“When I was at medical school — and even when I was doing my PhD — neuroplasticity wasn't something that we knew about. Until sophisticated scanning technologies came out, neuroscience and neurology hadn’t relied so much on learning about the brain unless you had a stroke, brain tumor, or brain abscess. So up until that point, most of the research was on stroke recovery. We saw that people who had a blood clot or big bleed into the brain could recover a lot of their function, whether it was speech or movement. But it wasn’t until we could scan healthy brains that we realized how much the brain changes throughout life, even in adulthood.
Anyone with young kids will have personally experienced what a sponge a young child's brain is. They go from 0 to 2 basically unable to do anything at the beginning, apart from breathe and drink, to being able to walk, talk, and manage their bowels and bladder. That's incredible, obviously. There's still a lot of change in the first 10 years, it's just more subtle because there's a lot of growth and connection of neurons at the beginning. Then in the teenage years, there's more pruning, which makes the brain more sophisticated and prepares us for social and sexual interaction.
We thought that by the time you physically stopped growing (around the age of 18) that your brain also stopped growing, and that whatever intellectual capability, creativity, or language skills you had were as far as you were going to go. In scanning brains, we saw that this process is very active until we're about 25. And then from 25 to 65, it can tend to plateau. But we can do things to stimulate that process and keep the brain flexible, growing, and changing. There are also certain things we start doing in our late 30s to early 40s that can stave off the degenerative process that can start from 65 onwards.
“There are also certain things we start doing in our late 30s to early 40s that can stave off the degenerative process that can start from 65 onwards.”
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to grow and change throughout life. This can be a great thing, like learning a new language or becoming more emotionally intelligent, or it can be a damaging thing, like obsessing over a breakup and embedding the idea that relationships don't work out for you. From my point of view, it says you can teach an old dog new tricks. It's very exciting in terms of changing beliefs about ourselves, thought processes, relationship patterns, the way we behave in the world, and manifestation.”
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Want more? This is an excerpt from a longer convo with Dr. Tara Swart — listen or watch here!