Whether you’re in the midst of a brain-boosting regimen or just trying to take care of your mind, here are 10 habits that will help you keep your brain healthy and happy.
1. Skipping breakfast.
A healthy breakfast is the most important meal of the morning. It provides you with energy to get through your day and keeps hunger at bay until lunch. Skipping breakfast also increases your risk of being overweight, which can lead to a host of health problems (including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure).
If you don’t have time for a traditional meal in the morning, try eating some whole grains like oatmeal or whole-wheat toast. You can also eat fresh fruit instead of drinking fruit juice because it has less sugar than processed juices do. Finally, make sure that whatever food you choose contains no trans fats since these are believed to cause memory loss later in life (and they’re usually found in foods containing hydrogenated oils).
2. Missing out on sleep.
You can’t function without sleep. Sleep deprivation has serious consequences, including weight gain and depression. Studies show that people who get 6 or less hours of sleep each night have a higher risk of obesity than those who get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. It also makes it difficult for you to make good decisions because your brain isn’t working at full capacity.
In addition to having a negative impact on your health, not getting enough sleep can cause you to be irritable and impatient with others around you—which could lead them to think you’re an unpleasant person!
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3. Too much stress.
Stress is a natural part of life and can be good, bad or neutral. Acute stress (a short-term response to a specific event) helps us deal with challenges and threats by focusing our attention on the problem at hand. The stress response can be physical or mental: increased heart rate, muscle tension and blood pressure; faster breathing; adrenaline rush; hormone release that affects moods. These reactions help us to cope with threats like predators or other dangers.
However, chronic stress (a long-term state of being anxious) is harmful to your brain and body because it disrupts normal function in many systems such as the immune system, digestive system and cardiovascular system. Constant activation of these systems increases your risk for disease over time.
4. Smoking cigarettes.
If you are a smoker, the best thing you can do for your brain is to quit. Smoking cigarettes has been associated with a long list of health problems, including heart disease, strokes and cancer. It can also affect your memory and concentration—and even lead to dementia or depression later in life. The effects of smoking on mental abilities are well-documented: smokers have lower levels of education than non-smokers; they’re more likely to show signs of mental decline as they age than nonsmokers; and they’re more likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease than their non-smoking counterparts (even if they quit smoking before developing symptoms). In short: Stop smoking!
5. Drinking too much alcohol.
You’ve heard it before: alcohol is a depressant and can harm the brain. But what does this mean for you?
The short answer: drinking too much alcohol can damage your brain. Alcoholism is a disease and, like all diseases, can cause serious health problems for those who suffer from it. In addition to damaging your liver and heart (and probably other organs), alcoholism can also lead to depression, anxiety, memory loss and even dementia—all of which have been linked to impaired brain function.
A recent study found that just one drink per day may be enough to increase the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by 19%, while heavy drinking over time is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 35% or more!
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6. A high blood pressure diet.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a condition that’s caused by the heart beating faster than normal and the artery walls becoming thickened. It can lead to serious health problems if left unchecked, including stroke and heart attack.
What does this mean for your diet? If you have high cholesterol or diabetes, eating foods with saturated fat may increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. One study found that people who ate less than 5% of their daily calories from saturated fat had a 15% lower risk of developing hypertension (5).
If you already have high blood pressure, it’s important to follow a low-sodium diet so that your body doesn’t retain too much fluid. For this reason, foods like processed meat should be limited because they contain large amounts of sodium (6).
7. Too much fat and sugar in your eating plan.
You may have noticed that our culture has become more and more obsessed with food and diets. Celebrities, health experts, dieticians and even the general public are always talking about what we should eat or not eat.
But there is a downside to all this talk of healthy eating habits: we tend to forget that the vast majority of people don’t really care about your health! They just want you to stop blocking their way in line at the grocery store. So when it comes down to it, they will probably still buy those sugary cereals for their kids or order pizza instead of cooking dinner most nights of the week.
They don’t care how much fat or sugar they put into their bodies because they don’t understand all the ways these things can damage your brain—and they probably never will care as long as you keep buying them those sugary cereals (which means good business for companies like Kellogg).
8. Not enough exercise.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a variety of problems, including a higher risk for depression and Alzheimer’s disease. But one of the most significant concerns is that it often leads to poor brain health. “The brain can actually change based on what you do with your body,” says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has researched this topic extensively.
Exercise helps you think more clearly by stimulating certain parts of the brain and strengthening its connections with others, which improves memory and problem-solving skills. It also increases blood flow to the frontal lobe (the part responsible for decision making), improving concentration while reducing stress levels—both symptoms associated with anxiety disorders such as PTSD or schizophrenia—and boosting moods through endorphins released during aerobic activity or strength training exercises like weightlifting or pushups!
9. When you’re not eating, but you’re also not sleeping? Excessive multitasking and social media use.
Multitasking and social media use are two habits that can damage your brain in the short term, as well as cause long-term problems down the road. Stress has been shown to damage brain cells, so when you’re multitasking or spending too much time on social media, you’re likely placing yourself under more stress than you need to be. Excessive multitasking can also lead to sleep deprivation—a common cause of brain damage. Social media use has also been linked with depression and anxiety disorder symptoms in teens, who are especially vulnerable at this age because their brains are still developing.
You may find yourself addicted to using social media sites like Facebook or Instagram because they trigger dopamine production in your brain (which makes them feel good). However, these sites can be detrimental for your mental health if used excessively: they may prevent you from getting enough sleep and make it difficult for you make new friends IRL (in real life).
10. If you take care of yourself, your brain will take care of you.
As you can see, damage to your brain is not inevitable. You have control over how your brain will develop and what it can do. The healthiest habits are the ones that take care of yourself, such as eating well and exercising regularly. If you want to protect your health in other ways, like quitting smoking or reducing stress levels through meditation or yoga, these are also excellent choices for keeping your mind sharp!
If you’re going to take care of your brain, it’s important that you do so with a healthy lifestyle. Don’t forget to eat breakfast, get plenty of sleep, and keep yourself on an even keel. Avoiding smoking and excessive drinking is also a good idea. And don’t forget exercise!