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 human 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. Fostering synaptic plasticity and neuroplastic change within your mind is best facilitated through brain training.

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.

Characteristics of Neuroplasticity

Adopting certain behaviors and engaging in specific activities can play a significant role in protecting cognitive function and enhancing neuroplasticity. These practices contribute to a healthier, more adaptable brain, capable of growth and learning throughout life.

Behaviors beneficial for cognitive protection include:

  • Pursuing Education: Continuous learning and education keep the brain active and engaged.
  • Achieving High Literacy: High levels of literacy promote mental agility and comprehension skills.
  • Participating in Engaging Work: Work that stimulates thought and creativity encourages ongoing brain development.
  • Leading an Active Lifestyle in Later Adulthood: Staying physically and socially active supports brain health and cognitive function as we age.

In addition to these behaviors, other factors that significantly contribute to enhancing neuroplasticity emphasize the importance of stimulating activities and environments:

  • Engaging with stimulating environments and experiences fosters an atmosphere where the brain is continually encouraged to adapt and grow. This could mean surrounding oneself with diverse, vibrant settings that challenge the brain in new ways.
  • Embracing novelty and variety in daily activities helps to keep the brain dynamic and flexible, important for its ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections. Doing so will help your brain cells form new neural connections in different brain regions, improving your cognitive flexibility and preventing symptoms like brain fog.

Incorporating these behaviors and factors into daily life can greatly impact an individual's cognitive health and the brain's capacity to adapt and evolve. This proactive approach to brain health is essential for maintaining cognitive function and enhancing the brain's natural plasticity over time.


Benefits of Neuroplasticity

The concept of neuroplasticity offers a powerful perspective on the brain's ability to evolve and adapt, illustrating that personal change is not only possible but achievable. It teaches us that our reactions to stress, anxiety, frustration, or disappointment need not remain static; we possess the capacity to modify our responses and reshape our thoughts and behavioral patterns.

Key benefits of embracing neuroplasticity include:

  • Enhanced Healing: The brain's adaptability aids in recovering from physical injury and emotional trauma. Those suffering from a brain injury or going through stroke recovery and cognitive decline will experience improved recovery through neuroplasticity exercises
  • Improved Cognitive Abilities: Neuroplasticity contributes to better learning, problem-solving, and memory since it builds new neural connections to different brain regions.
  • Greater Inner Peace: By adjusting thought processes, individuals can achieve more clarity and calmness.
  • Goal Achievement: It fosters the setting and reaching of personal and professional goals through improved focus and discipline.
  • Increased Adaptability: Flexibility and resilience in the face of life's challenges are bolstered, enabling more effective coping strategies.

Recognizing the potential for change through neuroplasticity empowers individuals to take control over aspects of their lives that they previously thought were immutable. Whether it's altering harmful thought patterns, overcoming past traumas, or enhancing cognitive functions, the brain's inherent flexibility offers a path toward personal growth and improved well-being. By tapping into this remarkable capacity, we open ourselves up to a world of transformation and healing, highlighting the profound impact that understanding and applying neuroplasticity can have on our lives.

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.