Friday, July 31, 2009

Brain lessons from an old Bee

I just came across a fascinating article in Science Daily entitled “A young brain for an old bee.” The article talks about how when older bees switched their social roles, the aging bees can keep their learning ability intact or even improve it.

It has been known for some time that the brain can change according to the environmental stimuli put upon it. This is called plasticity. Sort of like heating up a plastic cup and molding it to the shape you want. Who you interact with, how you exercise, what you read, what you think, what you eat, are all factors in molding your brain..and it never stops your entire life. When we’re young, we know that the brain changes very quickly and is very malleable. As we get older, it gets a little more difficult to change because the neural connections for much of the brain function are well connected. Everything we experience, especially how our bodies move molds the actual structure of our brains. A brain that has many diverse connections can function better over all. Whenever we take up an activity like playing the piano, we begin to utilize different areas of the brain and the nerve cells reach out and touch other nerve cells and eventually form pathways for that particular activity. Activity must be consistent for long term changes in the brain to occur. I compare the way the brain changes to walking the same path in your yard on the grass every day. If you walked occasionally, you wouldn’t form much of a path. But if you walked the same path every day, in a year you could have a dirt path…a new “pathway.” This is why when you learn a new activity as a child, it can stay with you and you can sometimes easily resume the activity later in life even after not doing the activity for years. Our brains can change our entire lives. Although it may change slower as a middle-aged person, it still changes none the less. Many of us get stuck in the same routines as we get older and even pride ourselves on “being set in our ways.” Well maybe these bees are showing us that being set in our ways may not be the best way to experience our middle ages. It’s good to take up a new hobby, travel to places you’ve never been, meet new friends, read books on new topics, heck..even take a college class on a subject you once thought difficult. All of activities can improve change your brain for the better.

~Dr. Reynolds

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