The brain is a complex organ. The brain controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger, and body process regulation. Weighing roughly 3 lbs. and composing about 2% of the human body, the brain is vital to everyday functioning. Our brain essentially makes us who we are. Many would argue that our personality resides in the brain. With the brain being integral to who we are, we need to try to protect it. Our brain is jelly-filled tissue composed of networks of neurons. These neurons communicate to control a variety of body functions. A concept known as plasticity suggests that the brain can be rewired and altered based on our behavior. Certain behaviors, bad habits can negatively impact the brain, leading to cognitive decline. Here are a few habits that are bad for your brain’s health.
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- High Salt Intake. Salt is a significant contributor to high blood pressure. High blood pressure may lead to minor cognitive deficits and an increased risk of stroke, which can cause severe damage to the brain. Avoid having too much salt. Fast foods and junk foods are notorious for including excess salt to compensate for bland flavor. Also, the brain is programmed to crave salt. Be aware of your cravings.
- Sleep Deprivation. Sleeping is essential. Sleep deprivation has lasting effects on the brain and leads to a lack of focus, poor attention span, poor mood, and poor memory. While sleeping, mechanisms in the brain rid you of toxic byproducts that accumulate in your brain throughout the day. A lack of sleep causes these mechanisms to be less efficient and fails to clean your brain from toxic byproducts properly. These byproducts can accumulate and lead to severe brain damage. Sleep deprivation may be the cause of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. To avoid this habit, develop a sleep schedule. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid alcohol, caffeine, electronics in the evening. Try starting a peaceful bedtime ritual. If nothing works, consult a physician.
- Intense Noises. We are constantly exposed to noise. Our modern-day noise level is incredibly high, and it could affect your ears. Hearing-impaired people have been found to have a 30-40% higher risk of falling victim to cognitive deterioration. Hearing loss in adults has been linked to brain problems like Alzheimer’s and brain tissue loss. One theory is that the brain must work hard to understand what is being said, making it challenging to store into memory. Keep the volume at a reasonable level.
- Overeating/Poor Diet. Research shows that overweight individuals have 22% higher cognitive deterioration than individuals who are average weight. Brain areas linked to learning, memory, and mental health are smaller in people who eat too much junk food (hamburgers, fries, potato chips, and soft drinks). Berries, whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables preserve brain function and slow mental decline. Overeating leads to obesity and potentially heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Social Isolation. Being alone can cause stress and inflammatory processes in the brain. Research shows that people over the age of 80 with little social contact suffered the most severe cognitive deterioration. Humans need social contact. People with close friends are happier and more productive than people with many friends and shallow relationships. People with close friends are less likely to suffer from brain deterioration and Alzheimer’s. If you feel lonely, reach out to a friend, and try something new.
- Sedentary Lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle can increase your chances of having dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. All of which are linked to Alzheimer’s. Start an exercise routine and stick to it. Physical inactivity is connected to chronic health problems like heart disease, obesity, depression, dementia, and cancer. Many people feel like they don’t have time for exercise, which can slow cognitive decline. Being sedentary shifts the shape of neurons in the brain, suggesting a connection between inactivity and mental decline. Regular exercise can increase brain chemicals that promote memory and learning. Consider standing while working, regular walk breaks, and stand-up meetings.
- Smoking. Smoking has been found to shrink your brain. It makes memory worse and doubles your chances of getting dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Smoking causes heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and high blood pressure.
- Lack of Sunlight. Lack of natural light leads to depression and can slow your brain processes. Sunlight aids in your brain working well. Go outside. Let your brain get some well-deserved light.
- Multitasking. Multitasking increases the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight or flight hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking may not be very effective in that people are not actually multitasking but switching tasks rapidly.
- Information Overload. Information is bombarding us from everywhere constantly. Constant information can cause stress and lead to decision overload. Use tools and settings to filter information throughout the day. Be involved in how you consume media. Ignore unnecessary information. This may increase brain efficiency.
- Too Much Screen Time. We are spending more time online than ever. Anything with a screen is considered screentime (television, phones, tablets, computers, and video games). For many, most of their time is spent on screens. Face-to-face conversations are crucial for brain health. Ten minutes of face-to-face conversation with another person has been found to improved memory and cognition.
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This brain is the only one you have and the only one you’ll, theoretically, ever get. Unlike other organs (heart, kidneys, etc.), the brain cannot simply be replaced. Keeping your brain happy and healthy is critical to having a long functioning life. Avoiding these bad habits should help you avoid doing unnecessary damage to your brain.