What The Phrase “Use It Or Lose It” Means To Our Minds

By: Danni Peck

Updated May 07, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Source: rawpixel.com

This phenomenon is not just something that happens in our thoughts; it takes place in the neurons of our brain. Physically, the brain can both move important functions from one damaged area to another and change its structure in response to new experiences when needed. When we feed our brain fresh skills and store ever-changing information, we are truly building and forming new connections, keeping our brains "young" and strong.

The Link Between A Healthy Brain And Neurodegenerative Disease

Researchers believe it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia by keeping our brains healthy. They are even hopeful that perhaps one day, brain plasticity exercises can be used as a form of treatment for these conditions. This is major news, given the devastating impacts of these disorders.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a blanket term used to describe disorders of the brain that impair cognitive function. Dementia may manifest as foggy thinking, difficulty making decisions, inability to control emotions, and trouble with memory. It usually occurs in the elderly and results from damage to brain cells.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

This phenomenon is not just something that happens in our thoughts; it takes place in the neurons of our brain. Physically, the brain can both move important functions from one damaged area to another and change its structure in response to new experiences when needed. When we feed our brain fresh skills and store ever-changing information, we are truly building and forming new connections, keeping our brains "young" and strong.

The Link Between A Healthy Brain And Neurodegenerative Disease

Researchers believe it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia by keeping our brains healthy. They are even hopeful that perhaps one day, brain plasticity exercises can be used as a form of treatment for these conditions. This is major news, given the devastating impacts of these disorders.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a blanket term used to describe disorders of the brain that impair cognitive function. Dementia may manifest as foggy thinking, difficulty making decisions, inability to control emotions, and trouble with memory. It usually occurs in the elderly and results from damage to brain cells.

Source: flickr.com

Dementia is a devastating disease. It can rob individuals of their mind. As the condition progresses memory problems become more frequent, and individuals canforget loved ones, neglect their self-care, and miss financial obligations. Decreased communication skills and poor judgment also lead to a diminished quality of life.

Dementia comes in many forms. Vascular dementia, for example, occurs when the brain does not get enough blood, and may surface after a stroke. Dementia with Lewy bodies is a different form of the condition which results when abnormal protein clumps form in the cortex of the brain. Dementia with Lewy bodies produces symptoms closely related to Parkinson's disease, such as hallucinations and difficulty with movement. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's.

What Is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is a form of dementia that affects roughly 5.5 million Americans and is currently the 6th most common cause of death in the United States. This disease gradually wears the brain away and is usually seen in individuals 65 years and older. Certain risk factors for Alzheimer's may include genetics, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and severe brain injuries, but researchers are still trying to understand more about the condition.

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There is no cure for Alzheimer's, and symptoms will likely progress over the remainder of one's life. The disease usually begins subtly, often tricking people into thinking that they are simply misremembering small details. Over time, the individual will eventually experience symptoms like problems with focus, confusion, trouble remembering where they are or who they are talking to, disorientation, bouts of anger, anxiety, and depression, and difficulty communicating with others.

Taking part in activities that stimulate the brain can promote a healthy mind and reduce the risk of cognitive decline in one's later years. A recent study from Rush University Medical Center discovered that when seniors took part in mentally engaging activities like reading and playing games frequently, they improved the density of white matter in their brain. This is important because white matter in the brain is responsible for transmitting information. Konstantinos Arfanakis, the author of the study, concluded that with the brain, "if you don't use it, you lose it."

Ways To Train Your Brain

Luckily, there are many ways to keep the brain young. Here are some ideas to try when you want to exercise your brain.

Learn Something New

Formal education is one of the best ways to keep your brain young. Do not feel pressured to start your educational career all over again—going after a degree is not necessarily something you need to do. Learning a new language, taking a few classes at your local community college, or simply trying a new activity, will help you build new neural pathways and reduce your risk of age-related mental decline. Spend some time pursuing a new area of interest or learn more about a skill or concept you already know. You are never too old to learn something new.

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Play An Instrument

Like formal education, learning to play an instrument will help build new neural pathways and protect the integrity of the brain. Music has its language, and between learning to read the notes on a page and using fine motor skills to produce sounds on an instrument, your brain and body coordination will receive a boost.

Many people think learning a new instrument is an expensive endeavor, but you do not need to shell out money for a new piano or guitar just yet. Look to more affordable options if you are brand new to the hobby by checking out instrument rentals from local music shops, joining small community classes where instruments are already provided, or trying an inexpensive instrument like the recorder or harmonica to start.

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Read A Book

Reading stimulates our brain. It takes a lot of mental skills to interpret words on a page. For example, our temporal lobe allows us to recognize words and sounds, while our frontal lobe is responsible for reading fluency and comprehension. All reading can benefit the brain, but sticking with new, complex, or educational information will give you a mental workout.

Brain Teasers

Logic games and puzzles are great resources for building cognition. Activities such as these work many parts of the brain, including those responsible for memory, decisionmaking, and problem-solving. You do not have to wait until you can sit down with a traditional chessboard or purchase a crossword puzzle book anymore either. Logic-based activities are readily available on the latest forms of technology and are found on multiple free phone apps and websites. You can train your brain today without ever leaving your chair.

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Stay Social

Many experts believe that having an active social life, even well into your senior years, can contribute to better brain health. Consider joining a local group of your interest and try to spend a lot of time with family (especially younger generations) and friends. Opportunities, like volunteering or working part-time, can also introduce you to new skills and groups of people as well. Embrace social media if possible, keeping in touch with long-lost contacts via Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat promotes a sense of social connection too.

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Take Care Of Your Body

Keeping your body healthy can also keep your brain healthy. Take part in as much cardiovascular exercise as possible. Studies are beginning to show that heart disease health risks such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes have a significant impact on cognitive health too. Doctors recommend a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in excess fat and sodium. Evidence also shows that getting regular sleep, cutting out smoking, and taking care of your mental health prove beneficial to the brain as well.

Increased Cognition With BetterHelp

Recent research shows that online therapy platforms can help those dealing with a range of mental health issues, including those that can lead to decreased cognitive functioning such as depression or anxiety. In a comprehensive report published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, researchers evaluated the efficacy of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) when managing the symptoms of varied psychiatric disorders. The study outlines several points in support of online counseling, including its cost-effectiveness, accessibility for those without easy access to face-to-face treatment, and overall efficacy, concluding that online therapy is an effective form of treatment.Cognitive-behavioral therapy benefits users by helping them understand and reframe intrusive, unhelpful thought patterns that can lead to unwanted behaviors and emotions.

As mentioned above, if you are experiencing problems with cognitive functioning that may stem from a mental health disorder, or if you simply want to ensure your brain is working as efficiently as possible, online therapy can help. With BetterHelp, you’ll have remote access to counseling and educational resources that will help reinforce important ideas and keep you focused. The mental health professionals at BetterHelp are there for you when your brain doesn’t seem to be working as efficiently as you’d like. Read below for counselor reviews, from those who have experienced similar issues. 

Counselor Reviews

“Paula is wonderful. She has been here for me since day one, and I feel like she truly is in my corner. She is patient, kind, and is excellent in dealing with chronic trauma and PTSD. She teaches me how my brain works, how I can deal with my emotions (and that it's okay to have them!), and she is helping me process the things that happened to me. She had good insights, and levels with me very well.” 

“Lisa was just an incredible person to work with. I work in the health care industry and was feeling like I was going to lose my mind with the COVID-19 virus first and second wave, she was just the best person for me during this time. She guides you on how to work with your feelings and grow from them, how to workout your brain and how you can train your thoughts to make life a little bit more manageable each day. I was suffering from crippling anxiety (that eventually turned into physical symptoms), panic attacks, depression and fatigue from work/COVID. She listens to you and reflects with you about how these situations are hard and that you have every right to these feelings. She also would provide a different perspective that would just help bring you back down to earth and reminds you that you are human and we can all grow from every hard situation and scenario. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Lisa and will always be grateful to her for the new perspective on life, and all of the new tools I have to help manage life which has made me feel like a better person. Thank you Lisa! I hope to reconnect with you soon!” 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to "use" your brain, before you "lose" its power. Just like when working out our physical body, the more time dedicated to building your brain, the longer it will last and the more efficient it will be. Scientists have learned that it is never too late to teach our brain new tricks, and with important benefits like cognitive decline prevention, "using" our brains has never been more important. Take advantage of all the great opportunities available that keep your brain young. If you want to know more about neuroplasticity, or how you can improve the health of your brain, contact a professional today.


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