Science Says These 5 Habits are Draining Your Brain

It’s never too late to quit them and get back on a healthier cognitive track.

Whether you’re trying to improve your ability to focus right now or you’re worried about your cognition in the future, the last thing you should do is stick with habits that actively compromise your brain health. Here are five habits science says you should quit right now for a healthier brain.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Scrolling Through Email and Facebook Right Before Bed

You may think you’re doing the right thing by staying connected and informed but this routine is actually the the perfect brain-draining scenario. First, using your smartphone close to bedtime interferes with your ability to fall asleep and reduces the quality of your rest, likely because exposure to blue light suppresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, per PLoS ONE research. And sleep is absolutely critical to refreshing your brain and keeping you cognitively sharp. Second, tech addiction makes you more prone to stress, reports a recent 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association. Over time, chronic stress can harm your hippocampus, leading to mood and learning problems, suggests research in Molecular Psychiatry. Almost 70 percent of people with smartphones stash them next to their bed while they sleep — the smarter approach is to keep yours out of the bedroom entirely.

Going Straight From Your Desk Chair to Your Couch Every Day

Time to get on your feet. Couch potatoes have nearly twice the odds of dementia as regular exercisers, according to research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. People who enjoy an active lifestyle also have up to a 38 percent lower risk of cognitive decline compared to their inactive counterparts, reports a meta-analysis of 15 studies and more than 30,000 people in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Getting your heart rate up and breathing heavy boosts blood flow and oxygen to feed your brain. Aerobic exercise also helps protect you from diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, factors that can lead to heart disease, which can harm your brain. Find a physical activity you enjoy — walking around your neighborhood, a local bootcamp class, biking or running — and make sure it’s part of your regular routine.

Keeping Quiet About Mental Health Issues

People with depression are 3.4 times more likely to say they have memory problems compared to those without, reports a 2014 UCLA study. Mood disorders might be a risk factor for cognitive problems but they may also be an indication of developing issues, particularly if they appear as you get older. If this sounds like you, the best strategy for your mental and emotional health is to reach out to your doctor who can assist you in getting the help you need.

Choosing Fast Over Healthy When it Comes to Food

If there’s one thing the drive-thru offers, it’s a meal loaded with saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat increases the likelihood that you’ll suffer from memory problems in the future, reports a research review in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. Saturated fat may increase inflammation and compromise your blood brain barrier, a membrane that functions as a “security system,” allowing nutrients into the brain and keeping harmful substances out. On the other hand, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (those found in olive oil, nuts and avocados) are associated with a lower risk of memory issues and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers behind the study note that more information is needed to determine how much saturated fat is too much, but for now, you’re better off taking a detour around fast food restaurants and choosing meals with brain-friendly ingredients instead.

Using Smoking as Your De-Stresser

The dangers of smoking continue to stack up. Smokers have a 30 percent increased risk of dementia compared to those who’ve never lit up, according to a 2015 meta-analysis in PLoS One. The more you smoke the greater your odds of brain deterioration — for every 20 cigarettes you smoke per day, the risk of dementia soars 34 percent, according to the analysis. Free radical damage from the cigarette smoke is linked to the formation of plaques and tangles, which are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Plus, taking a drag harms your heart and poor heart health is associated with dementia, too. The silver lining: “Former smokers” weren’t at an increased risk for cognition issues, which just goes to show that it’s never too late to quit.

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