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How to increase white matter

Updated April 17, 2017

Brain growth occurs throughout life, reports neurologist J.B. Peiris for "The Sunday Times." White matter is considered the wiring of the brain, while grey matter contains neuron cell bodies. University of Oxford scientists have found that learning a new skill causes increases in both white and grey matter, according to the "New Scientist" and BBC News.

Your brain can be considered a muscle and brain exercise can help strengthen it and increase white matter. Learning new skills, social interaction, physical exercise and diet can all improve brain function.

Exercise your brain. Brain aerobics engage your attention, involve two or more senses and interrupt your routine way of doing things, according to Dr. Peiris.

Turn off your television and play chess or do crosswords. Read something different than you normally would and take dancing or cooking lessons. Take on a project out of your normal range of activities. The Oxford study suggests that learning a new skill may be more important to brain growth than practicing something you know already, according to researcher Arne May.

Change your habits and routines. Take a different route to work, brush your hair with the other hand, or put your socks on last if you normally put them on first. Your brain wants to be challenged, and activating different pathways instead of well-worn routes gives it the exercise and stimulation needed to increase white matter.

Exercise your body. When you move your body, your brain gets a workout too, reports Peiris. It must estimate distances and practice balance. A study conducted at the University of Illinois has found that aerobic exercise can increase white matter and the volume of grey, reports "The Wall Street Journal." Three hours of brisk walking every week not only improves cognition and memory: it can actually reverse brain degradation. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and contributes to brain growth.

Eat well to increase white matter. Omega-3 fatty acids both protect the brain and promote improved cognition and memory, reports Dr. Julius Goepp of Life Extension Foundation. Adults who take in more omega-3 fatty acids have more brain matter and more functional brains, according to a 2007 study published in "Neuroscience." Goepp reports that studies published in the 2009 issue of "Annual Review of Nutrition" and the 2009 "Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging" suggest that omega-3s help brain connections to grow, the basis of which is white matter.

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About the Author

Sumei FitzGerald has been writing professionally since 2008 on health, nutrition, medicine and science topics. She has published work on doctors' websites such as Colon Cancer Resource, psychology sites such as Webpsykologen and environmental websites such as Supergreenme. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Connecticut where she also studied life sciences.