A charity put her face on a poster and told all of London her secret. How would you have handled it?

I know Ruby Wax takes it seriously, otherwise she wouldn't have devoted her life to it. But I think her ability to joke about mental illness helps fight the stigma.

"I said, 'Yeah,' and I thought it was going to be a tiny fingernail clipping of a picture, but they were huge posters all over the U.K. — gigantic."

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity in adults is burgeoning area of brain research that studies how adult brains learn and adapt to their environments — especially when it's injured somehow. It's trying to determine whether the brain is more like a bone (something that stops growing at adulthood and never grows again) or more like a muscle (something that get bigger, smaller, stronger, or weaker based on use).

So far, much of the research is showing that the brain is like a muscle you can train.

So if you work hard to learn the roads and landmarks of London, the part of your brain responsible for memory and navigation may get physically larger. But what about other parts of your brain?


But the power of changeable brain is not an infinite brain.

While some brain function can be restored after certain types of brain damage, neuroplasticity researchers are not sure the brain can recover from anything. Some types of brain damage are simply permanent even with time and treatment.

How can this help people like Ruby Wax who live with mental illness?

Researchers are finding that people with mental health issues like depression, addiction, and schizophrenia, are experiencing the flip side of neuroplasticity: Parts of their brains are shrinking or otherwise becoming less effective. In conjunction with standard treatments like therapy or medication, certain brain-stimulating activities seem to slow or reverse this "negative neuroplasticity."

So should I start exercising my brain?

The research doesn't indicate that it's as easy as looking at more things to get a bigger thalamus the way you would do more sit-ups to develop your abs. But if you want to have a stronger brain, several activities seem to make the brain faster, stronger, and more resilient.

But what about brain games?

The only peer-reviewed studies on the effect of brain games seem to be those commissioned and paid for by Lumosity, the leading brain game company. But that doesn't mean the research is bad; they've been working with some of America's most prestigious universities and hospitals.

Though the jury is still out on the myriad apps that purport to make you smarter, the research is promising. Even if regular cognitive "exercise" doesn't change the physiology of your brain, it certainly seems to have an effect on how well you think.

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