How to Increase Neuroplasticity: Principles of Neuroplasticity

Written by: Pard Bharaj



Time to read 13 min

Introduction: Principles of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity, a pivotal concept in modern neuroscience, fundamentally changes our understanding of the brain. It refers to the brain's remarkable ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This adaptability not only plays a crucial role in learning and memory, but also aids in recovery from brain injuries and depression. Here’s a breakdown of what neuroplasticity entails:

  • Adaptation: Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt to new experiences or recover from injuries.
  • Continuous Learning: Even in adulthood, our brain's structure and function can change in response to learning.
  • Recovery: In cases of brain injury, neuroplasticity can compensate for lost functions or maximise remaining functions.

This concept dispels the old belief that our brains are static and unchangeable after a certain age. Instead, it highlights a dynamic organ, constantly evolving in response to our experiences and environment. This is important as it shows that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks.

How Does Neuroplasticity Work?

Here's an in-depth look at how this process works:

  • Synaptic Plasticity: This is the most well-known aspect of neuroplasticity. It involves the strengthening or weakening of synapses (the junctions between neurons) based on their activity levels. When a synapse is frequently used, it becomes stronger, making the transmission of information more efficient. This is often summed up as "neurons that fire together, wire together".
  • Cortical Remapping: When a part of the brain is damaged, other parts can sometimes take over its function. This is most evident in individuals who recover abilities lost due to brain injury or stroke. The brain effectively 'rewires' itself to compensate for lost functions.
  • Neurogenesis: Once thought impossible, we now understand that the adult brain can generate new neurons, a process known as neurogenesis. This occurs primarily in the hippocampus, an area linked to learning and memory.
  • Changes in Neurotransmitter Levels: Neuroplasticity also involves changes in the levels of various neurotransmitters, the chemicals that neurons use to communicate. Different experiences can increase or decrease the production of specific neurotransmitters, which in turn affects brain function and mood.
  • Structural Plasticity: This refers to the brain's ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning. This involves growing new neural connections, reshaping existing ones, and even creating new neurons.

How to Increase Neuroplasticity:

Improving neuroplasticity involves engaging in activities and adopting lifestyle habits that stimulate and challenge your brain. Here are some general strategies:

  • Diverse Learning Experiences: Engaging in new learning activities, like picking up a new language, instrument, or skill, challenges the brain and enhances its plasticity.
  • Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercises, boosts brain function and encourages the growth of new neural connections.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like mindfulness and meditation can lead to structural changes in the brain, improving areas responsible for memory, learning, and emotion regulation.
  • Healthy Diet: Consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins supports brain health and neuroplasticity.
  • Adequate Sleep: Quality sleep is critical for brain health, allowing for the consolidation of learning and memory.

Neuroplasticity Exercises:

Importantly, neuroplasticity is not just stimulated by complex or challenging tasks. Engaging in new or novel activities, regardless of their difficulty, can promote the development of new neurons and enhance brain plasticity. This adaptability is crucial in learning and memory and plays a significant role in recovery from brain injuries, underscoring the dynamic and evolving nature of our brains.

Enhancing your brain's neuroplasticity can be achieved through various exercises and activities. Here are 11 specific exercises to boost neuroplasticity, although the list is pretty endless.

1. Novelty & Simple Changes to Existing Routines:

The easiest way to foster neuroplasticity is to integrate simple exercises into our exisiting daily routines, subtly stimulating the brain and enhancing its adaptability.

Incorporate these exercises for cognitive benefits:

  • Use your non-dominant hand for tasks like brushing teeth.
  • Observe street signs closely to sharpen memory.
  • Stand on one leg to practice balance.
  • Vary your walking paths for better spatial awareness.
  • Tackle puzzles or crosswords to boost problem-solving.
  • Reorganise furniture to create new spatial dynamics.

These simple, routine activities can profoundly impact brain growth and flexibility.

Street signs against a blue sky with clouds, one reading "EMBRACE," the other "NEW THINGS," symbolizing openness to change or new experiences.

2. Travelling:

Travelling and discovering new destinations can significantly boost neuroplasticity for a variety of reasons. However, if travel isn't feasible, exploring your local area can also yield unexpected surprises. 

Often, there are fascinating aspects right on our doorstep that remain unexplored, primarily because we tend to adhere to familiar routines. By stepping out of these habitual patterns and embracing the novelty in our immediate surroundings, we stimulate our brain's capacity for change and adaptation, fostering neuroplasticity even in the comfort of our own neighbourhood.

Travel and adventure concept on a vintage map with a camera, straw hat, sunglasses, compass, airplane model, passport wallet with credit cards, and a smartphone, suggesting preparation for a journey.

3. Learning a New Sport:

Learning a new sport can have a profound impact on brain health and function. These activities are excellent for improving hand-eye coordination, as they require precise timing and control. Furthermore, they significantly boost concentration, demanding focused attention to master the skills involved. Additionally, engaging in these physical activities enhances spatial awareness, helping the brain to better understand and navigate the space around the body. 

The process of learning and mastering these skills not only provides a physical workout but also challenges the brain, encouraging the development of new neural pathways and promoting overall cognitive health.

A golfer in mid-swing on a lush golf course during sunrise or sunset, with a clear sky and scattered clouds overhead, capturing the tranquility and focus of the sport.

4. Mindfulness and Meditation:

Not only beneficial for enhancing focus and concentration but also plays a significant role in increasing brain matter. This study published in PubMed Central (PMC) demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density, particularly in areas involved in learning, memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Additionally, the stress reduction achieved through mindfulness meditation can contribute to a healthier brain environment, potentially supporting the maintenance and growth of brain cells. This enhancement of brain matter further underscores the value of mindfulness meditation as a tool for improving overall brain health and cognitive function.

A person sits in contemplation on a rocky outcrop, overlooking a misty, forested valley during a serene dawn or dusk. The scene conveys a sense of peace and connection with nature.

5. Learning a New Language:

Learning a new language is a powerful way to challenge the brain, significantly enhancing cognitive flexibility and memory. The process of acquiring a new language involves complex cognitive tasks like understanding grammar, building vocabulary, and practicing pronunciation, all of which stimulate various areas of the brain. 

This stimulation not only strengthens neural connections but also promotes the creation of new pathways. Additionally, learning a language can improve problem-solving skills and increase mental agility, making it fantastic for boosting overall brain health and neuroplasticity.

This study published in PubMed Central (PMC) showed that bilingualism enhances cognitive abilities, including better attention and task-switching capacities

A cheerful young child with oversized glasses gives a thumbs-up in front of a chalkboard with "Hello" written in multiple languages, symbolizing the joy of learning and cultural diversity.

6. Chess and Strategy Games:

I started playing chess intermittently about a year ago, and it initially took me some time to understand and get used to the game. I now play the game on a regular basis. Personally, I've observed a significant improvement in my organisational and planning abilities. My ability to concentrate on tasks has definitely increased. The most notable change, though, has been an increase in my patience, especially when dealing with complex tasks that would have previously caused me frustration. However, this improvement could also be down to other mindfulness and meditation.

In general Chess and strategy games are excellent tools for enhancing strategic thinking and problem-solving skills, better memory,  foresight, planning, and the ability to anticipate possible future scenarios - it also teaches you to lose gracefully.

Two chess kings, one light and one dark, stand prominently on a chessboard, symbolizing strategic thinking, opposing forces, and leadership in a classic game of chess.

7. Participating in Social Activities:

Social activities and group learning experiences plays a vital role in promoting both social interaction and cognitive stimulation. Engaging with others in group settings, whether it's through discussions, activities, or classes, encourages the exchange of ideas and perspectives. This social interaction is not only beneficial for emotional well-being but also stimulates the brain, as it requires active listening, understanding diverse viewpoints, and often, problem-solving in a collaborative environment. 

Such activities can enhance verbal communication skills, boost empathy, and provide mental stimulation through lively discussions and shared learning experiences. This combination of social and cognitive engagement is essential for maintaining a healthy, active mind, fostering both social connections and cognitive development.

A diverse group of individuals sits in a circle for a group discussion or workshop in a bright room with large windows, embodying a collaborative and inclusive atmosphere.

8. Excercise:

Exercise, encompassing activities like running, swimming, or cycling, plays a crucial role in brain health. These forms of exercise significantly increase blood flow to the brain, which is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients vital for its functioning. 

The enhanced circulation not only helps in maintaining brain health but also encourages the growth of new neural connections. This process, known as neurogenesis, is pivotal in improving cognitive functions and memory. Moreover, regular aerobic exercise can also release endorphins and other neurochemicals that promote a sense of well-being.

This study published in PubMed Central (PMC) demonstrated that physical exercise is a potent gene modulator, inducing structural and functional brain changes that significantly benefit cognitive functioning and wellbeing.

Motion-blurred image of a person trail running through a lush green forest, capturing the dynamic movement and the essence of outdoor fitness and adventure.

9. Regular Reading:

Regular reading and writing activities are crucial for enhancing cognitive functions and verbal skills. Delving into reading, particularly complex materials, challenges the brain to comprehend and process information, thereby strengthening cognitive abilities. It enhances vocabulary, improves memory, and encourages analytical thinking. Similarly, engaging in creative writing stimulates the imagination, requiring the brain to construct narratives, develop characters, and express ideas coherently. 

This creative exercise not only sharpens language skills but also promotes cognitive flexibility and problem-solving abilities. Together, reading and writing not only enrich knowledge but also contribute significantly to the overall development and maintenance of a healthy and agile brain.

Two stacks of variously colored books on a wooden surface against a teal backdrop, conveying a setting of learning, literature, and the accumulation of knowledge.

10. Yoga:

Yoga combines physical postures, breath control, and meditation, which together offer a holistic approach to enhancing brain health. Practicing yoga regularly can lead to improvements in concentration, memory, and cognitive flexibility. The physical postures help in improving blood circulation, including to the brain, which is beneficial for neural health and the formation of new neural pathways. 

Additionally, the meditative aspects of yoga reduce stress and anxiety, which are known to negatively impact neuroplasticity. By promoting relaxation and mental clarity, yoga can create an optimal environment for the brain to adapt and reorganise itself, thereby enhancing neuroplasticity.

A hand unrolling a purple yoga mat on a wooden floor with a textured grey wall in the background, preparing for a yoga practice or fitness routine.

11. Creative Arts:

Creative arts like painting, drawing, and crafting offer more than just aesthetic pleasure; they serve as powerful stimulants for the brain. When we engage in these artistic activities, we activate diverse areas of the brain involved in vision, motor skills, and creativity. 

This stimulation encourages the development of new neural connections, enhancing neuroplasticity. The process of creating art requires problem-solving and can evoke emotional responses, both of which are known to drive brain plasticity. By regularly incorporating creative arts into our routine, we foster an environment where our brain's capacity to adapt and grow is continuously nurtured.

An open hand below a vibrant, multicolored brain, depicted in paint splatters, suggesting creativity, ideas, and the nurturing of intellectual growth against a textured backdrop.

Benefits of Neuroplasticity and Final Thoughts:

Understanding that age is no barrier to learning is essential when considering neuroplasticity. Our brains have the remarkable ability to adapt and grow throughout our lives. Engaging in new activities is key to this process, and these activities don't necessarily need to be complex. Simple practices, like using our non-dominant hand for everyday tasks, can effectively stimulate our brains. The benefits of nurturing our neuroplasticity consistently are extensive:

  • Improved Cognitive Functions: Activities that stimulate the brain can enhance memory, attention, mental clarity, and problem-solving skills.
  • Greater Emotional Resilience: Learning new skills and adapting to challenges can significantly improve emotional health.
  • Enhanced Creativity: Exposure to novel experiences can foster innovative thinking and creativity.
  • Better Adaptability to Change: Regular mental challenges prepare the brain to adapt more easily to changes.
  • Increased Mental Agility: Continuous learning and adaptation keep the brain agile and responsive.
  • Improved Recovery from Brain Injuries: Neuroplasticity plays a crucial role in recovering lost functions or maximising remaining functions after a brain injury.

Previously, I had difficulty remembering even the main roads where I live. Once, a driver asked me for directions to a road, and embarrassingly, I struggled to recall it, despite it being just across from where I lived! That incident motivated me to make a change. I committed to learning the names of two new streets every day. Within just eight weeks, I had almost completely memorised all of the main roads in my town. Moreover, I reached a point where I could remember up to five new roads each day. It’s a small but very significant and positive change, it is also very useful in helping you to stay present and even discover things that you never knew existed on your doorstep.

By embracing neuroplasticity and incorporating small, yet consistent efforts into our daily lives, we can unlock numerous benefits that enhance our mental agility and overall quality of life, no matter our age.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Neuroplasticity Can Help with ADHD?

The brain's ability to reorganise and form new neural connections can be particularly beneficial for individuals with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). This adaptability of the brain can be harnessed through various methods to help mitigate ADHD symptoms. Here's a detailed look at how neuroplasticity can aid in ADHD management.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
Method: CBT helps in restructuring negative thought patterns and developing coping strategies.
Impact on ADHD: It can lead to changes in the brain regions associated with executive functioning and self-regulation.

Neurofeedback Training:
Method: This involves monitoring brain activity and teaching individuals to control certain brain waves.
Impact on ADHD: It can enhance focus by increasing beta waves and reducing theta waves.
Study: Research in the Journal of Neurotherapy found significant improvements in ADHD symptoms with neurofeedback training (

Mindfulness and Meditation:
Method: Practices that focus on awareness and attention control.
Impact on ADHD: These can improve attentional control and reduce impulsivity.
Study: A study in the Journal of Attention Disorders highlighted the positive effects of mindfulness training on attention and hyperactivity in children with ADHD (

Exercise and Physical Activity:
Method: Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise.
Impact on ADHD: Exercise can improve cognitive function and reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Computerised Cognitive Training:
Method: Programs designed to improve specific cognitive skills.
Impact on ADHD: These can lead to improvements in attention, memory, and problem-solving skills.

Diet and Nutrition:
Method: Incorporating a balanced diet rich in nutrients that support brain health.
Impact on ADHD: Certain diets may improve brain function and reduce ADHD symptoms.

Can Neuroplasticity Change Your Personality?

Neuroplasticity can lead to a range of personality changes, both positive and negative, depending on various factors like the type of experiences, interventions, and individual responses.

Positive Changes:

Increased Resilience: Engaging in activities that promote neuroplasticity, like mindfulness or cognitive exercises, can enhance emotional resilience and stress management abilities.
Improved Social Skills: Learning new social behaviors or undergoing therapies like social skills training can lead to better interpersonal relationships and increased sociability.
Enhanced Openness: Exposure to diverse experiences and learning can broaden perspectives, leading to increased openness to new experiences and ideas.
Reduced Neuroticism: Therapies aimed at altering thought patterns, such as CBT, can help in reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, thereby decreasing neurotic tendencies.

Potential Negative Changes:

Overdependence on Routine: In some cases, neuroplasticity can lead to a heightened need for routine and predictability, which might limit adaptability in changing environments.
Increased Impulsivity: While adapting to new experiences or changes, some individuals might develop a tendency towards impulsive behaviors, especially if neuroplastic changes occur in brain areas related to impulse control.
Heightened Sensitivity: Enhanced neuroplasticity in response to traumatic or stressful experiences can sometimes increase emotional sensitivity or vulnerability, particularly if not guided by therapeutic interventions.

The direction and extent of personality changes due to neuroplasticity are influenced by the individual's unique experiences, biological factors, and the nature of the neuroplastic interventions they engage in. While many changes are positive and growth-oriented, there's potential for less desirable changes, underscoring the importance of guided and balanced approaches to leveraging neuroplasticity.

Can You Recommend Suitable Neuroplasticity Exercises for Anxiety?

Here are some effective exercises:

Mindfulness Meditation:
How it Helps: Promotes present-moment awareness, reducing rumination and worry.
Technique: Practice daily mindfulness sessions, focusing on breath or body sensations.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
How it Helps: Alters negative thought patterns associated with anxiety.
Technique: Work with a therapist to identify and change unhelpful thoughts.

Gratitude Journaling:
How it Helps: Shifts focus from anxiety-inducing thoughts to positive aspects of life.
Technique: Daily write down things you are grateful for.

Aerobic Exercise:
How it Helps: Stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins, improving mood. For me personally, it feels like I'm burning off excess energy which otherwise could lead towards overthinking.
Technique: Engage in regular activities like brisk walking, jogging, or cycling.

Yoga and Tai Chi:
How it Helps: Combines physical postures and controlled breathing, reducing stress and anxiety.
Technique: Participate in yoga or tai chi classes, focusing on breath control and mindfulness.

Neuroplasticity and Depression. Can it Help?

Neuroplasticity can play a significant role in both the development and treatment of depression.

Depression's Impact on Neuroplasticity:
Changes in Brain Regions: Depression is linked with changes in brain areas like the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which are vital for mood and emotions. These changes can include neuronal atrophy and synaptic loss​​​​.
Reduced Neuroplasticity: Chronic stress and depression-like behaviors have been associated with impairments in neuroplasticity, leading to changes in brain function and structure​​.

Neuroplasticity in Treating Depression:
Shift in Understanding: There has been a shift from viewing depression solely as a chemical imbalance to understanding it as a condition involving neuroplasticity. This new perspective focuses on how treatments can improve neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) and overall brain function, contributing to mood and cognitive improvements​.

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Image of Pard, the Author

Pard Bharaj

I am a dedicated researcher with nearly a decade of experience in investigating health best practices. My journey in the health and wellness field has been driven by a passion for understanding and sharing the most effective ways to maintain and improve health. Over the years, I have delved into a wide range of topics, constantly seeking out the latest research and insights. My commitment is to provide well-researched, accurate, and trustworthy information to help readers make informed decisions about their health.

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