believed that once the brain had fully developed, we had all the brain cells we'd ever have. However, in the second half of the 20th century, researchers began to theorize that the brain could create new cells throughout one’s life. It wasn’t until the 1990s, known as the Decade of the Brain, when more advanced technologies became available that we could prove it.
In 1996, rat studies showed that although neurogenesis does significantly slow down as a person ages, it never completely stops. Thanks to advances in technology, in 1998 scientists finally proved that neurogenesis does occur in the brains of adult humans even into our senior years.
The term neurogenesis is made up of the word parts neuro meaning relating to nerves and genesis meaning the formation or creation. Neurogenesis just means the formation and development of neurons. If you know the difference between the Charlie Brown Christmas tree and the Rockefeller Center tree, you’ve got a basic understanding of neurogenesis.
Neurons begin forming about 4 weeks after conception. Neural growth in the womb is extraordinary and by birth, an infant has more than 100 billion neurons. All of those cells work overtime to create the dendrites, synapses, and axons necessary for them to communicate with one another. This is called dendritic branching and is the foundation for all brain activity.
At birth, the number of synapses per neuron is 2,500. By age 2, that number increases to more than 15,000. But this proliferation of neuron growth is only temporary. The brain’s natural pruning process kicks in to clean up and organize unused, malformed or misconnected dendrites.
After the neurological landscapers come through for that first major pruning, our neural connectivity looks like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But between the ages of 3 and 12, the brain continues to grow dendrites at an amazing rate. This process of growing and pruning dendrites continues throughout our lives. Over time, all of that learning and pruning is what turns the Charlie Brown Christmas tree into the Rockefeller Center tree.
So, how can we tap into this extraordinary power and stimulate neurogenesis? Well, it turns out that it’s pretty simple! Here are 5 ways to keep your brain in shape and growing stronger every day:
1. Proper Nutrition
Filling our plates with brain-boosting foods like blueberries, avocados, and walnuts can provide the necessary nutrients to support neurogenesis. These foods are rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, and essential vitamins that promote neuronal growth and repair.
2. Regular Exercise
Physical exercise is not just great for your body, but it also promotes neurogenesis! When we exercise, we increase blood flow to the brain, improving oxygen and nutrient delivery. Furthermore, it releases growth factors that encourage the birth of new neurons!"
3. Mental Stimulation
Our brains thrive on challenges and new experiences. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities like solving puzzles, learning new skills, and reading forces our brains to adapt and create new neural connections. The more we challenge ourselves, the more our brain cells multiply!
4. Quality Sleep
Sleep isn't just a time to rest and recharge; it's a critical period for neurogenesis as well. While we sleep, our brain flushes out toxins and solidifies memories. So, make sure to prioritize quality sleep to give your brain the opportunity to create and consolidate new cells.
5. Stress Management
High levels of stress can actually hinder neurogenesis. Chronic stress can damage existing brain cells and impair the birth of new neurons. So, finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as practicing meditation, taking breaks, or spending time in nature, is essential for stimulating neurogenesis.
By incorporating these lifestyle choices into our daily routine, we can take charge of our brain's incredible potential for neurogenesis!