In the past ten years, there has been astonishing discoveries about how our lifestyle and behavior can actually change our brain — not just change the way it works — increase the size of different parts of the brain and change the functions of different parts of the brain. Norman Doidge wrote a wonderful book called The Brain that Changes Itself. It describes research on how people with strokes, people with a variety of mental processing problems, people with autism, etc. can use specially designed exercises and actually change their brains. What could be more astonishing than this?
How does your lifstyle affect your brain and learning?
Students (and teachers) rarely understand the relationship between physical and mental health and the ability to learn and remember. In recent years, studies have shown how important these areas can be. Renate and Geoffrey Caine in Making Connections, page 39 (bold added) explained.
The brain’s capacity to learn is vast, and it is constructed for much more demanding intellectual activity than that in which it is usually engaged…. Physical Health is important. So is emotional health. Relaxation and stress play a part, as do the ways we communicate and our sensory preferences. The body is, in fact, “in the mind.” Experiences actually shape our brains and, therefore, shape future learning. Thus, we use the brain better when we enrich our experiences so that our brains can extract new and more complex ways of communicating and interacting with the world.
The Effects of an Enriched Environment
Brain Researchers, Bennett, Diamond, Krech and Rosenzweig, after about forty years of research with rats,reported in 1964 the results of their studies. Rats who lived in “enriched environments”, who lived with a group, who had many different toys to play with, or who lived in a natural environment, showed many surprising changes. Their brains were heavier than other rats. Their brains were thicker in sensory areas. They had more enzymes needed for transmitting impulses. They had more more glial cells (that nourish brain cells.) The diameter of blood vessels in the brain increased. There were changes in the “somatosensory, frontal cortex, and visual-spatial areas of the brain.
If changing the environment can make such stunning changes in the brains of rats, think what a difference similar changes could make in human brains. Since those days, scientists have focused on what it is that creates lasting changes in human brains.