Archive for category Neuroplasticity

[VIDEO] 4 steps to changing your brain for good [Jeffrey Schwartz] – YouTube

  • 1. Relabel
  • 2. Reframe
  • 3. Refocus
  • 4. Revalue

Research Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA) explains his 4-step mindfulness method, outlined in his book, You Are Not Your Brain.

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[BLOG POST] Four Steps To Take Control Of Your Mind And Change Your Brain – The Best Brain Possible


Because of neuroplasticity, the scientifically proven ability of your experiences, behaviors, and thoughts to alter your brain, you are sculpting the physical form and function your brain every day with your life. Most of the time, neuroplastic change happens unconsciously as a result of thought patterns and habitual behaviors we have as we go through our lives on autopilot.

When living like this, letting your brain bully you and run the show, it can feel as if you have no control over your own mind or life. But the good news is that there are scientifically proven steps you can take to steer your mind and life…which permanently changes your brain!

You Can’t Always Believe Your Brain

If you’re like most people, your brain is filled with a constant chatter of thoughts, beliefs, and memories, which are mostly negative and from your childhood. This material is usually below your conscious awareness, cannot be directly measured or retrieved, and yet is very real and has a huge impact on your life and happiness.

In You Are Not Your Brain, Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D. call these “deceptive brain messages” which they define as:

Any false or inaccurate thought or unhelpful or distracting impulse, urge, or desire that takes you away from your true goals and intentions in life.

Deceptive brain messages set up a vicious cycle which can take a devastating toll on people’s lives resulting in depression, anxiety, relationship problems, isolation, addictions, unhealthy habits, and more.

The cycle starts with a thought that causes you discomfort and takes you away from your goals and values. These thoughts are generated as part of your automatic mind, often referred to as negative self-talk or inner-critic, and are made up of implicit memories and learned beliefs from your past. Some common deceptive brain messages are:

  • I should have/shouldn’t have…
  • I’m a bad person.
  • I don’t deserve to be happy.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I can’t do this/make it…..
  • I want to escape.

The thought might be accompanied by a physical sensation or an emotional state. For example:

  • Pounding heart
  • Butterflies
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling hopeless/helpless
  • Having a craving for something or urge to act

In an effort to ease the unpleasant sensation or emotion, you typically behave in automatic, habitual ways. In many cases, you may not even be consciously aware of your response or the motives behind it. Some habitual responses might include:

  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Eating/dieting/purging
  • Shopping/spending money/gambling
  • Compulsive sex
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Repeatedly checking something (email, texts, door locks)
  • Overthinking or worrying
The Cycle Of Deceptive Brain Messages

The authors make the distinction between emotions and emotional sensations and stress the importance of knowing the difference. For their purposes, an emotion is based on a real event in proportional to the happening and shouldn’t be avoided, but experienced and constructively processed. An emotional sensation is a feeling based on a deceptive brain message and leads you to act in unhealthy ways. It’s like the difference between feeling sad because your pet died and feeling sad because you feel unlovable and like no one cares about you. (See blog: What’s The Difference Between Feelings And Emotions)

Four Steps of Thought Reframing

In the 1990s, Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D., a research psychiatrist, combined his interest in Buddhist philosophy with his neuroanatomy research and came up with a Four Step method for successfully altering the behavior of persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The Four-Step program has become the established treatment for OCD and has been verified to physically change brains in studies using brain scans.

The good news is that the thought reframing process can be used as a self-treatment to retrain any brain to get rid of mild to moderate unwanted, unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. When symptoms are severe and debilitating, people might not be able to focus their attention enough and would benefit from the method as part of a structured, professional therapy program.

I used The Four Steps to change a lifetime of unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviors that culminated in a suicide attempt. While I wouldn’t say I had OCD, I definitely had the behavioral tendencies, through-the-roof anxiety, and obsessive thoughts. After reading Schwartz’s book, Brain Lock, I had reminders of the four steps posted all around — on the refrigerator, in my meditation corner, on the bathroom mirror, and even on the dashboard of my car. (Read more of my story)

Every time one of those nasty thoughts that led to depression and the suicide attempt popped into my head, I’d march through the four steps. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be a slave to my thoughts anymore and let my mind run and ruin my life. Eventually, it worked.

The four steps, which is really just a formula for applied mindfulness, involves learning to focus your attention and modify your thinking in beneficial ways that support and empower you. Over time and with repetition, the process changes your brain physically and operationally through neuroplasticity. The Four Steps are:

Relabel – Become aware of and identify deceptive brain messages and uncomfortable sensations. Consciously put a label on your experience as it is happening. “I’m feeling anxious right now because I’m thinking about all that could go wrong.” “I’m feeling isolated because I believe I’m unlovable.”

Reframe – Change your perception of the importance of the deceptive brain messages. Realize that they’re simply products of your brain that you don’t have to believe. You do this through mindfulness and consulting what Schwartz refers to as your “wise advocate.”

Reframing can also be accomplished by recognizing your cognitive distortions, such as black and white thinking and reasoning with your emotions. For example, if you’re having the sensation that something is wrong, you acknowledge the feeling and ask yourself “Is something really wrong or is it just my brain?” Something may well be amiss, but don’t automatically conclude that it is just because of the feeling.

Refocus – In the first two steps, you clear your cognitive field. Then, you focus your attention in the moment in the direction you want to go and consciously do something constructive. This step can be as simple as directing your thoughts back to the present or engaging in an activity that is healthy and productive — even while the deceptive brain messages are still there and bothering you. It’s through the refocusing of your attention that the brain gets rewired.

In the article “Pay Attention,” Dr. Rick Hanson Ph.D. writes :

In particular, because of what’s called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity,” whatever you hold in attention has a special power to change your brain. Attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon and then sucks it into your brain – and your self.

Revalue – When you complete the first three steps regularly, the fourth step begins to happen almost automatically as the result of new thinking patterns. You begin to see thoughts, urges, and impulses for what they are: sensations caused by deceptive brain messages that don’t benefit you.

In the video, “4 steps to changing your brain for good,”  Dr. Schwartz says that this final step

…actually wires your wise advocate into your habit center. This is basically a positive feedback mechanism that allows you to rewire your brain continually in a more and more adaptive functional way which is the hallmark for self-directed neuroplasticity.

Your Biology Is Not Your Destiny

Just because you have had thoughts and urges or behaved in certain ways in the past — for most of your life even — doesn’t mean that you have to always be that way. You have the power to change your life and your brain. Your biology, including your brain, cells, and genes, can be majorly influenced by how you live. The authors propose that your ally in making a shift is your mind. While there are many definitions of the mind, the authors define it as: “The mind is involved in helping you constructively focus your attention.”(See blog: What’s The Difference Between The Mind And Brain?)

When you learn how to focus your attention in positive, beneficial ways that empower you, you actually rewire your brain to support those thought patterns and behaviors.

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[BLOG POST] Ten Fundamentals Of Rewiring Your Brain

Neuroplasticity has become a buzzword in psychology and scientific circles, as well as outside of them, promising that you can “rewire” your brain to improve everything from health and mental well-being to quality of life. There’s a lot of conflicting, misleading, and erroneous information out there.

So, exactly how does it work?

What Is Neuroplasticity

Just in case you’ve managed to miss all the hype, neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the ability of your brain to reorganize itself, both physically and functionally, throughout your life due to your environment, behavior, thinking, and emotions. The concept of neuroplasticity is not new and mentions of a malleable brain go all of the way back to the 1800s, but with the relatively recent capability to visually “see” into the brain allowed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), science has confirmed this incredible morphing ability of the brain beyond a doubt.

The concept of a changing brain has replaced the formerly held belief that the adult brain was pretty much a physiologically static organ or hard-wired, after critical developmental periods in childhood. While it’s true that your brain is much more plastic during the early years and capacity declines with age, plasticity happens all throughout your life.

For a thorough explanation of how plasticity physically happens in your brain, see blog: Masterpiece Or Mess.

How Neuroplasticity Shows Up In Your Life

Neuroplasticity makes your brain extremely resilient and is the process by which all permanent learning takes place in your brain, such as playing a musical instrument or mastering a different language. Neuroplasticity also enables people to recover from stroke, injury, and birth abnormalities, improve symptoms of autism, ADD and ADHD, learning disabilities and other brain deficits, pull out of depression and addictions, and reverse obsessive-compulsive patterns. (Read more: You’re Not Stuck With The Brain You’re Born With)

Neuroplasticity has far-reaching implications and possibilities for almost every aspect of human life and culture from education to medicine. Its limits are not yet known. However, this same characteristic, which makes your brain amazingly resilient, also makes it vulnerable to outside and internal, usually unconscious, influences. In his book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Norman Doidge calls this the “plastic paradox.” (Read more: Your Plastic Brain: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

I know the power of neuroplasticity first hand, as I devised and performed my own homegrown, experience-dependent neuroplasticity-based exercises for years to recover from a brain injury, the result of a suicide attempt. Additionally, through extensive cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and mindfulness practices, all of which encourage neuroplastic change, I overcame depression, anxiety, and totally revamped my mental health and life.

But it was because of neuroplastic change that I became entrenched in depressive, anxious, obsessive, and over-reactive patterns in the first place.

Ten Fundamentals Of Neuroplasticity 

Science has confirmed that you CAN access neuroplasticity for positive change in your own life in many ways, but it’s not quite as easy as some of the neuro-hype would have you believe. In the article, Neuroplasticity: can you rewire your brain?, Dr. Sarah McKay, neuroscientist, says:

Plasticity dials back ‘ON’ in adulthood when specific conditions that enable or trigger plasticity are met. ‘What recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the power of brain plasticity can help adults minds grow. Although certain brain machinery tends to decline with age, there are steps people can take to tap into plasticity and reinvigorate that machinery,’ explains Merzenich. These circumstances include focused attention, determination, hard work and maintaining overall brain health.

In his book, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, Dr. Michael Merzenich (which Dr. McKay cites above), a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research and co-founder of Posit Science, lists ten core principles necessary for the remodeling of your brain to take place:

1. Change is mostly limited to those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. 

If you are alert, on the ball, engaged, motivated, ready for action, the brain releases the neurochemicals necessary to enable brain change. When disengaged, inattentive, distracted, or doing something without thinking that requires no real effort, your neuroplastic switches are “off.”

2. The harder you try, the more you’re motivated, the more alert you are, and the better (or worse)  the potential outcome, the bigger the brain change. 

If you’re intensely focused on the task and really trying to master something for an important reason, the change experienced will be greater.

3. What actually changes in the brain are the strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, in time.

The more something is practiced, the more connections are changed and made to include all elements of the experience (sensory info, movement, cognitive patterns). You can think of it like a “master controller” being formed for that particular behavior which allows it to be performed with remarkable facility and reliability over time.

4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation which is crucial for increasing reliability.

Merzenich explains this by asking you to imagine the sound of a football stadium full of fans all clapping at random versus the same people clapping in unison. He explains, “The more powerfully coordinated your [nerve cell] teams are, the more powerful and more reliable their behavioral productions.”

5. The brain also strengthens its connections between teams of neurons representing separate moments of successive things that reliably occur in serial time.

This allows your brain to predict what happens next and have a continuous “associative flow.” Without this ability, your stream of consciousness would be reduced to “a series of separate, stagnating puddles,” explains Merzenich.

6. Initial changes are temporary.

Your brain first records the change, then determines whether it should make the change permanent or not. It only becomes permanent if your brain judges the experience to be fascinating or novel enough or if the behavioral outcome is important, good or bad.

7. The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways and involving precisely the same processes that control changes achieved through interactions with the external world.

According to Merzenich, “You don’t have to move an inch to drive positive plastic change in your brain. Your internal representations of things recalled from memory work just fine for progressive brain plasticity-based learning.” See blog: Two Primary Ways to Drive Brain Neuroplasticity.

8. Memory guides and controls most learning.

As you learn a new skill, your brain takes note of and remembers the good attempts, while discarding the not-so-good trys. Then, it recalls the last good pass, makes incremental adjustments, and progressively improves.

9. Every movement of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize – and reduce the disruptive power of – potentially interfering backgrounds or “noise.”

Each time your brain strengthens a connection to advance your mastery of a skill, it also weakens other connections of neurons that weren’t used at that precise moment. This negative plastic brain change erases some of the irrelevant or interfering activity in the brain.

10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is positive ones.

You have a “use it or lose it” brain. It’s almost as easy to drive changes that impair memory and physical and mental abilities as it is to improve these things. Merzenich says that older people are absolute masters at encouraging plastic brain change in the wrong direction. See blog: Are You Unknowingly Contributing To Your Brain’s Decline?



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[ARTICLE] Vocal music enhances memory and language recovery after stroke: pooled results from two RCTs – Full Text



Previous studies suggest that daily music listening can aid stroke recovery, but little is known about the stimulus‐dependent and neural mechanisms driving this effect. Building on neuroimaging evidence that vocal music engages extensive and bilateral networks in the brain, we sought to determine if it would be more effective for enhancing cognitive and language recovery and neuroplasticity than instrumental music or speech after stroke.


Using data pooled from two single‐blind randomized controlled trials in stroke patients (N = 83), we compared the effects of daily listening to self‐selected vocal music, instrumental music, and audiobooks during the first 3 poststroke months. Outcome measures comprised neuropsychological tests of verbal memory (primary outcome), language, and attention and a mood questionnaire performed at acute, 3‐month, and 6‐month stages and structural and functional MRI at acute and 6‐month stages.


Listening to vocal music enhanced verbal memory recovery more than instrumental music or audiobooks and language recovery more than audiobooks, especially in aphasic patients. Voxel‐based morphometry and resting‐state and task‐based fMRI results showed that vocal music listening selectively increased gray matter volume in left temporal areas and functional connectivity in the default mode network.


Vocal music listening is an effective and easily applicable tool to support cognitive recovery after stroke as well as to enhance early language recovery in aphasia. The rehabilitative effects of vocal music are driven by both structural and functional plasticity changes in temporoparietal networks crucial for emotional processing, language, and memory.


During the last decade, there has been growing interest toward music as a neurorehabilitation tool, especially for stroke.1 This has been fueled by (1) the rapidly increasing prevalence of stroke and its massive socioeconomic burden and growing need for cost‐effective rehabilitation tools2 and (2) advances in music neuroscience, uncovering the wide‐spread cortical and subcortical networks underlying the auditory, motor, cognitive, and emotional processing of music34 and their malleability by musical training.5 In the rehabilitation context, music can be viewed as a form of environmental enrichment (EE) that increases activity‐dependent neuroplasticity in the large‐scale brain network it stimulates.6 In animals, EE is a powerful driver of synaptic plasticity, neurotrophin production, and neurogenesis, improving also cognitive‐motor recovery.7 In stroke patients, EE where patients are provided additional social interaction and stimulating activities (e.g., games) is emerging as a promising way to increase physical, social, and cognitive activity.8

Previously, we explored the long‐term efficacy of musical EE in a three‐arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing daily music listening to a control intervention (audiobook listening) and standard care (SC) in stroke patients. Music listening enhanced the recovery of verbal memory and attention and reduced negative mood9 as well as increased gray matter volume (GMV) in spared prefrontal and limbic areas in left hemisphere‐lesioned patients.10 Corroborating results were recently obtained in another RCT where daily music listening, alone or in combination with mindfulness training, enhanced verbal memory and attention more than audiobooks.11 While these results imply that music listening can be cognitively, emotionally, and neurally effective after stroke, its tailored, more optimized use in stroke rehabilitation requires determining which components of music are specifically driving these effects and which patients benefit most from it.

The vocal (sung) component of music could be one key factor contributing to its rehabilitative efficacy. Singing is one of the oldest forms of human communication, a likely precursor to language evolution.12 Songs represent an important interface between speech and music, binding lyrics and melody into a unified representation and engaging linguistic and vocal‐motor brain processes in addition to the auditory, cognitive, and emotional processing associated with instrumental music. fMRI evidence indicates that listening to sung music activates temporal, frontal, and limbic areas more bilaterally and extensively than listening to speech1314 or instrumental music,1516 also in the early poststroke stage.17 After unilateral stroke, spared brain regions in both ipsi‐ and contralesional hemisphere undergo spontaneous neuroplasticity changes and steer the recovery of behavioral functions, including speech.18 In this regard, the large‐scale bilateral activation induced by vocal music could make it more effective than speech or instrumental music that engage primarily the left or right hemisphere, respectively.19

Vocal music is particularly interesting in the domain of aphasia rehabilitation. In nonfluent aphasia, the ability to retain the ability to produce words through singing is often preserved, and aphasic patients are also able to learn new verbal material when utilizing a sung auditory model.20 Singing‐based speech training interventions, such as melodic intonation therapy (MIT), have been found effective in enhancing the production of trained speech content and the recovery of verbal communication in aphasia, especially when provided at the subacute poststroke stage.2122 Whether regular listening to vocal music could have long‐term positive effects on early language recovery in aphasia is currently unknown.

In the present study, we use data pooled from two RCTs (N = 83), including our previous trial910 (N = 38) and a new, previously unpublished trial (N = 45), to (1) determine the contribution of sung lyrics on the cognitive, linguistic, and emotional efficacy of music by comparing daily listening to vocal music, instrumental music, and audiobooks and (2) uncover the structural neuroplasticity (GMV) and functional connectivity (FC) changes underlying them. We hypothesized that (i) vocal music would be superior to instrumental music and audiobooks in enhancing cognitive and language recovery, (ii) both vocal and instrumental music would enhance mood more than audiobooks, and (iii) the rehabilitative effects of vocal music would be linked to GMV changes in temporal, frontal, and parietal regions associated with the processing of language, music, and memory1317 and commonly induced by musical training5 as well as increased resting‐state functional connectivity (FC), particularly in the default mode network (DMN),23 which has recently been linked to stroke recovery.2425 Moreover, given previous evidence on singing‐based speech rehabilitation in aphasia,2122 we (3) explore whether listening to vocal music can be effective for aphasia recovery.[…]

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Figure 3. Pooled voxel‐based morphometry (VBM) results from the Helsinki and Turku studies (N = 75). Panel A: Lesion overlay maps of the three groups. Panels: B‐D: Significant group differences in VBM from acute (T0) to 6‐month (T2) stage in (B) gray matter volume (GMV) across all patients, (C) GMV within aphasic patients, and (D) white matter volume (WMV) within aphasic patients. Data reported in the histograms are mean ± SEM. Correlations to change in language/verbal memory are shown with scatter plots. Results are at P < 0.005 (uncorrected) and only clusters surviving a FWE‐corrected P < 0.05 threshold are shown and labeled. ABG = Audiobook group, IMG = Instrumental music group, T0 = baseline (acute), T1 = 3‐month stage, T2 = 6‐month stage, VMG = Vocal music group. Anatomical abbreviations: CUN = cuneus, ITG = inferior temporal gyrus, LG = lingual gyrus, MOG = middle occipital gyrus, MTG = middle temporal gyrus, STG = superior temporal gyrus.

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[Abstract] Vision modulation, plasticity and restoration using non-invasive brain stimulation – An IFCN-sponsored review


• Normal/abnormal vision can be modulated by non-invasive stimulation beyond the stimulation period.

• Clinical impact on plasticity and restoration in patients with low vision is critically evaluated.

• Challenges are discussed in the field of transcranial/extracranial stimulation of the eye and brain.


The visual system has one of the most complex structures of all sensory systems and is perhaps the most important sense for everyday life. Its functional organization was extensively studied for decades in animal and humans, for example by correlating circumscribed anatomical lesions in patients with the resulting visual dysfunction. During the past two decades, significant achievements were accomplished in characterizing and modulating visual information processing using non-invasive stimulation techniques of the normal and damaged human eye and brain.

Techniques include transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and low intensity electric stimulation using either direct or alternating currents applied transcranially (tDCS or tACS) near or above the visual cortex, or alternating currents applied transorbitally (trACS). In the case of transorbital stimulation of the visual system the electrodes are attached near the eye, to the eyelids (transpalpebral electrical stimulation – TPES) or the cornea (tanscorneal electrical stimulation TcES).

Here, we summarize the state-of-the-art of visual system magnetic and electric stimulation as a method to modulate normal vision, induce brain plasticity, and to restore visual functions in patients. We review this field’s history, models of current flow paths in the eye and brain, neurophysiological principles (e.g. entrainment and after-effects), the effects on vision in normal subjects and the clinical impact on plasticity and vision restoration in patients with low vision, with a particular focus on “off-line” or “after-effects”.

With regard to the therapeutic possibilities, ACS was demonstrated to be effective in patients affected by glaucoma and optic neuropathy, while tDCS and random noise stimulation (tRNS) are most promising for the treatment of amblyopia, hemianopia and myopia. In addition, rTMS applied above the occipital area is a promising approach to treat migraine, neglect and hemianopia.

Although the response to these treatment options is better than to sham stimulation in double blinded clinical studies, the clinical efficacy is still rather variable and a proportion of patients do not respond. It is therefore imperative to better understand the mechanisms of action to be able to optimize treatment protocols possibly through personalization of brain stimulation protocols. By identifying the current opportunities and challenges in the field, we hope to provide insights to help improve neuromodulation protocols to restore visual function in patients with visual system damage.


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[ARTICLE] Functional electrical stimulation therapy for restoration of motor function after spinal cord injury and stroke: a review – Full Text


Functional electrical stimulation is a technique to produce functional movements after paralysis. Electrical discharges are applied to a person’s muscles making them contract in a sequence that allows performing tasks such as grasping a key, holding a toothbrush, standing, and walking. The technology was developed in the sixties, during which initial clinical use started, emphasizing its potential as an assistive device. Since then, functional electrical stimulation has evolved into an important therapeutic intervention that clinicians can use to help individuals who have had a stroke or a spinal cord injury regain their ability to stand, walk, reach, and grasp. With an expected growth in the aging population, it is likely that this technology will undergo important changes to increase its efficacy as well as its widespread adoption. We present here a series of functional electrical stimulation systems to illustrate the fundamentals of the technology and its applications. Most of the concepts continue to be in use today by modern day devices. A brief description of the potential future of the technology is presented, including its integration with brain–computer interfaces and wearable (garment) technology.


Losing the ability to move voluntarily can have devastating consequences for the independence and quality of life of a person. Stroke and spinal cord injury (SCI) are two important causes of paralysis which affect thousands of individuals around the world. Extraordinary efforts have been made in an attempt to mitigate the effects of paralysis. In recent years, rehabilitation of voluntary movement has been enriched by the constant integration of new neurophysiological knowledge about the mechanisms behind motor function recovery. One central concept that has improved neurorehabilitation significantly is neuroplasticity, the ability of the central nervous system to reorganize itself during the acquisition, retention, and consolidation of motor skills [1]. In this document, we present one of the interventions that has flourished as a consequence of our increased understanding of the plasticity of the nervous system: functional electrical stimulation therapy or FEST. The document, which is not a systematic review, is intended to describe early work that played an important historical role in the development of this field, while providing a general understanding of the technology and applications that continue to be used today. Readers interested in systematic reviews of functional electrical simulation (FES) are directed to other sources (e.g., [2,3,4]).[…]


Textile-based neuroprostheses. a Finger extension produced using a shirt designed for implementing a neuroprosthesis for reaching and grasping. The garment includes rectangular areas (dark grey patches) made of conductive yarn that function as electrodes. b Forward reaching. Details can be found in [65]

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[WEB SITE] Study Links Obesity to Brain Plasticity and Stroke, TBI Recovery

Posted by Deborah Overman | Sep 24, 2020

Study Links Obesity to Brain Plasticity and Stroke, TBI Recovery

Severely overweight people are less likely to be able to re-wire their brains and find new neural pathways, a discovery that could have significant implications for people recovering from a stroke or brain injury.

In a new study published in Brain Sciences, researchers from UniSA and Deakin University show that brain plasticity is impaired in obese people, making it less likely that they can learn new tasks or remember things.

Using a series of experiments involving transcranial magnetic stimulation, the researchers tested 15 obese people aged between 18 and 60, and compared them with 15 people in a healthy-weight control group.


Repeated pulses of electrical stimulation were applied to the brain to see how strongly it responded. The healthy-weight control group recorded significant neural activity in response to the stimulation, suggesting a normal brain plasticity response. In contrast, the response in the obese group was minimal, suggesting its capacity to change was impaired.

The findings provide the first physiological evidence of a link between obesity and reduced brain plasticity, UniSA researcher Dr Brenton Hordacre suggests.

Obesity is based on body mass index (BMI) which calculates the ratio between height and weight to determine body fat. An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. Anything above that is obese.

“Obesity is already associated with a raft of adverse health effects, including a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and dementia. For the first time, we found that obesity was associated with impaired brain function, adding further support for the need to address the obesity epidemic.

“A growing number of people are obese – 650 million according to the World Health Organization – which not only has health consequences but is a serious financial burden for global health systems. These new findings suggest that losing weight is particularly important for healthy brain ageing or for recovery in people who suffer strokes or brain injuries, where learning is fundamental for recovery.”

— Dr Brenton Hordacre

[Source(s): University of South Australia, Newswise]


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[WEB PAGE] The Ultimate Guide to Stroke Exercises

Functional recovery is possible, even years after a stroke. Learn how to harness neuroplasticity through repetitive exercise, and the all-around health benefits of staying active after stroke or brain injury.

By JUNE LEE, 21 SEP 2020 

The Ultimate Guide to Stroke Exercises

Having a stroke is a mentally and physically taxing experience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15 million people suffer from stroke worldwide each year. Of these, 5 million people die, and many survivors are left permanently disabled.

Stroke survivors may lose physical abilities and cognitive skills or undergo behavioral changes because strokes cause temporary or permanent damage to the brain areas that control those functions.

But here is the good news: the brain is able to recover after stroke, whether initially or months to years later. While short-term recovery after stroke (called spontaneous recovery) is limited to the first six months, long-term functional recovery can occur at any point thereafter. Stroke survivors who continue to engage their affected side in daily activity and exercise can capitalize on functional recovery potential throughout their stroke journey.

The Importance of Stroke Exercise for Rehabilitation and Recovery

The brain is capable of rewiring and repairing itself even if its cells are damaged. The undamaged parts step in to perform the tasks that the damaged parts were performing. This phenomenon (called neuroplasticity) allows stroke survivors to regain lost movement and function. The key to neuroplasticity is the consistent performance of repetitive tasks so that the brain can relearn how to perform these tasks through different neural pathways.

In simpler words, stroke exercise is one of the most effective means by which stroke patients can heal themselves, get stronger, improve the quality of their lives, and maximize their recovery from stroke. Because lifestyle factors like being overweight and having high blood pressure are a common cause of stroke, daily exercise becomes even more important in reducing the risk for recurrent stroke and other complications.

No matter the severity of the stroke, survivors can improve their quality of life through healthy lifestyle changes and engagement in restorative activities. Whether implementing big changes or small ones, the key to meaningful functional recovery is engaging in your post-stroke routine changes consistently.

The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Stroke Recovery Exercises

Let’s look at some of the important physical and mental health benefits of engaging in stroke rehabilitation exercises. Post-stroke exercise is shown to produce many positive outcomes, which may include:

Physical benefits

  1. Speeds up all-round stroke recovery
  2. Recovers strength
  3. Improves endurance
  4. Increases walking speed
  5. Improves balance
  6. Boosts the ability to perform daily routine activities
  7. Prevents the recurrence of strokes.

Mental benefits

  1. Reduces depression and enhances mood
  2. Boosts brain health
  3. Relieves stress
  4. Helps in increasing a sense of self-worth and self-reliance that can decrease after a stroke
  5. Gives patients a sense of purpose and a goal to work towards.

Exercises to help Patients in Stroke Recovery at Home

The positive effects of post-stroke exercise are undeniable. However, when setting up an exercise routine as a stroke survivor, it is important to incorporate both cardiovascular fitness and muscle strengthening to ensure the most effective outcomes.

Stroke exercises are always safer to do with a loved one or caregiver around. However, if that is not possible, patients can modify an exercise program to ensure safe performance. For instance, completing exercises from sitting as opposed to standing to avoid loss of balance. It is also wise to consult a doctor or a therapist should any uncertainties about any of the stroke exercises arise or if you have any other underlying health condition.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Aerobic exercise is fundamental to building a healthy heart, improving endurance, and maintaining healthy lungs. Cardiovascular exercise can also improve the sensory perception and motor skills of stroke survivors. Walking outside or on a treadmill, stationary cycling, recumbent cross training and many other forms of exercise that get your heart pumping are extremely beneficial for stroke recovery.

Stroke survivors must get at least 20-60 minutes of light to moderate aerobic exercise (50 to 80% of your maximum heart rate) 3 to 7 days a week to improve the chances of stroke recovery. Patients can choose to do aerobic exercise at one go or in smaller sessions during the day.

Resistance Exercises for Strengthening Muscles

Resistance training or muscle strength training plays a crucial role in post-stroke recovery, as it helps to recover physical strength, stamina, stability, and improve range of motion.

Here are some commonly prescribed exercises for stroke recovery at home:

1. Wrist Curls

Equipment: A stable chair with armrests (preferably padded), light weights, or any household object which can provide some resistance and is easy to grip.

How To Do It: Sit up straight on the chair. Place your arms on the rests with your palms facing upward. Let your wrists dangle over the edge of the armrests. Grasp the weights firmly and comfortably, and with slow controlled movements, bend your wrist up towards your forearm and back down again (only your wrists should be moving).

Benefits: Wrist curls are isolated movements that build forearm strength, improve range of motion, and enhance gripping ability.

2. Wrist and Hand Stretch

Equipment: Stable chair with armrests.

How To Do It: With your arms facing downward and your wrists dangling over the edge of the armrest, drop your hand down and use your other hand to gently lift your wrist up and down and side to side.

Benefits: This simple movement stretches the ligaments in the wrist and forearms to maintain range of motion.

Modification: If you add a weight while completing this exercise, you are completing a reverse wrist curl, strengthening the muscles on the opposite side of your forearm.

3. Shoulder Openers

Equipment: Light weights or any light object that can be gripped easily and will provide some resistance.

How To Do It: Grasping your weights (make fists with your fingers facing inwards), hold your arms at your sides, and bend your elbows 90 degrees. With slow controlled movements, move your fists outwards while keeping your arms in position at your sides (like you are opening a door). Bring your arms back to your starting stance. (Can be performed both sitting or standing).

Benefits: This exercise improves range of motion and strength in the shoulders.

4. Table Towel Slide

Equipment: Folded Towel and table.

How To Do It: Place the towel in front of you. With your weaker hand on the towel and your stronger hand on top of it, slide the towel away and towards you (using your stronger hand to guide and push). Apart from going back and forth, you could also go clock and counter-clockwise, forming circles on the table.

Benefits: Stretches and strengthens shoulder and arm muscles and promotes neuroplasticity through improved arm coordination.

5. Trunk Bends

Equipment: A stable chair.

How To Do It: Sit on the edge of your chair with your feet planted slightly apart but firmly on the ground. Bend forward as far as you can, and try to reach your ankles or the floor between your legs. Then use your core muscles for sitting back up as straight as you can.

Benefits: Improves core strength and helps with weight shifting.

6. Knee Rotations

Equipment: Firm, flat surfaces such as a bed or a mat.

How To Do It: Lie on your back and rest your hands by your sides. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your knees together, drop them, slowly, to the left then, bring them back to the center. Then drop them to the right and back to the center.

Benefits: Improves core, back strength, coordination, and balance.

7. Hip Abduction

Equipment: Stable chair.

How To Do It: Sit up straight on the edge of your chair. Gently tighten your abs and straighten one knee. With your toes pointed to the ceiling, slowly move your foot out to the side. Return to the starting stance, then repeat on the other side. You can decrease the intensity by lying down and performing this exercise or make it more difficult by attempting this from standing, if you are capable.

Benefits: Strengthens hips, core, leg, back, and improves coordination and stability.

8. Standing Knee Raises

Equipment: A firm surface to hold on to.

How To Do it: Stand with your back straight and hold on to a firm surface. Shifting your weight to one leg, bring the other leg up in front of you while bending your knee to a 90-degree angle. Hold for a few seconds and resume the starting position. Then switch legs.

Benefits: Strengthens upper and lower abs, hips, and back. It also helps with posture, balance, and coordination.

9. Sit to Stands

Equipment: Stable chair.

How To Do it: Sit up tall in your chair with your knees bent (90 degrees). Place your feet firmly on the floor shoulder-width apart. Slowly rise to a standing position while ensuring that your knees never cross the tips of your toes. Sit back down slowly and in a controlled manner. To make it less intense, use your arms for support, and to make it more difficult, cross your arms on your chest.

Benefits: Strengthens core and upper thigh muscles, improves weight shifting and balance.

10. Hip Thrusts

Equipment: A flat, firm surface like a bed or a mat.

How To Do it: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent. Place your arms by your sides, palms down. Gently contract your abs and squeeze your glutes (backside muscles) to lift your hips and make a bridge. Hold on this position for a few seconds and lower to the starting stance. You can make it easier by straightening your legs and placing a rolled-up towel under your knees, then squeezing and lifting your hips. You could also make it more intense by lifting one foot at a time while holding the bridge.

Benefits: It boosts the strength of the core, glutes, lower back muscles, and muscles that support the spine.

Frequency and Intensity of Stroke Exercises

Stroke exercise is most beneficial if done consistently and repetitively. It is always best to consult your medical team about the type and frequency of exercises that are optimal for your unique situation. Do not risk your safety by attempting things that you are unsure about.

As a guideline, resistance exercises should be done 3-5 times a week. 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions (of each exercise) should be completed to achieve noticeable results. A survivor who is new to exercise post-stroke exercises may have to work up to the ideal frequency of exercise over time.

Stroke exercise should never cause pain. Pain may indicate that you are causing new or lasting damage to your muscles and joints. If your exercises produce a burning, shooting, or otherwise uncomfortable sensation, stop immediately and modify the activity (ex. reduce weight, perform the exercise within a smaller range of motion). If it is not possible to perform the activity without pain, remove it from your program and ask your doctor.


A stroke results in drastic and sudden changes in life that can leave survivors struggling physically, socially, and emotionally. However, proper stroke exercise is the path to reclaiming the body, mind, and quality of life. With determination and hard work, there is light at the end of the tunnel and a more promising future ahead.

For more information, support, or to know more about the latest developments in stroke recovery, give us a call at (888) 623-8984 or email at


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[BLOG POST] 6 Basic Principles of Neuroplasticity – The Best Brain Possible

6 Basic Principles of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the various capabilities of your brain to reorganize itself throughout life due to your environment, behavior, and internal experiences. To ensure the survival of the species, the human nervous system evolved to adapt to its environment — based on learning from past experiences. This is true for all organisms with a nervous system.

According to the book Neuroplasticity from The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series,  by Moheb Constandi:

But what does ‘rewiring your brain’ actually mean? It refers to the concept of neuroplasticity, a very loosely defined term that simply means some kind of change in the nervous system. Just 50 years ago, the idea that the adult brain can change in any way was heretical. Researchers accepted that the immature brain is malleable, but also believed that it gradually hardens, like clay poured into a mold, into a permanently fixed structure by the time childhood ended. It was also believed that we were born with all the brain cells we will ever have, that the brain is incapable of regenerating itself, and therefore any damage or injuries it sustains cannot be fixed.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.”

In the 1980s, researchers at The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) confirmed that the human brain remodels itself following the “Hebbian rule.” Donald Hebb, a Canadian psychologist, first proposed that “Neurons that fire together, wire together” meaning that the brain continually alters itself physically and operationally based on incoming stimuli.

Types of Neuroplasticity

Although the definition of the word “neuroplasticity” is vague without further qualification, there are basically two types of neuroplasticity:

  • Functional plasticity: The brain’s ability to move functions from one area of the brain to another area.
  • Structural plasticity: The brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.

Plasticity occurs throughout the brain and can involve many different physical structures, for instance, neurons, synapses, vascular cells, and glial cells.

Your Brain Never Stops Changing

Far from being fixed, your brain is a highly dynamic structure, which undergoes significant change, not only as it develops, but also throughout your entire lifespan. As mentioned above, science used to believe that the brain only changed during certain periods in youth. While it’s true that your brain is much more plastic in the younger years and capacity declines with age, plasticity happens from birth until death.

The human brain reaches about 80 percent of its adult size by two years of age, and growth is nearly complete by age ten. We now know that extensive plastic changes continue to take place in late adolescence and beyond. Harnessing the process of neuroplasticity in adulthood isn’t quite as simple as some of the neuro-hype would have you believe, but it can be accomplished under specific circumstances.

You are not stuck with the brain you were born with or even the one you have right now.

Plasticity Is How All Learning and Memory Happen

Learning and memory are neuroplastic processes in your brain, involving chemical and structural changes. By altering the number or strength of connections between brain cells, information gets written into memory. It’s not really known exactly where or how the recording and recalling of memories happen, but the most popular candidate site for memory storage is the synapse, the space between neurons, where they communicate.

This means that when you repeatedly practice an activity or access a memory, your neural networks are physically shaped accordingly. When you cease a behavior or recalling a specific memory, your brain eventually disconnects the cells no longer in use for that pattern. This can work to your advantage and disadvantage. For example, it’s how bad habits are createdAll addiction happens because of neuroplasticity. However, it’s also how you can weaken painful traumatic memories and reduce anxiety and depression.

6 Basic Principles of Neuroplasticity

Plasticity Allows For Amazing Adaptability

Regions that are normally specialized to perform specific functions can switch roles and process other kinds of information.

Plasticity was first demonstrated in an experiment with ferrets, who have identical wiring to the auditory cortex and visual cortex as humans except for one important factor. The basic human wiring exists at birth while ferrets grow the circuit after birth. Scientist interrupted the pathway in the ferrets so that nerves from the eye grew into the auditory cortex. The ferrets were then trained to respond to sounds and lights. They “heard” the lights with parts of the brain that would normally process sound. 

In a later experiment, sighted adults were blindfolded 24 hours a day for five days. The subjects spent their time learning Braille and performing various tactile and auditory activities. They had their brains scanned before and at the end of the experiment. In the earlier scans, their auditory cortex showed normal activity upon hearing sounds. As expected, their visual cortices lit up when seeing and their somatosensory cortices buzzed when fingering Braille symbols. After five days of being blindfolded, cortical brain regions that had been dedicated to seeing were now hearing and feeling.

You Encourage or Discourage Neuroplasticity With Your Lifestyle Habits

Neuroplastic change occurs in response to stimuli processed in the brain originating either internally or externally.  External stimuli, including things like exercise and cognitive stimulation, enhance the production of neural stem cells and promote the survival of newborn neurons. Internal stimuli originating from your own mind, such as meditation and visualization have also been shown to increase neuroplasticity.  Certain types of neuroinflammationinsufficient sleep, and stress and depression have proven to decrease neuroplasticity.

You can support your brain and encourage neuroplasticity through your lifestyle habits as follows:

  1. Sleep — and lots of it — is absolutely essential for an optimally functioning brain.
  2. Exercise is fertilizer for your brain and promotes the birth and preservation of new brain cells (neurogenesis).
  3. Learn how to feed your brain the nutrients it needs to be in top form.
  4. Make your mental health a priority. Take steps to decrease stress and depression.

As for specific activities you can do, Dr. Michael Merzenich, one of the original researchers confirming plasticity at UCSF and the co-founder of Posit Science Corporation, gives this advice in the article 8 Practical Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp:

Look for activities that are attentionally demanding and inherently rewarding, and that continuously involve new elements to master. Those types of activities engage brain chemistry that’s beneficial for learning, remembering and mood — by stimulating the production of acetylcholine (when paying attention), norepinephrine (when encountering something new), and dopamine (when feeling rewarded).”

Brain Change Is Specific

The nature of change in your brain is specific to the experience. Experience-dependent changes are usually focal and time-dependant. Plastic change doesn’t typically occur widespread across the brain.

Research has proven that the biggest changes occurring in the brain as a result of learning new skills. For example, in animal studies, research has shown that learning new motor skills yields more dramatic changes in the brain than does the repetition of previously acquired motor movements.

This doesn’t mean that working on existing skills is not beneficial. Repetition is absolutely necessary for neuroplastic alterations to last. Most initial changes are temporary. Your brain first records the change, then determines whether it should make it permanent or not. It only sticks if your brain judges the experience to be novel enough or if the outcome is important enough.

Neuroplastic change is also regionally specific. For example, if you’re learning a skill using your right hand, the changes will be greatest in the areas responsible for that movement. The right and left sides of your body are controlled by the opposite side of your brain. Hence, training with your right hand will make the most changes to the left side of your brain, and vice versa.

Neuroplasticity can help you or hurt you.

6 Basic Principles of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity Is Both Positive and Negative

When you hear about neuroplasticity, it’s usually in conjunction with remarkable, positive brain and life change — almost like science fiction. And like science fiction, it has a dark side. It’s because of neuroplasticity that addictions become ingrained in your brain, valuable skills are lost as your brain ages, and some brain illnesses and conditions show up in humans.

Bad habits and addictions

Forming a habit involves neuroplastic change in your brain. A person desires something because their plastic brain has become sensitized to the substance or experience and craves it. When an urge is satisfied, dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, is released. The same shot of dopamine that gives pleasure is also an essential component of neuroplastic change. Dopamine assists in building neuronal connections that reinforce the habit.

Every time you act in the same way, a specific neuronal pattern is stimulated and strengthened. We know that neurons that fire together wire together. Your brain, wanting to be efficient, takes the path of least resistance each time and a habit — or a full-blown addiction — is born. Fortunately, breaking habits and addictions is accomplished via the same neuroplastic process in reverse

Brain Decline

A lot of the ways in which our brain function degrades that we typically think of as part of “just getting old” is really negative neuroplastic change. As people age, they unknowingly contribute to their brain’s decline by not using and challenging it as much.

You’ve got a “use it or lose it” brain. Information rarely accessed and behaviors seldom practiced cause neural pathways to weaken until connections may be completely lost in a process called “synaptic pruning.” In his book, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, Dr. Michael Merzenich calls backward neuroplastic change “negative learning”.

Negative learning can happen at any age — especially with technology doing so much brain work for us these days. Using a GPS consistently, staring straight ahead at a screen for hours a day, texting and not talking to people face-to-face, and many more habits of the modern lifestyle can contribute to undesirable brain changes.

Mental Illness

It’s also because of neuroplasticity that some of the major brain illnesses and conditions show up in humans. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic behaviors, epilepsy, and more occur because of neuroplastic change. For example, depression can develop from neuroplastic changes brought about by many things, such as adverse childhood experiences, life circumstances, trauma, lack of emotional support, and stress.

Fortunately for us, neuroplastic change is reversible. You can improve your brain’s function — through the same neuroplastic processes. It’s possible to overcome a mental health condition by driving a brain back towards normal operation through neuroplastic change. Many studies on brain plasticity have demonstrated that many aspects of your brain power, intelligence, or control – in normal and neurologically impaired individuals – can be improved by intense and appropriately targeted behavioral training.


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[Abstract] The medical avatar and its role in neurorehabilitation and neuroplasticity: A review


BACKGROUND:One of the most interesting emerging medical devices is the medical avatar – a digital representation of the patient that can be used toward myriad ends, the full potential of which remains to be explored. Medical avatars have been instantiated as telemedical tools used to establish a representation of the patient in tele-space, upon which data about the patient’s health can be represented and goals and progress can be visually tracked. Manipulation of the medical avatar has also been explored as a means of increasing motivation and inducing neural plasticity.

OBJECTIVE:The article reviews the literature on body representation, simulation, and action-observation and explores how these components of neurorehabilitation are engaged by an avatar-based self-representation.

METHODS:Through a review of the literature on body representation, simulation, and action-observation and a review of how these components of neurorehabilitation can be engaged and manipulated with an avatar, the neuroplastic potential of the medical avatar is explored. Literature on the use of the medical avatar for neurorehabilitation is also reviewed.

RESULTS:This review demonstrates that the medical avatar has vast potentialities in neurorehabilitation and that further research on its use and effect is needed.


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