“To maintain the relative balance between two languages, the bilingual brain relies on executive functions, a regulatory system of general cognitive abilities that includes processes such as attention and inhibition,” states The DANA Foundation “Because both of a bilingual person’s language systems are always active and competing, that person uses these control mechanisms every time she or he speaks or listens. This constant practice strengthens the control mechanisms and changes the associated brain regions.”
In addition to providing continual exercise for the brain, being bilingual causes physical changes to the brain, increasing grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex. White matter, the part of the brain known better known as myelin, also has shown physical changes in bilingual children and adults, suggesting being bilingual not only changes how the brain sends signals but its physical attributes as well.
The health benefits of growing up bilingual extend beyond just improved cognitive function into the areas of wellbeing, as bilingual children who experience less social stress are less likely to become involved in dangerous health habits such as alcohol use, drug use, overeating, and risky behavior.