How To Change Your Brain And Increase Your Lifespan.
In a purely scientific sense, your body and mind are always changing. As you age your DNA loses it’s ability to replicate accurately. Your body is always going through the process of dividing, healing, breaking down, building up, fluctuating, transporting, and expending energy. 75% of the calories you burn in a single day are from your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), this is the energy required by your body to exist and change on a cellular level even if you laid perfectly still for 24 hours. If you weren’t changing you would be dead, quite literally.
But I don’t need to convince you of that, do I? We see the proof every day. We age and we see the effects of age on our loved ones. We watch people gain weight and lose weight, grow hair, grow taller, heal from injuries, become damaged and then whole again. The proof of change is seen every day.
Now it’s time to talk about the brain. We have already established that the cells in your body change constantly, well your brain consists of cells as well. It ages just as the rest of your body does, but it also has some fantastic abilities of adaptation. The “grey matter” we are able to see through imaging techniques is simply the clusters of matter in your brain that do the actual thinking and controlling. The axons, neurons, dendrites, etc. We have been able to see that as a person ages the grey matter buildup in their brain changes. Certain areas become more dense and other areas become less dense. Your grey areas literally thicken and become more dense in areas controlling your common actions and become less dense in areas you rarely use.
Your brain, like the rest of your body, is designed to cope with life. As you do things you use specific parts of your brain. If you make habits of certain actions then your brain will recruit more power to that specific neural pathway and begin to shut down other pathways that we use less. This is why it is so hard to pick up a new skill. This is also why we are able to get better at said skills.
Scientifically, this is how we are able to master things. Creating the strongest neural pathways through repetition and practice over the course of time allows a buildup of grey matter in those parts of your brain, allowing you to complete the tasks with less effort and energy expenditure.
There is a catch.
Your brain is always doing this. It is ALWAYS building and breaking grey matter as a response to your daily actions. As you continue in your current trends, the longer you repeat your actions, the harder it becomes to break them because your brain is getting BETTER at those habits and neurologically less capable of other actions. A person who has had poor dietary habits for over 10,000 more than 3 times as likely to never change than a person who has less time expended with the same poor habit.
Have you ever been forced to wake up early all week long and then on the weekend you wake up naturally at that same time despite trying to sleep in?
This happens because even that short amount of time in the new habit has allowed your brain to strengthen those neural pathways and allow it to be easier for you to wake up at those times.
Ready for the big punchline?
Your brain literally changes based off of your choices. It becomes a physical representation of your habits.
And we can prove it. This isn’t theory.
What does that mean for me?
Understanding and accepting the fact that your brain is always in a changing state, for better or for worse, should allow you to look at your daily routine and find ways to work new habits. If your brain is changing based on the things that you do then it is your responsibility to turn it into the best brain it can be. We often get physicals from the doctor but we never get check ups for our brain health. The best way to see what state of health you are in is to look at your day to day life. Monitor your emotions, your habits, your time management, and your relationships. If you live in disarray there is a chance that is a representation of an unhealthy brain. If your life is unbalanced then your brain is probably overly thickened on certain pathways and barren on others causing tensions in your life. The best way to increase your overall brain health is to actively try to improve your life and your way of doing things. Increase your productivity and find non traditional methods of accomplishing a goal. Challenge yourself and surround yourself with people who will challenge you.
4 ways to thicken your whole brain
Read — Reading forces new ideas into your brain. Any theory that makes it’s way in and is tossed around is thickening your ability to comprehend and break down logic. Reading another person’s words is a great way to have a back and forth inner dialogue. This works better than watching content because your brain is forced to comprehend words, sentences, structure, flow, and predictions. These are all subconscious mental skills you lose when you aren’t forced to engage with your content.
Exercise — Exercising is not a solely mental activity but it is still great for improving the overall health of your brain. Not only does an increased oxygen and nutrient supply from muscular exertion allowing for better processing, exercise in general slows down the aging process by allowing your cells to better expunge themselves of co2. Without exercising your brain will age more rapidly.
Meditation — Meditation allows yourself to relax the brain, equipping it to work more efficiently. If you had no filing system in an office every time you had to do something it would take twice as long just to find the answer. Meditation is like filing all the thoughts in your mind. When your brain is more organized it becomes easier for it to stay organized and operating at full capacity. Increasing grey matter does not just apply for physical actions but also for mental processes.
Sleep — While the jury is still out on all of the reasons we need to sleep we certainly know that it improves the health of your brain significantly. Sleeping allows your brain to clean itself of cellular waste that is built up during the day. A clean brain is a powerful brain. Since making changes is difficult and energy consuming, because we don’t have very many active neurons on those pathways, it will be much harder to go through those mental exercises if you don’t start with a clean slate.
You will never have a perfect brain.
But creating better life habits will allow you to have a stronger brain in the places that you want and less of an attachment to the unhealthy actions that once controlled you. It takes time, repetition, and commitment. The most important thing for you to remember is this.
It took years to get this way, it won’t undo itself overnight.
So I encourage you to motivate yourself and others to make a strong choice for a better life and start today, because every day it will become a little bit easier.
Originally published at tjstrength.co on August 5, 2016.