Neural Plasticity

Principles of Brain Change

Contrary to prior belief, the brain has the amazing capacity to change throughout our entire lives!  Scientifically, this quality is known as plasticity, and it allows the brain to adapt to our actions and to our environments to make us more efficient and resilient. To create the change you want in the least amount of time, it's vital to have a coach who knows how to evaluate the health of your plasticity and who understands what factors can most powerfully influence the process.

10 Factors Driving Change

1. Use It or Lose It
Just like with muscles and bones, areas of the brain that are not sufficiently activated or challenged will degrade over time.

2. Use It and Improve It
On the other hand, brain areas and pathways that are successfully activated and challenged can enhance their function.

3. Specificity
The brain obeys the fundamental law of human physiology, the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand.  To put it more explicitly, the brain always adapts to exactly what it's doing, so training must be approached with precision.

4. Repetition Matters
The most durable changes in the brain require structural adaptations that take time and repeated effort to build. Understanding the components of neural plasticity, though, can help to shortcut this process.

5. Intensity Matters
In order for plasticity to occur, signals in the nervous system need to be strong enough to get their message across. Neurons that are out of shape or injured may be too weak to create change, so it's important to have training strategies that can recruit the activation you need to improve.

6. Time Matters
Plasticity encompasses a number of different processes in the nervous system, and each one has its own timeline for change.

7. Salience Matters
Plasticity is metabolically expensive, and the brain will only devote resources to change if the lesson being learned is important.  Good coaching helps the brain understand how the information going in connects to the functions you care about.

8. Metabolism Matters
A high metabolic rate that optimizes your use of glucose and oxygen, hormonal balance, detoxification, and immune function allows the brain to change most easily and durably.

9. Transference
Stimulating plasticity in one set of neural circuits can enhance the plasticity of other circuits, so while training to learn or improve skills, you can activate additional parts of the peripheral or central nervous system to help those skills change more quickly and stick better long-term.  Additionally, because plasticity is a skill in and of itself, practice that creates change in the brain improves your overall capacity for plasticity, meaning you can more easily recover from any injury or disuse you may experience in the future.

10. Interference
When approached incorrectly, plasticity can also impede progress, so understanding the factors that steer and shape change in the brain is crucial to making sure your training is moving you in the right direction.

Additional Resources:

- The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge

- “Principles of Experience-Dependent Neural Plasticity: Implications for Rehabilitation After Brain Damage” by Jeffrey A. Kleim

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At CNS, we strive to get you faster and longer-lasting results, and our understanding of the nervous system and our assess and re-asses process allow us to customize each program and give the right exercise to the right person at the right time in just the right amount.