So How Does It Work?
Neuroplastic change happens at the chemical, structural, and functional levels of the brain, with each level communicating with one another.
The most basic type of change happens at the chemical level when you first begin to alter a particular behavior or learn something new. Take your fitness routine – if one day you switch up your normal yoga session for a set of burpees, you will spark a chemical change in the brain that results in an increase in neurotransmitters like serotonin (aka the happy hormone). This gives your brain both a feel-good boost and a workout as it has to brush up on its motor skills in order to make those burpees happen. But this change only scratched the surface. If you never try that body-burning exercise again, its impact on your brain (and the rest of your body) won’t stick.
Long-term changes require more time, effort, and consistency to cement. This is how new habits are formed – by structurally altering your brain. Take those burpees you were trying out. If after that first session you decide to incorporate a set or two into your monthly routine, your brain will begin to learn what to do in a more permanent way, forming new neurons or changing the connections between existing neurons so that you are better able to perform this activity.
If you take your burpee journey one step further and incorporate them into your daily routine, that’s when functional change occurs. Consistent action alters the entire brain network, which makes new connections to different parts of your brain and strengthens connections that already exist. Your burpees will become second nature and the benefits you get from them will go well beyond a six-pack. Functional change in your brain can also result in improved memory, a healthier nervous system, and muscle regeneration and strength.
Although burpees (or any other form of fitness) aren’t the only way to spark brain change, studies show aerobic exercise is one of most effective ways to promote neuroplasticity.
So, the more you exercise your brain – the more you practice the behaviors that you want to become permanent habits – the stronger and more connected it (and the rest of your body) becomes. But there’s one key to unlocking the power of neuroplasticity: the actions you take have to be rewarding.
Our brains may get all the credit for our intelligence, but they, too, are reward-motivated. Neuroplastic change requires that your brain feels you are being rewarded in some way.