How to Build Up 'Spare Brain?'

Brain disease is mysterious, overwhelming and confusing. Despite all we know, much remains unknown about why the brain does not heal as well as other parts of the body. Some of the conditions that affect the brain, like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, can be managed and controlled. But stroke often sounds more permanent, devastating and irreversible.


The management and treatment of stroke are initially focused on preventing brain damage from ischemia and then later geared towards enhancing maximal physical function through physical therapy and occupational therapy.

The only hope for actual healing of damaged brain tissue lies in the brain’s natural, yet limited, ability to heal through neuroplasticity. This is when the brain responds to damage by reorganization of brain circuits to compensate for lost skills. Different methods of rehabilitation may encourage neuroplasticity.

Benefits of Brain Power

It has been shown that those with stronger brainpower prior to a stroke generally experience a better recovery, while people with previous brain injury, such as head trauma or a history or prior strokes tend to have more difficulty healing after a stroke. Training your brain to build a better reserve may actually help enhance stroke survival, prevention of some types of dementia, and recovery from traumatic brain injury. This essentially means building up ‘spare brain’ to help withstand any injury that life may bring.

How to Build Up Spare Brain Power

What can be done to build brain reserve to help minimize the potentially devastating effects of a stroke?

What can you do to fortify your brain so that it will be more resilient in the face of problems such as stroke?

Training your brain involves cultivating different cognitive skills. This means learning basic abilities and sharpening them as well as bridging collaboration between your different thinking skills.

Close Relationships

Social engagement involving the development and maintenance of close relationships such as marriage have been shown to improve brain function and cognitive reserve. Close relationships generally require working through more difficult interpersonal challenges than superficial relationships and thus build more sophisticated problem-solving skills in the brain than casual relationships do.

Group Activities

Group activities that rely on coordinated teamwork, at work or through volunteer projects, clubs, or team competitions provide structured, complex and enjoyable activities that help with developing thinking and problem-solving abilities. Working through group dynamics while cooperating with those who have different personalities stimulates action in many different areas of the brain.

Challenging Hobbies

Learning to do new challenging things such as golf, juggling, crossword puzzles, or Sudoku allow the brain to acquire and improve a specific skill. This profoundly enriches one or a few specialized areas of the brain. 


Advanced proficiencies such as reading multidimensional fictional literature or sophisticated non-fiction content can be enhanced through book clubs.


Math skills can be developed and honed through hobbies such as following sports rankings or the stock market.


Creativity can be boosted through traditional artistic hobbies such as drawing, painting, and music, decorating, and gardening. Yet creativity is a skill that comes into play even through non-artistic experiences such as scheduling, party planning, and even peace making.


Physical activity is an important component of creating brain reserve. Exercise helps increase the healthy activity and circulation in your brain, which helps to prevent a stroke. Additionally, the benefits of exercise allow you to be better able to withstand a stroke if you ever have one.

Exercise options are diverse and your will enjoy choosing exercises that complement your own personality.

Broadened Thinking

Taking in new experiences and views by walking in a city or country or wooded area can expand your ability to see things from a different angle. Learning about a different country and the different customs can help you broaden your capacity to think outside of an encoded pattern. While it would be fun to travel, it is very expensive. Simply watching a fun TV show like House Hunters International can help expand your thinking outside of a strictly preset paradigm.

Building brain reserve can help to combat the effects of a potentially devastating illness such as a stroke.


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Jyoti Prakash, VSSR Ryali, Kalpana Srivastava, P. S. Bhat, and R. Shashikumar, Cognitive reserve: The warehouse within, Industrial Psychiatry Journal, December 2011

María E. López, Sara Aurtenetxe, Ernesto Pereda,Pablo Cuesta,Nazareth P. Castellanos,1 Ricardo Bruña,1 Guiomar Niso,1 Fernando Maestú,  Ricardo Bajo, Cognitive reserve is associated with the functional organization of the brain in healthy aging: a MEG study, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, June 2014

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