Our Aging Story Creates Us


Age Well: Be Your Own DIY Neuroplastician!

We create our worlds through our stories. When it comes to aging, we live surrounded by stories that depict aging as being about loss, limitations, and about physical and mental decline. It is important to note these stories, not only to counter them through a positive aging mindset, but because these social concepts of aging can literally change our physical selves. We feel strain in our knee after a hike. We have been told there is some structural damage. If my story of aging is one of decline, I may hike less. I may walk in a way that contributes to wear and tear on my knee joint. The bad news is that we may unconsciously create movement habits that embed these socially created stories of aging. The good news is that the impact ofthe stories can be changed through neuroplasticity.

DIY Neuroplasticity

Neuroscience has established neuroplasticity as the nature of our brain and nervous system throughout our life. We can use the process of neuroplasticity to positively change our experiences, including our experiences of aging. This can be a DIY project and here are some key tools for your DIY neuroplasticity toolkit:

Tool #1: Sensory precision

When we move habitually, we tend to create efficiencies in our movement. How much attention do you have to pay to how you turn the steering wheel when you drive? Our habits mean we tend to move in some ways and tend not to move in other ways. The parts of us we move less tend to experience a sensory atrophy. When we use parts of ourselves less, we sense less. Our level of sensory precision is created through supply and demand. We can increase our sensory precision by changing the sensory information fed into our nervous system and brain. When we stimulate our senses in novel ways, we keep our sensory feedback loop active and healthy.

Habitual Movement decreases our sensory precision.

Tool #2: Novel movement

One of the easiest ways to improve our sensory precision is to move in novel ways. Our brain and nervous system learn from our movement; repetition of movement creates predictive responses that let us move habitually. We can drive our own car without paying much attention because our brain uses sensory information to create a predictive motor sensory plan that controls our movements. When we engage in novel movement, like driving an unfamiliar rental car, our predictive motor sensory plan has gaps so we need to rely more on our senses to drive effectively. Movement practices that ask you to adapt, learn, and create novel movements, like dancing, aikido, or Awareness Through Movement support your DIY neuroplasticity.

Tool #3: Attention

Paying attention to your sensory experience is core to being your own DIY neuroplastician. Your attention can be cultivated; initially noticing when you are attending and when you are not; then increasing what you perceive—like the heavier weight of the steering wheel in your rental car compared to your own car. You can eventually develop an attentional connoisseurship, such as the difference in softness and pliability of the fabric on your car seats compared to the rental car. Cultivating your attention leads to greater sensory precision and a clearer experience of novel movement.

How do these DIY neuroplasticity tools counter social and cultural concepts of aging?

This toolkit of sensory precision, novel movement, and attention literally creates the next version of you through your nervous system and brain. Using these tools daily creates a personal change process that can change pain thresholds, coordination of movement, flexibility, and stamina. When we look at positive role models of aging like the 80-year-old gymnast, we see the results of their commitment to creating themselves as they desire to be each day.

Cheryl Whitelaw is a leader in using movement to improve brain and body performance, to reverse the impacts of aging. A devoted practitioner of aikido, Tai Chi and the Feldenkrais Method®, she is committed to her personal evolutionary path to integrate body, mind, and spirit in service of peace in the world. Her mission: Move more, react less, and live more fully with no regrets.

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