Sure, we all want to shut off our brains every once in awhile with a couple of glasses of wine, a few extra hours of sleep, or some mindless TV watching. But certain lifestyle choices can threaten the health of our brains significantly, even when the connection isn’t obvious.
Habits that deny our brains important nutrients or rapidly kill brain cells put us at risk of mental disorders like depression or anxiety, as well physical ailments like Alzheimer’s, stroke, epilepsy, and even cancer.
It’s easy to forget that even if your mind is at rest, your physical brain could still be suffering. And while mental disorders are largely a result of genetics, diet and lifestyle play a huge part in how regulated and calm your brain activity can be.
Following are 7 dangerous habits that damage your brain – stopping them immediately, in conjunction with your doctor’s advice, can make a world of difference in your mental and physical health.
1. Skipping Breakfast
There is a reason that breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. Skipping it can result in low blood sugar levels, and that is very damaging to the brain, especially if it happens a lot. Your brain uses more energy than any other organ in the body, and takes up to 20% of the total available glucose in your system each day.
About 2/3 of the brain’s “energy budget” is used to help neurons fire off signals to the rest of the body. The remaining 1/3 is designated for cellular maintenance and care. Regularly denying your brain enough nourishment causes a deficit in that energy budget, and you’ll find that your brain becomes less responsive to stimuli. Unbeknownst to you, your brain cells will also miss the critical care they need to be healthy, and will die at an accelerated rate.
2. Sleep Deprivation
It’s probably no surprise to you that not getting enough sleep will make you feel sluggish and forgetful the next day. The reason is that insufficient sleep robs your neurons of the ability to function properly. That leads to mental lapses that can affect your work and relationships. But more than that, your senses and reflexes are dulled, making it more likely that you’ll have a dangerous accident.
Chronic sleep deprivation can make these effects permanent. So the next time you feel that you are too busy to get enough sleep, remember that until your prioritize your slumber, you won’t be performing at your best. Take the time to sleep properly and you’ll get more done in less time the next day.
Studies reveal a surprising connection between obesity and dementia. The reasons are unclear, but researchers suspect that obesity occurs when the food we eat lacks nutrition, leading to the desire to overeat in order to meet the body’s need for vitamins and minerals. So even if you eat a lot, you could still be starving your brain.
Observationally, we can see that by 2015, the number of patients diagnosed with dementia hit almost 45 million, a number that has doubled since 1990. In that same time, national obesity rates in the U.S. went from 11.1% to 30.6%. More studies are needed to unravel the connection, but it is clear that there is one.
Plenty of research has been done on the damaging effects of smoking, so we understand this connection pretty well. Smoking clearly damages cell membranes and neural viability in the areas of the brain that manage balance, coordination, and both fine and gross motor skill. It also thins the cortex, where processes including language, memory, and perception occur.
Quitting now is important for your overall health, and it can help your brain as well. However, a certain amount of damage is already done. Researchers have found that smoking cessation can restore some of the cortex’s lost thickness, but even heavy ex-smokers who haven’t puffed for more than 25 years have a thinner cortex than those who never smoked.
Our bodies are made up of 70% water, so it is critical to every bodily function, including brain function. The effect on your brain of dehydration happens really quickly, too, with researchers determining that even just two hours of heavy exercise without water can cause cognitive decline. In studies, it was found that dehydration impacted functions like complex problem-solving, coordination, and attention the most.
You don’t have to stress about drinking a certain amount every day, but pay attention to your thirst as it is an excellent indicator of the need for water. Try to drink consistently throughout the day to keep levels steady and your brain happy.
6. Too Much Sugar
Our bodies and our brains need sugar in order to function, but our modern diets include way too much of it. When you eat too much sugar on a regular basis, your cells, including brain cells, are in a state of chronic inflammation.
That impacts the ability of your body to absorb important nutrients from food and begins to starve the brain of what it needs for optimal cognition. Ultimately, you will have a higher risk of dementia and a smaller hippocampus, the region in the brain that manages memory.
And finally, chronic stress can have a negative effect all over the body. Situational stress is actually a good thing that prepares the body to fight or flee in the face of danger, but when your lifestyle includes chronic stress, the hormone cortisol builds up in the brain and causes lasting damage.
Not only can it kill brain cells, it actually causes the brain to shrink. When this shrinking effect hits the prefrontal cortex, your ability to learn and remember becomes impacted. It is imperative that you find a way to relax before it’s too late.
We hope that this information has not scared you but rather left you feeling empowered to make vital changes for the health of your brain. It is not only okay, it is necessary to carve out the time to sleep, eat breakfast, and relieve stress.
You can say no to requests that overwhelm you. Placing value on your health and mental wellness also makes it easier to kick bad habits like smoking and overeating. In the end, your boss, family, and friends will enjoy a happier, healthier you when you draw some boundaries around your basic needs.