According to the pre-existing point of view, the aging process of the brain begins when a child becomes a teenager. The peak of this process falls on mature years. However, it is now established that the human brain has the ability to change, restore and regenerate, and on an unlimited scale. It follows from this that the main factor influencing the brain is not age, but a person’s behavior throughout life.
There are processes that “restart” subcortical white matter neurons (collectively referred to as the basal nucleus); during these processes, the brain works in an enhanced mode. The nucleus basalis activates the mechanism of brain neuroplasticity. The term neuroplasticity refers to the ability to control the state of the brain and maintain its functioning.
With age, there is a slight decrease in the efficiency of the brain, but it is not as significant as previously assumed by experts. It is possible not only to create new neural pathways, but also to improve old ones; this can be done throughout a person’s life. To achieve both the first and the second allows the use of certain techniques. At the same time, it is believed that the positive impact on the human body achieved by these measures persists for a long time.
A similar effect is possible due to the fact that a person’s thoughts are able to influence his genes. It is generally accepted that the genetic material inherited by a person from their ancestors is unable to undergo changes. According to a widespread belief, a person receives from his parents all the baggage that they themselves acquired from their ancestors (i.e., genes that determine what kind of person will be tall and complex, what diseases will be characteristic of him, etc.), and this baggage cannot be changed. However, in reality, human genes can be influenced throughout his life. They are influenced both by the actions of their carrier, and by his thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
At present, the following fact is known: how a person eats and what lifestyle he leads affects his genes. Physical activity and other factors also leave an imprint on them. Today, experts are conducting research in the field of influence exerted on the genes by the emotional component – thoughts, feelings, faith of a person. Experts have repeatedly been convinced that chemicals that are influenced by human mental activity have the strongest effect on his genes. The degree of their impact is equated to the impact exerted on the genetic material by a change in diet, lifestyle or habitat.
What do the studies show?
According to Dr. Dawson Church, his experiments confirm that a person’s thoughts and faith can activate genes related to disease and recovery. According to him, the human body reads information from the brain. According to science, a person has only a certain genetic set that cannot be changed. However, a significant role is played by which genes have an impact on the perception of their carrier and on the various processes occurring in his body, says Church.
An experiment conducted at Ohio University clearly showed the degree of influence of mental activity on the regeneration of the body. Couples were involved in its implementation. Each of the subjects was given a small injury to the skin, resulting in a blister. After that, the couples had to conduct a conversation on an abstract topic for 30 minutes or enter into an argument on any issue.
After the experiment, for several weeks, experts measured the concentration in the organisms of the subjects of three proteins that affect the rate of healing of skin wounds. The results showed that the participants who entered into an argument and showed the greatest causticity and rigidity, the content of these proteins turned out to be 40% lower than those who communicated on an abstract topic; the same applied to the rate of wound regeneration – it was lower by the same percentage. Commenting on the experiment, Church gives the following description of the ongoing processes: a protein is produced in the body that starts the work of the genes responsible for regeneration. Genes use stem cells to build new skin cells to restore it. But under stress, the body’s energy is spent on the release of stress substances (adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine). In this case, the signal sent to the healing genes becomes much weaker. This leads to the fact that healing slows down significantly. On the contrary, if the body is not forced to respond to external threats, all its forces are used in the healing process.
Why does it matter?
Being born, a person has a certain genetic inheritance that ensures the effective functioning of the body during daily physical activity. But the ability of a person to maintain mental balance directly affects the ability of the body to use its capabilities. Even if a person is immersed in aggressive thoughts, there are methods he can use to tune his pathways to support less reactive processes. Constant stress contributes to premature aging of the brain.
Stress accompanies a person throughout his life path. Here is the opinion of Dr. Harvard Phyllitt of the United States, professor of geriatrics at the New York School of Medicine (Phyllitt also heads a foundation that develops new drugs for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease). According to Phyllit, the greatest negative impact on the body is caused by mental stress felt by a person inside as a reaction to external stimuli. This statement emphasizes that the body gives a certain response to negative external factors. A similar reaction of the human body has an effect on the brain; the result is various mental disorders, for example, memory impairment. Stress contributes to memory loss in old age and is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. At the same time, a person may have the feeling that he is much older (in terms of mental activity) than he is in reality.
The results of experiments conducted by scientists at the University of California showed that if the body is constantly forced to respond to stress, the result can be a decrease in an important part of the limbic system of the brain – the hippocampus. This part of the brain activates the processes that eliminate the effects of stress, and also ensures the functioning of long-term memory. In this case, we are also talking about the manifestation of neuroplasticity, but here it is negative.
Relaxation, a person conducting sessions during which he completely cuts off any thoughts – these measures allow you to quickly streamline thoughts and, as a result, normalize the level of stress substances in the body and gene expression. Moreover, these activities have an impact on the structure of the brain.
One of the fundamental principles of neuroplasticity is that by stimulating the areas of the brain responsible for positive emotions, you can strengthen neural connections. This effect can be compared to strengthening muscles through exercise. On the other hand, if a person often thinks about traumatic things, the sensitivity of his cerebellar amygdala, which is primarily responsible for negative emotions, increases. Hanson explains that by such actions a person increases the susceptibility of his brain and, as a result, in the future he begins to get upset because of various little things.
The nervous system perceives excitations in the internal organs of the body with the participation of the central part of the brain, called the “island”. Due to this perception, called interoception, during physical activity, the human body is protected from injury; it allows a person to feel that everything is normal with the body, says Hanson. In addition, when the “island” is in a healthy state, a person’s intuition and empathy increase. The anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for concentration. These areas can be affected by special relaxation techniques, achieving a positive effect on the body.
In old age, improvement of mental activity is possible every year.
For many years, the prevailing view was that when a person reaches middle age, the human brain begins to lose its flexibility and abilities. But the results of recent experiments have shown that when you reach middle age, the brain is able to reach the peak of its capabilities. According to studies, these years are most favorable for the most active brain activity, regardless of the person’s bad habits. The decisions made at this age are characterized by the greatest awareness, since a person is guided by experience.
Specialists involved in the study of the brain have always argued that the aging of this organ is caused by the death of neutrons – brain cells. But when scanning the brain using advanced technologies, it was found that in most of the brain there are the same number of neurons throughout life. While some aspects of aging do cause certain mental abilities (such as reaction time) to deteriorate, neurons are constantly being replenished.
In this process – “bilateralization of the brain”, as experts call it – both hemispheres are equally involved. In the 1990s Canadian scientists at the University of Toronto, using the latest brain scanning technology, were able to visualize his work. To compare the work of the brains of young people and middle-aged people, an experiment was conducted on attention and memory ability. The subjects were shown photographs of faces whose names they had to quickly memorize, then they had to say the name of each of them.
Experts believed that middle-aged participants would perform worse on the task, however, contrary to expectations, both groups showed the same results. In addition, one circumstance caused the surprise of scientists. When conducting positron emission tomography, the following was found: in young people, activation of neural connections occurred in a specific area of the brain, and in middle-aged people, in addition to this area, a part of the prefrontal cortex of the brain was also involved. Based on this and other studies, experts explained this phenomenon by the fact that subjects from the middle age group in any zone of the neural network could have deficiencies; at this time, another part of the brain was activated to compensate. This shows that over the years people use their brains to a greater extent. In addition to this, in mature years, the neural network in other areas of the brain is strengthened.
The human brain is able to overcome circumstances, to resist them, using its flexibility. Careful attention to his health contributes to the fact that he shows better results. According to the researchers, his condition is positively affected by proper nutrition, relaxation, mental exercises (work on tasks of increased complexity, the study of any areas), physical activity, etc. These factors can affect the brain at any age – as in youth as well as old age.