How to increase neuroplasticity to learn new things and boost productivity

birds' eye view of river tributaries

Have you ever wanted to learn a new language? Become an expert in a new professional skill? Well, there’s a way to “rewire” your brain to better prepare you to learn new things and increase your productivity. Increasing neuroplasticity is essential to maintaining a healthy brain and improving cognitive function. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt to new experiences (ie. learning). It is a crucial aspect of brain development and growth over our entire lives, and research has shown that neuroplasticity can be increased through various exercises and methods [1]. 

At Apollo Neuro, we pioneer discoveries in neuroscience to make products that improve mental health and wellbeing. We build tools to support your personal growth to be the best version of yourself so you can unlock your potential, improve your memory, and feel really, really good. Before we explore how to increase neuroplasticity, let’s get into what’s going on in your brain.

Understanding neuroplasticity

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to learn by creating new neurons and networks [2], therefore adapting and changing in response to new experiences and other environmental factors. This is also known as brain plasticity or neural plasticity.

How does neuroplasticity work?

Neuroplasticity works by changing the connections between neurons in the brain as we learn new things. These connections, also known as synapses, are the fundamental building blocks of the brain's neural networks, allowing nerve cells to talk to each other. When new experiences are encountered, the brain forms new synapses and/or strengthens existing ones, allowing it to adapt to the new information.

There are two main types of neuroplasticity: structural and functional. Structural plasticity refers to the physical changes in the brain's structure, such as the growth of new synapses or the pruning of old unused ones [3]. Functional plasticity, on the other hand, refers to the changes in the brain's activity patterns, such as the strengthening or weakening of communication between different parts of the brain.

Research has shown that neuroplasticity can be enhanced through various activities, such as learning new skills, exercising, and engaging in mental and emotional stimulation. By engaging in these activities, individuals can promote the growth of new synapses and strengthen existing ones, leading to improvements in cognitive function and overall brain health that often results in improved mood and memory.

Practice tips to improve neuroplasticity

  1. Embrace novelty and the unknown: Stepping out of your comfort zone challenges your brain to form new neural connections through learning new skills and challenging the brain. Engaging in activities that are fun and require problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking can help to strengthen neural connections in the brain and promote the growth of new ones. This can include activities such as learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, or pursuing a new hobby. By regularly playing in  these types of activities, you can improve your cognitive function and increase your brain's ability to learn, remember, and adapt to change. By stepping out of your comfort zone, you stimulate neuroplasticity and promote brain growth.
  2. Regular movement and physical exercise: Exercise not only benefits your physical health but also has a profound impact on your brain. Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming, or cycling, have been shown to enhance neuroplasticity by increasing the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth of new neurons and learning. This, in turn, increases the brain's ability to adapt and change in response to new experiences. Studies have also shown that exercise can improve cognitive function and memory in both young and older adults.
  3. Mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness practices, including meditation, have been found to promote neuroplasticity and improve brain function. Mindfulness helps train your brain to focus and control your attention, training neural pathways involved in cognitive control and emotional regulation. Dedicating even just a few minutes each day to meditation or other mindfulness exercises cultivates a resilience and adaptable brain.
  4. Get sufficient sleep: Quality sleep is essential for neuroplasticity. Sleep is the time that our brain and body get their most important recharge moments, which also happens to be the time that our memories get organized and stored (REM Sleep). Aiming to wake up and go to bed around the same time every night can be an easy way to set some helpful structure to your circadian rhythm (sleep and wake cycles) to increase your restorative deep and REM sleep. Integrating your Apollo wearable into your daily routine also helps improve your deep and REM sleep by supporting your natural rhythm and circadian cycle. Strive for a consistent sleep routine and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. In a recent observational study of Apollo users, Apollo wearable users experienced, on average, 19% more deep sleep, 14% more REM sleep, and up to 30 more minutes of high-quality sleep each night.  
  5. Eat for your brain: Diet can also have an impact on neuroplasticity [4]. Eating a diet that is rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, can help to protect the brain from damage and increase neuroplasticity. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, nuts, and seeds, have also been found to be beneficial for the brain.

On the other hand, a diet that is high in saturated fat and sugar can have a negative impact on neuroplasticity. This is because it can lead to inflammation in the brain, which can damage neurons and reduce neuroplasticity. Most importantly, eat food in moderation that is clean, organic, and ideally, local for best results.

By improving neuroplasticity, you’re fostering an environment where your brain can adapt, learn, and grow in response to new experiences more easily. Making lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep can all help to increase neuroplasticity and support brain health. It was once believed that your brain couldn’t change or continue to develop after a certain point in life. We now know this isn’t true. By following the steps above and continuing to find ways to grow, adapt, and learn (don’t forget time and patience!), you can actually rewire your brain and find our what you’re really capable of accomplishing in this lifetime.

[1] Front. Psychol., 04 October 2017. Sec. Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience. Volume 8 - 2017 |
[2] Hotting, K and Roder, B. Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Review. 2013. 37(9 Pt B): 2243-57. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.04.005.
[3] Gage FH. Structural plasticity of the adult brain. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2004 Jun;6(2):135-41. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2004.6.2/fgage. PMID: 22034393; PMCID: PMC3181802.
[4] Phillips C. Lifestyle Modulators of Neuroplasticity: How Physical Activity, Mental Engagement, and Diet Promote Cognitive Health during Aging. Neural Plast. 2017;2017:3589271. doi: 10.1155/2017/3589271. Epub 2017 Jun 12. PMID: 28695017; PMCID: PMC5485368.