For much of the 20th century, science held that the human brain remained unchanging once it hit adulthood.
But in the early 1980s, neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, now a professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California San Francisco, showed through his research that the brain is plastic. In other words, the brain can alter itself depending on environmental input.
The real-life implications of this are several and varied. For instance, it means that the brain can regenerate itself after a neurological injury. Other research has found that stress-reduction practices like meditation help the brain reorganize.
Recently, Dr. Merzenich and his Brain Plasticity Inc. have begun to test whether brain training can help war veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. The idea, says Dr. Merzenich, is to use software to help damaged or sluggish brains to perform better and better until they've regained most of their cognitive ability. Sort of like physical therapy for someone who is paralyzed, but this time it's for the brain.
The initial results of Dr. Merzenich's study have been encouraging. The bigger application of this idea, though, is more exciting. it means that we can train our brains to prevent the onset of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's. Below is Dr. Merzenich's list of everyday things you can do to keep your brain fit.