Most of us go through our lives — working, playing, eating, socializing — without giving much thought to how our actions affect our bodies. We might notice that we develop a headache after a rough day at the office, or that we put on weight after too many heavy meals, or that we tend to catch colds more often if we don’t get enough rest. But while it’s easy to make the connection between our daily habits and physical symptoms, what we often don’t realize is how our lifestyles affect our brains.
1. You Miss Out on Sleep
It should come as no surprise that sleep deprivation hinders the brain’s ability to perform, with several links between sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment.
Although every individual’s sleep needs are different, an average of 5 to 7 hours a night is considered optimal.
If you typically get less than that, aim to go to bed half an hour earlier every night until you’re on track. Avoid food, caffeine, and alcohol at night, exercising and watching TV close to bedtime.
2. You Have Too Much Alone Time
Humans are wired for social contact. It’s not about how many Facebook friends you have — what matters is a real sense of connection. Studies have shown that children deprived of social contact are more likely to develop psychosocial disorders, and adults who have little social support are at risk of depression. Interacting with others helps maintain brain function and mental acuity.
3. You Eat Too Much Junk Food
Parts of the brain linked to learning, memory, and mental health are smaller in people who have lots of fries and soft drinks in their diet. Berries, whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables, on the other hand, preserve brain function and slow mental decline.
4. You Blast Your Headphones
With your earbuds at full volume, you can permanently damage your hearing in only 30 minutes. But it’s not just your ears, Hearing loss in older adults is linked to brain problems, such as Alzheimer’s and loss of brain tissue. This may be because your brain has to work so hard to understand what’s being said around you that it can’t store what you’ve heard into memory. So turn it down — no louder than 60% of your device’s maximum volume — and try not to listen for more than a couple of hours at a time.
5. You Don’t Move Enough
Staying active helps you stay mentally sharp. Aerobic exercises such as walking, running, and swimming that increase the heart rate is connected to improvements in cognition and mood. Even walking briskly for half an hour a day may help delay mental aging by as much as five to seven years.
6. You Smoke
Smoking can shrink your brain, and that’s not a good thing. It makes your memory worse and makes you twice as likely to get dementia, including Alzheimer’s. It also causes heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.
7. You Overeat
If you eat too much food — even the right kind of food — your brain may not be able to build the strong network of connections that help you think and remember. Overeat for too long and you may get dangerously overweight, which can cause heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure all linked to brain problems.
8. You Stay in the Dark Too Much
If you don’t get enough natural light, you may get depressed, and that can slow your brain. Research also shows that sunlight helps keep your brain working well.