9 ways to make your brain more plastic

Developing the plasticity of your brain can help to develop new neurons and support a healthy mind as we age – nutritional therapist May Simpkin explains 

The idea that your brain is fixed, with defined regions responsible for specific functions is one that we have become familiar with. We assume that our brain neurons can’t change.  But emerging research into neuroplasticity now shows that this notion may not be correct and in fact, the connections between the neurons can reorganize themselves, making the brain stronger. For example, in cases of brain damage, neuroplasticity allows a healthy region to take over the role of the damaged section and also allows us to learn and develop new skills and create memories, by either strengthening existing pathways or establishing new connections.


Many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s involve a loss of neuroplasticity. Similarly, a loss of cognitive function associated with ageing may also be due to a loss of neuroplasticity.  Increasingly, research is showing that diet and lifestyle play a significant role in the development of neuroplasticity. Here are nine ways to make your brain more plastic.

  1. Get a good dose of magnesium

Magnesium is involved in a significant number of functions in your body and brain health is one of them. Research shows that increased magnesium intake results in improved nerve activity and cognitive performance.  Ensure your diet is full of dark green leafy vegetables and plenty of nuts and seeds to increase your magnesium intake. Try this Sautéed Sesame Kale, Sweet Potato and Cashew Wasabi for a magnesium rich salad.


  1. Eat Eggs

Egg yolks are rich in choline, which we need to produce the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine; this is vital for neural plasticity. They are also a rich source of other brain friendly nutrients like Selenium and good omega 3 fats.

Try an omelette for a quick and easy meal or a couple of boiled eggs in your lunch box. You can safely eat two eggs a day as part of a healthy balanced diet.

two fried eggs in pan, 11 reasons you're always hungry, by healthista

MORE: Do I need antibiotics?

  1. Get the right amount of sleep

Sleep is the time when our brain rests and repairs, restoring all the nerve connections so that you are able to start again the following day; learning, creating new memories and developing new skills. Without adequate sleep, your nerve connections are unrestored and remain over connected and intertwined; A “fuzzy” head is often a symptom of a lack of sleep.

Focus on a regular sleep routine; for example a hot bath, herbal tea and reading before bed. Try to avoid using your mobile phone or any other devices just before bed and ideally do not have them in the bedroom. Epsom salt baths may help to relax muscles before bedtime and encourage a good night’s sleep.

MORE: 10 ways sleep perfectionism is keeping you awake

slider. mindful sleeping. by healthista

  1. Fill up on fish

Numerous studies show that omega-3 fats are essential for optimal brain health; protecting the brain from loss of cognitive function and enhancing plasticity.  Eat oily fish like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel 2-3 times a week to ensure adequate intake. A small handful of walnuts are an ideal omega-3 rich snack. A good quality fish oil or flaxseed supplement can be considered.


  1. Eat turmeric

As a powerful anti-inflammatory, Turmeric can protect against free radical damage that can contribute to a loss of brain plasticity. As well as using ground turmeric in your favourite curries, try adding a pinch to a homemade salad dressing, scrambled eggs or stir fries.  Try this easy Cauliflower and Quinoa rice for a delicious vegetarian/vegan dish all the family can enjoy.


MORE: How to get more protein into your diet

  1. Exercise

Numerous studies show that exercise has an enhancing effect on nerve repair, providing a protective role against brain diseases and helping to prevent the decline of cognition across your lifespan.


Regular exercise is crucial so aim to make time for exercise on a daily basis. Initially, try to include any physical activity during your day, beginning with as little as 10 minutes several times a day and increase this to at least 30 minutes over time. Here are a few ways you can increase your daily activity:

  • A brisk daily walk during your lunch hour at work or on the way back from the school run
  • Riding your bike to work or any other activity
  • A swimming session or class at your local pool
  • Joining a gym or local sports club
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator where possible

MORE: 8 proven ways exercise makes you happier

  1. Reduce your stress levels

Stress is part of everyday life and often unavoidable. However, how we deal with stress can help to reduce loss of neuroplasticity in the brain. Exercise and good sleep will go a long way to suppress the symptoms of stress, along with ensuring a healthy balanced diet that is low in refined carbohydrates including white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and sweets as well as alcohol.


MORE: 11 things only REALLY stressed people say

8. Change your routine

Although we can take comfort in our normal routines that ensure our day-to-day life runs smoothly and efficiently, it also means that our brains do not have to work as hard to execute these tasks. Challenge your brain so that it is forced to form new nerve pathways with the following suggestions;

  • Change your route home from work
  • Reverse your usual dog walking direction
  • Opt for a new restaurant in a different part of town
  • Use your left hand to perform simple tasks such as brushing your teeth


9. Keep learning

Keeping your brain active will help to mitigate against a loss of neuroplasticity and therefore a loss of cognitive function over time. Engaging in a new activity will help your brain to keep active and remember, if you find your new activity difficult and challenging, your brain will have to work harder to create new neural pathways or strengthen existing ones.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Sign up to learn a new hobby or even learn to play a new instrument
  • Read a new genre of book
  • Enrol on a new course; online or at a local adult education centre
  • Attend a presentation, workshop or seminar
  • Learn a new language
  • Travel and experience a new culture, new foods and new experiences.

More from May Simpkin

How to lose weight – the nutritionist’s golden rules

5 reasons you haven’t lost your baby weight 


May Simpkin is one of the UK’s
leading nutritionists

May Simpkin is a UK qualified Nutritional Therapist with a Masters Science degree in Personalised Nutrition.  She is an experienced clinician, practicing functional medicine from an evidence base, providing the latest research into nutrition. She is a registered practitioner, bound by the code of ethics in clinical practice and has met the strict criteria required for BANT, the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy and the CNHCComplementary and Natural Healthcare Council, which is the council recommended by the UK Department of Health for complementary and natural healthcare services. She is also Chair of the Continual Professional Committee at BANT. In addition, she is registered with AFMCPThe Institute for Functional Medicine – Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice™ and a member of the RSMThe Royal Society of Medicine.

For more information on how to lose weight, nutrient rich repices, and ideas, visit or Follow May on Instagram: @maysimpkinnutrition or Twitter @MaySimpkin

MORE: WIN! A Healthista hamper worth over £350

MORE: 10 best leggings for gym-to-street wear

< Back

Also in this week’s magazine

Iron deficiency - nutritionist reveals all you need to know about this vital mineral FEATURED

Iron deficiency – nutritionist reveals all you need to know about this vital mineral

Nutritionist Rob Hobson explains everything there is to know about iron deficiency and how you can use food synergy to ensure good intakes of this mineral in your diet 

How to transform your diet in 5 easy steps FEATURED

How to transform your diet in 5 easy steps

Looking to improve your health or lose some weight? Nutritionist David Stache reveals how you can transform your diet in 5 easy steps

The food combinations that can super-boost your health - plus 9 recipes to help do just that FEATURED
Healthy Recipes

Food synergy – 9 healthy recipes with food combinations guaranteed to super-boost your health

Did you know that combining certain ingredients can boost the positive affect they have on your health? Nutritionist Rob Hobson reveals all plus 9 healthy recipes 

TV Doctor Michael Mosley reveals why ketosis is the ultimate short-term weight loss tool FEATURE

TV Doctor Michael Mosley reveals why ketosis is the ultimate short-term weight loss tool

Ketosis is a guaranteed way to lose weight. But what is it? TV Doctor Michael Mosley reveals everything we need to know about ketosis and the Keto diet 

5 healthy pasta recipes perfect for the weekend FEATURED
Healthy Recipes

5 healthy pasta recipes perfect for the weekend

Pasta recipes are a weekend must. Personal Trainer Ryan Le Breton shares 5 delicious carb loaded recipes that are healthy too 

5 reasons healthy eating has become SO complicated FEATURED

5 reasons healthy eating has become SO complicated

Struggling with your healthy eating intentions? Our attitude to food has become oh so complicated, but why? Dr Meg Arroll explains

Latest Video Series


Wellness Weekly

I agree to my personal data being stored and used to receive the Healthista newsletter.