This is a demanding world. Lots — seriously, lots — of information, demands, and temptations are always bombarding us.
In response, we adapt to the world around us; we form habits based on our lifestyle preferences. Deep down, we know that many of these habits are not good for us. In fact, some can be downright damaging, especially to our brain health.
These four habits are notorious for harming our brains in ways large and small. Before you read, know that a huge majority of people have one bad habit or another. Bad habits don’t make you a bad person, nor do they mean you’re hopelessly stuck in your ways. But it is good to be aware of them so you can consider new approaches and behaviors that set you up for better brain health, both now and over the longer term.
Especially in this day and age, where it is easier than ever to function at a high level without ever leaving your house, an inactive or sedentary lifestyle is a dangerous trap.
And make no mistake; it is indeed a trap, especially for our brains. Sure, sitting at your desk or on the couch for extended periods of time is comfortable, convenient, and to an extent even necessary. Still, study after study has peeled back the proverbial onion on the many ways physical inactivity can hinder brain function, from a decline in memory to a loss of neuroplasticity, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
In this case, the cure is as well-known as the disease: exercise. Just 30-60 minutes of brisk walking a day is enough to sharpen memory, improve your mood, and enhance your capacity to learn, among other benefits.
Too much sugar
Sugar is delicious and gives us a temporary rush of feel-good emotions. If sugar wasn’t so tempting, it wouldn’t be nearly so problematic in the modern American diet — and we wouldn’t have to hear about it nearly as much.
We all known sugar poses a range of health dangers. What’s less well-known is that the risks go beyond your waistline, and even extend to your brain. This is because sugar causes inflammation, which in unhealthy amounts can wreak havoc throughout the body. One study on the topic linked high levels of sugar in the body to neurogenerative conditions like cognitive decline. Piling onto the problem: sugar is known to be addictive, making it even harder to quit
That’s a problem for a country that repeatedly gets low marks for sugar intake compared with expert recommendations. Cutting back on added sugars — both in foods and in sweetened beverages like juice or soda — can pay real dividends across the body, including in your brain.
Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation is more than an annoyance. Deep sleep is the time when your brain rids itself of toxins and repairs neurons. A lack of good sleep can contribute to depression and an inability to memorize new information, and in animal studies has been shown to literally kill brain cells.
The answer here? Get more sleep. Easier said than done, of course. But simple changes — lay off the caffeine, cut out the screen time before bed, keep sleeping and waking times consistent, or consider taking a melatonin supplement — are doable for just about anyone. Need further help? Talk to your health care provider for more tips or perhaps a prescription sleep aid.
This may be a particularly hidden problem, as great multitaskers are often held up as a paragon of productivity.
Not so fast, says the science. The brain is designed to unitask, and multitasking forces various networks within the brain to switch between tasks — simply put, the brain doesn’t like this very much.
A 2019 analysis concluded that although multitasking can seem more productive, it actually reduces the time it takes to complete a task while introducing a greater possibility of errors. Over time, it can also cause problems with both the short- and long-term memories.
Although more study is needed to better understand the phenomenon and its specific causes, the existing body of evidence indicates that it might be best to focus on one task at a time, rather than flitting like a butterfly from project to project.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does provide a jumping-off point for a better understanding of our habits and how they affect our brains–including in ways we may not have previously considered.
Questions? Talk to your health care provider for more information on how you can overcome sleep deprivation, sugar addiction, or any other problem on this list. Remember also that self-improvement is not usually a linear path, and that slip-ups are an inevitable part of the process. Be forgiving with yourself and keep moving toward your goals. If you’re dedicated over the long haul, you’ll get there.
BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area.
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