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10 Things That Will Literally Increase the Size of Your Brain

Did you know that you can actually increase the size of your brain? According to several new breakthrough studies in brain science, it’s true. 

Imagine what a bigger brain can do for you? 

The possibilities are unlimited. But how exactly do you increase the size of your brain?

Here Are 10 Proven Ways
To IncreaseThe Size Of Your Brain

Can you say downward dog? Practicing yoga combines three powerful brain building activities, breathing, holding postures and meditation. It also helps to thicken layers of your cerebral cortex. Brain scans reveal that practicing yoga in fact, changes your brain. It helps build more grey matter in areas involved with pain modulation.1

Yoga’s neuroprotective properties have been shown to spare the brain from gray matter loss, but they’ve also been shown to build up grey matter volume in certain parts of the brain, too. This is an important finding because losing grey matter can lead to a loss of memory, emotional issues, poorer pain tolerance and decreased cognitive functioning.

A study published in 2015 also showed that the frequency of your practice also matters. Researchers from McGill University and the National Institutes of Health found that consistent practice over the course of several years was associated with positive changes in the left hemisphere, including increasing grey matter volumes in clusters located in the left insula, left frontal operculum, right middle temporal gyrus and left orbitofrontal cortex. 

These areas of the brain are instrumental in:

  • Perception
  • Motor control
  • Self-awareness
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Interpersonal experience
  • Inhibition
  • Impulse control
  • Social behavior
  • Memory processing
  • Emotion and rewarding decision making2,3,4,5,6,7

But don’t worry if you haven’t been a yogi for years, you’ll still benefit from the brain changes associated with doing yoga. In that same study, researchers found that the number of hours per week a person practiced yoga also mattered. The more someone practiced the more growth they saw in different areas of the brain. 
In particular, they saw positive changes in areas of the brain related to:

  • Self-consciousness
  • Self-awareness
  • And the limbic system (emotion regulation)

Juggling: There’s nobody that would disagree with the fact that juggling increases hand eye coordination, but how does it affect your brain? 

Juggling isn’t just associated with an increase in your brain’s grey matter, but it also improves the function and increases the size of an area of your brain associated with enhancing cellular connections 

Researchers from the University of Oxford discovered that not only does juggling increase your grey matter, but it bulks up your brain’s “white matter,” too. 

The white matter in your brain is the part that contains mostly axons, or the tail portion of each nerve. These are the parts that connect to other nerve cells.8 

During the study, participants practiced juggling for 30 minutes, six days per week. 

Before and after brain images showed that while those in the control group who were not juggling showed no change in white matter, those who were juggling enjoyed an increase in white matter in an area of the brain called the parietal lobe involved in spatial awareness and position sense. The best part was that the white matter experienced positive growth no matter how good or bad the subjects juggled.9

Meditation: Several studies have shown that meditation can positively change your brains structure. In a study published in 2011 Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers showed that guided meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction led to significant changes in areas of the brain associated with memory, compassion and stress. The changes happened so quickly that within 8 weeks they were observable on MRI.10  

The MRI images showed an increase in brain matter density in areas of the brain associated with compassion, learning and memory when compared to previous scans. They also noticed that grey matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with stress actually shrunk. All participants averaged just 27 minutes of meditation per day for eight weeks.11,12 

Researchers know from earlier studies, that the mindfulness-based stress reduction gives a boost to the cerebellum, the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporo-parietal junction.

These are areas involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, empathy and your sense of self.

The meditators showed signs of a thickening of the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula areas of the brain. These are areas important in sensory processing. Researchers say that based on the brain-sparing properties associated with meditation it could be a way to offset age-related cortical thinning.13

Learn to play an instrument (the younger the better): Research shows that learning to play a musical instrument is associated with an increase in brain size, especially in children under 7. Scientists are now using music to treat a wide variety of learning disabilities. 

Some of the brain changes that occur with musical training have to do with what’s called the automation of task (much as one would recite a multiplication table) and the acquisition of very specific sensory and motor skills required for various aspects of musical expertise.14 

Harvard brain expert Dr. Gottfriend Schlaug, MD, PhD, says, 

“Playing a musical instrument is a multi-sensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions — from finger tapping to dancing — and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time. Intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativity, cognition and learning.”

And according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, when you learn to play before age 7 it creates better connections between both the left and right sides of the brain. A musical foundation prior to the age of 7 changes the white-matter’s connectivity in ways that support a much better adult brain infrastructure.15,16

Take high-quality omega-3s: A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that having high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids circulating in the body was linked to having a bigger brain. Researchers found that people with twice the levels of omega-3’s DHA and EPA also had larger brains, about .7 percent larger.  The group with high levels of Omega-3’s also had a larger hippocampus (part of the brain associated with memory), 2.7 percent larger to be exact. Those with higher levels of omega-3s obtained them through eating non-fried oily fish like salmon and mackerel and took supplements.17

However, experts suggest you get your Omega-3’s through food and using supplements only if you’re not getting enough. 

Have more sex: According to research at the University of Maryland, sex promotes the formation of new neurons and improves cognitive function. A process known as neurogenesis.18 Additional research has also shown that sex can help preserve long-term memory, especially during times of stress.19 

Do Some Cardio: If you’re older you can still increase brain volume in regions commonly linked to age-related cognitive decline. In fact, researchers at the University of Illinois found that regular aerobic exercise can significantly increase both gray and white matter in the brain. These results were not observed in those performing stretching or toning programs.20 

In a different study using animals, moderately jogging each day resulted in a brain flush with new neuron growth. The group performing high-intensity training didn’t enjoy the same results.21,22

Use intermittent fasting: Animal studies suggest that the routine use of intermittent fasting can significantly thicken certain parts of the brain and boost overall brain function.23 Intermittent fasting involves brief periods of fasting for 12 to 16 hours or more. And while it may appear at first glance to be difficult to achieve, you may already be fasting without knowing it. For example, eating dinner at 7 p.m. and then eating breakfast between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. with only coffee or water is the equivalent of a doing a 12-15 hour fast. 

Studies show that intermittent fasting not only improves your energy a but also:

  • Makes you less insulin resistant, reducing your risk of obesity and insulin related diseases.24
  • Possibly boosts your immunity, lowering your risk of diabetes, and improving overall heart health.25 
  • Increases the production of brain neurotropic growth factor — a protein that promotes neuron growth and protection — helping to stave off neurological stress and protecting you from neurodegenerative diseases.26 

Pay attention to new research on psilocybin mushrooms: Psilocybin mushrooms are also known by their scientific name Psilocybe cubensis, which refer to more than 100 mushroom species that contain psilocybin and psilocin. 

These are the compounds responsible for the hallucinations associated with ingesting mushrooms. 

Although these mushrooms are not currently legal, new research suggests that they may in fact benefit the brain. Researchers at the University of South Florida discovered that low doses of the psychedelic erased the conditioned fear response in mice while it helped grow neurons. In the study, published in Experimental Brain Research in 2013, researchers suggest that the mushroom compounds could serve as a treatment option for PTSD one day.27,28  

Most Popular

References:

1. Society, American. "Yoga And Chronic Pain Have Opposite Effects On Brain Gray Matter | APS." Americanpainsociety.org. N.p., 2015.

2. Villemure, Chantal et al. "Neuroprotective Effects Of Yoga Practice: Age-, Experience-, And Frequency-Dependent Plasticity." Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9 (2015): n. pag.

3. "Insular Cortex." En.wikipedia.org.

4. "Frontal Lobe Disorder." En.wikipedia.org.

5. Onitsuka, Toshiaki et al. "Middle And Inferior Temporal Gyrus Gray Matter Volume Abnormalities In Chronic Schizophrenia: An MRI Study." American Journal of Psychiatry 161.9 (2004): 1603-1611.

6. "Orbitofrontal Cortex." En.wikipedia.org.

7. "Precuneus." En.wikipedia.org.

8. Hamzelou, Jessica. "Learning To Juggle Grows Brain Networks For Good." New Scientist. N.p., 2009.

9. Scholz, Jan et al. "Training Induces Changes In White-Matter Architecture." Nature Neuroscience 12.11 (2009): 1370-1371.

10. Wegela, Karen Kissel. "How To Practice Mindfulness Meditation." N.p., 2010.

11. Hölzel, Britta K. et al. "Mindfulness Practice Leads To Increases In Regional Brain Gray Matter Density." Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 191.1 (2011): 36-43.

12. McGreevey, Sue. "Eight Weeks To A Better Brain." Harvard Gazette. N.p., 2011.

13. Lazar, Sara W. et al. "Meditation Experience Is Associated With Increased Cortical Thickness." NeuroReport 16.17 (2005): 1893-1897.

14. "MUSICAL TRAINING SHAPES BRAIN ANATOMY AND AFFECTS FUNCTION." Sfn.org. N.p., 2013.

15. Bergland, Christopher. "Musical Training Optimizes Brain Function." Psychology Today. N.p., 2013.

16. Steele, C. J. et al. "Early Musical Training And White-Matter Plasticity In The Corpus Callosum: Evidence For A Sensitive Period." Journal of Neuroscience 33.3 (2013): 1282-1290.

17. Pottala, J. V. et al. "Higher RBC EPA + DHA Corresponds With Larger Total Brain And Hippocampal Volumes: WHIMS-MRI Study." Neurology 82.5 (2014): 435-442.

18. Leuner, Benedetta, Erica R. Glasper, and Elizabeth Gould. "Sexual Experience Promotes Adult Neurogenesis In The Hippocampus Despite An Initial Elevation In Stress Hormones." PLoS ONE 5.7 (2010): e11597.

19. Kim, Jong-In et al. "Sexual Activity Counteracts The Suppressive Effects Of Chronic Stress On Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis And Recognition Memory." Brain Research 1538 (2013): 26-40.

20. Colcombe, S. J. et al. "Aerobic Exercise Training Increases Brain Volume In Aging Humans." The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 61.11 (2006): 1166-1170.

21. Nokia, Miriam S. et al. "Physical Exercise Increases Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis In Male Rats Provided It Is Aerobic And Sustained." The Journal of Physiology 594.7 (2016): 1855-1873.

22. Reynolds, Gretchen. "Which Type Of Exercise Is Best For The Brain?." Well. N.p., 2016.

23. Li, Liaoliao, Zhi Wang, and Zhiyi Zuo. "Chronic Intermittent Fasting Improves Cognitive Functions And Brain Structures In Mice." PLoS ONE 8.6 (2013): e66069.

24. Harvie, Michelle et al. "The Effect Of Intermittent Energy And Carbohydrate Restriction V. Daily Energy Restriction On Weight Loss And Metabolic Disease Risk Markers In Overweight Women." British Journal of Nutrition 110.08 (2013): 1534-1547.

25. Varady, Krista A, and Marc K Hellerstein. "Alternate-Day Fasting And Chronic Disease Prevention: A Review Of Human And Animal Trials." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86.1 (2007): 7-13.

26. Martin, Bronwen, Mark P. Mattson, and Stuart Maudsley. "Caloric Restriction And Intermittent Fasting: Two Potential Diets For Successful Brain Aging." Ageing Research Reviews 5.3 (2006): 332-353.

27. Catlow, Briony J. et al. "Effects Of Psilocybin On Hippocampal Neurogenesis And Extinction Of Trace Fear Conditioning." Experimental Brain Research 228.4 (2013): 481-491.

28. DeLotto Baier, Anne. "Low Doses Of Psychedelic Drug Erases Conditioned Fear In Mice - USF Health News." USF Health News. N.p., 2013.

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