It is well known that certain experiences and habits kill neurons. To drink alcohol, to suffer blows in the head, to follow an inadequate diet and a long etcetera of situations is translated in losses between the neuronal population of our brain. However, not everything is death and destruction in the everyday life of the typical adult human brain: there is also the birth of new neurons, a phenomenon known as neurogenesis.
What is neurogenesis?
Neurogenesis is the production of central nervous system (CNS) cells, i.e. neurons and glial cells. The term neurogenesis applies especially to humans, although it occurs logically in any animal that has a nervous system and therefore nerve cells.
Explained this, below we show you five simple habits that help to favor neurogenesis and, therefore, to make you smarter:
One of the leaders in the field of meditation neuroscience research, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University has studied what he calls the “relaxation response,” which induces a series of biochemical changes in the brain. Benson suggests that meditation regenerates brain cells, thereby reducing stress.
A study by researchers at the University of Oregon indicates that the meditation technique known as IBMT (integral mind-body training) can facilitate neurogenesis.
According to scientists, running or biking helps stimulate neurogenesis if done as usual. Science has shown that exercise can improve mood and cognition. Dr. Henriette van Praag, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging in the United States, conducted research showing that exercise improves learning and neurogenesis.
“It was found that both learning and neurogenesis in the hippocampus have been improved in older running mice […]. In summary, exercise restores spatial learning and neuron generation in older mice. Interestingly, the properties of new neurons don’t seem to change with age.
The Journal of Molecular Science published a study in 2000 in which they showed that caloric restriction in our diet can prevent memory and learning deficits and increase the resistance of neurons to degeneration. The research showed that dieting rats developed new neurons in the hippocampus.
Marijuana and psychoactive drugs
Psychoactive drugs have many harmful effects on the human brain, however, some scientists claim that they are also important in the process of neuron regeneration. The psilocybin present in mushrooms, according to some research, is linked to the birth of new neurons, works as an antidepressant and can be an effective treatment against smoking.
Marijuana would also be linked to the generation of new brain cells and at the same time could act through its anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. This vision faces, then, those who argue that smoking marijuana causes the death of neurons.
Keep your mind active
There are other relatively simple options for promoting neurogenesis. Among them we can find some like discovering new stimulating environments, doing mental exercises oriented to learning, memory games, learning a new language, practicing activities that develop our coordination like juggling, dancing or skating…
In short, it is about providing your brain with new experiences that allow it to expand its limits and acquire new motor patterns or learning at the cognitive level.