Neuroplasticity exercises may help restore certain functions following trauma to the brain. Exercises include learning how to play an instrument, learning a language, making art, or playing video games.

“Neuroplasticity” refers to the brain’s innate ability to change its nerve communication and cognitive skills, providing a person with improved abilities.

The brain contains a complex network of nerve cells called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other along circuits called pathways.

Children develop new neurons as they grow, but adults can also develop new neurons. This ability to create new neural pathways is known as neuroplasticity.

Evidence suggests that neuroplasticity exercises may play a role in restoring these functions after brain trauma.

Additionally, research suggests that certain activities can support neuroplasticity.

This article outlines how five specific activities may help reconfigure the brain.

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Regularly listening to or creating music may encourage neuroplasticity.

Learning to play a musical instrument involves several complex processes.

According to a 2021 research review, these processes include:

  • memory
  • attention
  • emotion
  • processing of musical syntax, such as chords, harmonies, and scales
  • mapping certain sounds to certain movements
  • balancing multiple senses, like sight, sound, and touch

The Oxford Handbook of Music and the Brain notes that researchers have observed changes in the brains of experts who engage in ongoing, consistent musical practice.

Additionally, the feeling of reward from both practice and the music itself may support music training as a way to encourage neuroplasticity.

People who learn music in childhood may have a lower risk of cognitive decline during aging, according to a 2015 review.

A 2017 mini-review even proposed music therapy to slow cognitive decline, improve motor function, and preserve memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning to play an instrument can be expensive. However, access to free or low cost online courses via YouTube and other platforms has never been easier.

People may not even have to learn an instrument to promote music-related neuroplasticity. Listening to music may also help change how different parts of the brain communicate and respond to sounds.

Research has shown that learning another language can improve the density of different types of matter in the brain:

  • Gray matter includes the areas responsible for memory, attention, emotion, motor function, and language. A 2012 study with 10 English speakers found their gray matter had become denser after 5 months of German study in Switzerland. Another 2012 study found similar gray matter effects in 14 interpreters.
  • White matter helps different parts of the brain talk with each other. A 2017 study found that people learning a second language later in life experienced significant structural changes in their white matter. Importantly, these results showed no link between how good a learner got at the second language. The act of learning itself was enough to change the brain’s structure.

According to a 2012 review, bilingual people, including those who learned a second language later in life, may have a lower risk of cognitive decline.

Video games can boost how the brain learns and grows.

Evidence from a 2019 study on the structural effects of several game genres found the following effects after about 16 hours of gameplay:

  • 3D adventure games may have links to better memory and problem-solving.
  • Puzzle games improved problem-solving skills.
  • Rhythm games, such as dance simulators or exercise games, can help improve visuospatial memory (movement tracking) and attention.

A 2020 study examined people with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who underwent eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

One group only received therapy for 6 months, while another played 60 minutes of Tetris every day in addition to EMDR therapy.

The Tetris group saw reductions in PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms and growth in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a role in memory.

Art therapy has long had connections to better emotional expression, improved self-esteem, and sharper self-awareness, according to a 2021 review.

However, the impact of art on the brain goes deeper. It can potentially help a person boost their neuroplasticity.

A 2010 review found that both practicing and appreciating art may engage different brain regions.

This may be why the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine suggests art as an activity for boosting neuroplasticity and helping people recover from brain injuries or stroke.

Getting active comes with a host of potential mental and cognitive benefits, including:

  • ability to quickly switch between tasks
  • better planning ability
  • improved energy
  • lower stress and anxiety
  • improved mood

Exercise also physically changes the brain for the better.

For example, research from 2011 involving 120 older adults found that aerobic exercise increased hippocampus size by 2%.

A 2017 study found that exercise improved how efficiently the brain used glucose for energy, which may have protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

A 2018 literature review also found that exercise can improve fine motor control.

Neuroplasticity happens when the brain reshapes its network of connections to adapt to a particular task or stressor.

Activities such as making music or learning a second language may help improve neuroplasticity.

Physically taxing activities, such as exercise, can also help boost brain health and protect against cognitive decline in older age.