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Can We Grow Our Brains by Using Them?

We all know that muscles grow when we use them as exercise stimulates our muscles to make more cells and fibres to cope with the extra load we’re putting on them.

Can we do the same for our brains? Can we see our brains as another muscle?

Well, metaphorically, yes, we can. Literally, no we can’t. Our brains are made primarily of fat and water, believe it or not. However, it’s in the proportion of our brains that isn’t fat or water where the magic happens.

Constant connections

Your brain has around 100 billion cells (or neurons), each one with around 10,000 connections to other neurons, giving us an amazing 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, constantly working to keep us conscious.

It’s these connections that we can exercise. While our brain cells aren’t replaced after they die, living brain cells can always make new connections with their neighbours and it’s thought that our memories and everything we learn is linked to these ever-changing connections between our neurons.

This is the dynamism that we can think of as a muscle. Every time you learn a new fact, or learn a new route into work, or use your left hand to clean your teeth, you make some new synaptic connections. If you want to “grow” your brain (of course it won’t increase in size) there’s lots of workouts you can do.

Work on the things you’re bad at

You’re right-handed, so you start cleaning your teeth with your left hand. The synapses for right-handed brushing have been doing the same old thing for years so it’s time to forge some new pathways in your brain by challenging yourself.

Learn a new language

Or at least, a few words from a different language each day. Even if you just learn a few fancy words from your mother tongue you’ll be making new connections, so bust out a dictionary or two.

Do some puzzles

Those octogenarians who say they stay mentally young by doing the crossword every day are bang on the money. If you’re always challenging your brain it raises levels of special proteins and transmitters that keep the cells healthy and promote new connections. It really is a case of use it or lose it, just like it is with your muscles!

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