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Lifelong learning: why it is neuroprotective

eLearn­ing is the phys­i­cal process of chang­ing our brains.  Today we know this is pos­si­ble at all ages, bring­ing the con­cept and prac­tice of life­long learn­ing to the fore­front.

Learn­ing is thought to be “neu­ro-pro­tec­tive.” Through neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, learn­ing increas­es con­nec­tions between neu­rons, increas­es cel­lu­lar metab­o­lism, and increas­es the pro­duc­tion of nerve growth fac­tor, a sub­stance pro­duced by the body to help main­tain and repair neu­rons.

When we learn, we cre­ate phys­i­cal changes inside our brains. By prac­tic­ing a skill, we repeat­ed­ly stim­u­late the same area of the brain, which strength­ens exist­ing neur­al con­nec­tions and cre­ates new ones (think about the Lon­don taxi dri­vers). Over time, we can become more cog­ni­tive­ly effi­cient, using few­er neu­rons to do the same job. And the more often we fire up cer­tain men­tal cir­cuits, the eas­i­er it is to get them going again.

Thus learn­ing is crit­i­cal at all ages to main­tain good brain functions.  Accord­ing to neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist Dr. James Zull, whose inter­view can be found at the end of the present Chap­ter, one way to moti­vate our­selves to keep learn­ing is to search for mean­ing­ful bridges between what we want to learn and what we already know. When we do so, we cul­ti­vate our neu­ronal net­works. “We become our own gar­den­ers.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter

This new online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg.

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About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.