Learning requires a fluid, changing medium. That is the hippocampus undergoing Neurogenesis.
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How can Someone Improve Their Cognitive Function
The hippocampus is an area of our adult brain where new neurons are continually generated (neurogenesis) throughout our life. Research work (mainly using mice) indicates that adult neurogenesis increases under conditions of exercise and enrichment. Factors that can decrease neurogenesis are stress and anxiety.[Source]
Also, BDNF, VEGF, FGF-2, and IGF-1 are all related chemicals that encourage neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. So increasing these chemicals can improve cognitive function. It just so happens that exercise increases the level of these chemicals in the brain. No wonder exercise is recommended for brain health.
The hippocampus of the human brain is the first region that is damaged in Alzheimer’s patients. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is critical to human learning and memory.
How Neurogenesis relates to Learning
Neurogenesis is something that actually occurs in our human brain. In the past, there existed a scientific dogma that neurons could not be replaced after birth. The truth is that the human being can experience neurogenesis, including of the hippocampus neurons, throughout his or her life.
The rate of neurogenesis decreases when a person experiences increased stress, depression, and anxiety. However, neurogenesis increases with increased enrichment and exercise.
So the question is, what lowers stress, depression, and anxiety? IMO, it would be engaging in recreational activities like sports, having positive social interactions, relaxation, exercise. Passion.
Know that neurons are hyper excitable for the first 4-5 weeks from their conception.
When neurogenesis is suppressed in rats, it is observed that rats experience learning impairment. My conjecture is that a similar situation may be true for us humans: we cannot learn if neurogenensis of hippocampal neurons are impaired.
There is a relationship between newly generated neurons and forgetting. Increased neurogenesis results in increased forgetting in mice.
Conversely, suppressing neurogenesis reinforces memories, thus making it difficult to unlearn memories.
There are studies that suggest reduced neurogenesis is related to depression, but increased neurogenesis is related to happiness or contentment. This conjecture originates from the fact that anti-depressants work by stimulating neurogenesis in the brain. Although whether that is healthy or sustainable for a long period of time is a different point altogether.
So the take away is this: The more you learn and experience new things, the happier & healthier you’ll be.