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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