What is Neuroplasticity?
The term ‘neuro’ refers to the structure and functions of the brain, nerves, and their connections in the body. The term ‘plasticity’ infers the ability of a structure or an organism to be changed or shaped. ‘Neuroplasticity’ denotes the ability of the brain to functionally reorganise and form neural connections in response to the environment and new experiences. The ability of the brain to be able to change and form new connections, lays the foundation for learning new skills, movements, and the ability to recover following a brain injury.
How Does Exercise and Physical Activity Promote Neuroplasticity?
When we exercise, there is an increase in blood flow. This increase in blood flow stimulates the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Research suggests that BDNF plays an imperative role in the survival, maintenance, and growth of nerve cells. This protein essentially nourishes nerve cells to optimise functioning, and stimulates the generation of new neurons (known as neurogenesis).
When the brain is injured or subject to abnormal growth, nerve cells may be damaged or altered causing dysfunction. Through movement, exercise, and the subsequent release of BDNF, the potential there lies to create new neurological connections around an injury, or to promote a take-over from a healthy area of the brain.
Why Come to the Centre of Movement to see an Exercise Physiologist?
Exercise can come in many sizes, shapes and forms, just like many of the clientele we see at the Centre of Movement. The early years of life are a critical time for neurological development. Whilst neuroplasticity can occur at any age, younger brains are considered to be more ‘plastic’ and adaptable to change. Therefore, early intervention is key to facilitate a desired neurological change.
Exercise physiology can help to promote neuroplasticity by identifying and administering exercise at an intensity considered to be optimal for enabling neuroplastic change. The timing of exercise also plays a pivotal role in the subsequent learning of new information and motor tasks. The BDNF that is released as a result of exercise has the potential to strengthen the nerve-to-nerve connections of the activity or motor task being performed after the exercise due to the prosperous effect of BDNF on nerve cells.
Furthermore, neurological disorders and environmental exposures during development may impact the way we move. When we move in a certain way repeatedly, we develop connections that make us make us more inclined to move in a similar manner recurrently. At the Centre of Movement, our team of Exercise Physiologists are trained to identify and treat incorrect movement patterns. Through repeated, correct movement, the brain can be rewired- improving neuronal connections to facilitate biomechanically efficient movement and enhance quality of life.
At-Home Strategies to Boost Neuroplasticity
- The amount of sleep that we obtain has the potential to influence the effectiveness of a neurological change. Sleep helps to consolidate the neural connections that are made throughout the day. Avoiding stimulants such as sugars, caffeine, and screen time may help to provide a better-quality sleep.
Reduce Stressful Exposures
- When we are stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. Research highlights that cortisol has the potential to inhibit neuroplasticity due to the detrimental effect it has on nerve cells and the associated connections.
Learn / Exposure to New Stimuli
- Similar to how physical activity and exercise can help to build muscle and improve neurological connections, learning something new (such as an instrument or reading a book) can facilitate the development of neurons and enhance their connectivity.
Keep on Moving!
- Use it or lose it and use it and improve it! The more you move, or the more you complete a certain task, the more those neural connections in the brain are being used and stronger they become. On the contrary, the less often we complete a certain movement or task, the weaker those connections become.
"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much"
– Helen Keller