Not sleeping enough
Everybody knows that sleep is essential. The downtime of a rested heart rate and decreased metabolic activity gives your body and brain the time it needs to recharge. Many studies have demonstrated that a lack of sleep can increase the risk of serious brain conditions with age, like Alzheimer’s. It’s generally recommended that the average adult gets eight hours of sleep per night.
Quite a lot of the damage we can do to our brains is psychological and accumulated over time, but overthinking affects you on a chemical level too. Even if you’re living a relatively comfortable life, your brain can find enough stress to give you migraines and heart problems, and overthinking keeps the body in that state of stress to its own detriment.
Consuming certain sweeteners
The artificial sugar aspartame, found commonly in zero-sugar sodas, may have some effect on behavior through its interaction with the blood-brain barrier. It has been found safe for consumption even in extreme cases, but it also suppresses appetite, since the brain feels satiated without the body getting any nutrition.
Using recreational drugs every day
People use drugs for all kinds of reasons, and while things like smoking funny herbs or drinking tea from a forest shaman won’t kill you, developing a dependence can cause serious issues. Many cause only psychological dependencies, which is why mental health issues make recreational drug use so common, but the side effects may add up over time, into something that is less managable.
Spending too much time on your own
Humans are naturally social creatures. If there’s one thing we love to do, it’s to have a good relationship and some decent interactions, even through a screen. Alone time is essential for self-reflection and relaxation, however, it has also been linked to lower academic performance, worse sleep, and higher levels of stress. It’s best to find a balance between personal time and time with others.
Smoking too much
Smoking has been linked to pretty much every health ailment an incredibly expensive medical degree can teach you about. It’s arguably the worst thing you can do for your health with the fewest restrictions besides the cost, especially for the brain. It messes up your blood vessels and causes long-term inflammation, which can lead to dementia or even cancer development.
Obviously, it’s difficult to commit yourself to being both a gym rat and a philosopher, even light to moderate amounts of exercise have been linked to improved focus and increased blood flow to the brain, both of which will help you live a healthier life. There’s an exercise out there for everybody that will fulfil those minimum requirements, so if you’re not exercising, it might be worth a go.
Drinking sugary drinks
A study in 2017 found that drinking sugary drinks can mess with your memory and even shrink parts of the brain. Scientists have been keeping track of sugar’s impact on the body for a long time, and it has been proven that high-sugar diets shrink the hippocampus, which causes poorer memory and decreased brain function.
Consuming too much caffeine
Coffee and tea obviously have caffeine, which can actually be good for your brain’s productivity in small doses. But if you have too much of it, it can do the opposite. It can make your brain have more adenosine receptors, which makes you feel tired and lazy quicker than usual, in a similar way to how addiction to a substance can form.
Listening to music too loud
Don’t panic, music still has all of those incredible health benefits you have heard of, it’s just that exposure to loud noise can damage not only your ears but eventually the brain. Many studies have shown links between hearing loss and the later development of Alzheimer’s disease, possibly because the brain’s energy is focused on hearing rather than understanding.
Drinking too much alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol is bad for your liver and brain, and you definitely shouldn’t be drinking it every day. Alcohol gets broken down into acetaldehyde in the body, which slows down pretty much all cognitive functions and can lead to depression. On top of that, you have the more common effects of drinking, like liver damage and severe dehydration.
Not drinking enough water
Most people probably aren’t drinking enough water, and don’t consider how important it is to the body. Your brain, organs, blood, and everything else about you is mostly just water, so drinking water makes more of you do everything you need to do. Make sure you drink around 2 liters of water daily if you can!
Ignoring your health
When even a healthcare check-up can have a huge price tag attached to it, it’s easy to ignore the odd aches or pains, even when they turn into frequent aches and pains. The stress of life and work are pretty much guaranteed to raise anybody’s blood pressure, so make whatever alterations you can, and lean on other people you love. That’s free, right?
Sitting still for too long
God, why is sitting so bad for us? Why do all the good things involve standing up and moving somewhere? Sadly, all of mankind’s collective screaming falls upon deaf ears, and a sedentary lifestyle remains one of the worst things you can do for your brain. Your body takes a huge hit too, but without stimulation to keep it active, the brain can’t function properly.
Not eating breakfast
Breakfast, scientifically, probably isn’t any more important for you than any other meal of the day. It sure makes the morning more bearable, depending on how much sugar your $6.99 ‘adult’ cereal has, and it’ sparticularly good for blood flow and focus, both things our brains love. This is particularly important for children and the energy-burning nuclear reactor-fueled metabolism.
Forcing yourself to work through stress
Sometimes work can be a genuinely good way to keep yourself focused on a problem while you figure it out in the background, but you know how those other times feel, most likely. Pushing yourself to power through when you’re in distress can lead to a million tiny issues, that normally you would brush off like nothing, pilling up to cause a breakdown or even a panic attack.
Eating too many refined carbs
Refined carbs are sugars and super-processed grains, like white flour. These carbs usually have a high glycaemic index, so when you eat them your body breaks them down super fast, which makes your blood sugar and insulin levels spike. The brain eats up a lot of those sugars, which are packed into pretty much everything at the supermarket.
Spending a lot of time in the dark
This one is true in both the literal and mental sense, don’t spend too much time with the curtains closed or in a darker state of mind. One can even lead to the other, as seasonal affective disorder is thought to be linked in part to the lower exposure to sunlight those seasons are associated with. Open those shades once in a while, or go for a walk outside!
Eating excessive amounts
Most things are only good in moderation, and odds are you’re not overeating organic, fresh produce. That’s not entirely any one person’s fault, healthy ingredients are either expensive or flooded with extra unhealthy ingredients for taste or visual appeal, and Easter eggs are super cheap for like, 95% of the year.
Eating too much junk food
The excessive sugars and particularly harmful fats that make junk food so stupidly delicious have a similar effect on the brain to drugs and smoking. When the brain gets out of balance, over-stimulated, and utterly dependent on Red Lobster garlic shrimp, you’ll suffer the same reduced blood flow and risk of stroke. Try to intersperse freshly cooked meals between quick junk food fixes.
People stop reading real books as they grow up for all kinds of reasons. If we do it pretty much all the time while staring at phones and computer screens, then isn’t there no need to add to the pile? Well, that mindset might be killing us. Reading is vital in childhood, but studies have also shown it helps keep the brain healthy with age in all manner of ways, and is a great alternative to doom-scrolling.
It seems the white coats have won once again; it is indeed important to floss regularly. It’s not just about keeping your teeth strong and healthy, as bacteria in your mouth have a direct route to the entire system, they pose an issue to everything, your brain included. Gum diseases spread through the blood and into the brain, causing memory issues like dementia.
Consuming too much information at once
Some folks love to brag about how many things they can juggle in a day, but multitasking isn’t so good for the brain as it turns out. So many everyday factors like your nutrition and sleep quality can have huge impacts on how your brain deals with a problem. Having too much to do at once lowers your focus overall, and makes you unable to complete tasks that you might normally be able to.
Not exercising the brain
If you’re pretty much sat doing nothing all day, that’s going to have an impact on your brain and mental capacity. Our brains are designed to be working (albeit not overworking) so a little bit of brain training won’t harm anyone. Get into Sudoku, go back to Wordle, or even pick up video games. Brain activity even in your downtime can be a good thing.
Eating too many fatty foods
Plenty of fats are actually great for your brain, such as ones found in fish and nuts or seeds. Other kinds of fat, like saturated or trans fats, have the exact opposite effect. These are the ones that clog your veins and increase your bad cholesterol counts, which will induce hypertension and create nowhere near enough blood reaching your precious neuron sack.
Spending too much time on your phone
We all spend significant amount of time online. The internet has made certain kinds of social interactions much easier, but as social mammals, we appreciate face-to-face quality time, without other distractions. A Harvard study found that a ten minute conversation every day is shown to increase memory, mood, and work performance.
Skipping your vaccines
Part of the reason pandemics are such a drag is that fast-evolving viruses can have unpredictable long-term consequences. Covid isn’t the only disease to have a longer director’s cut version released, as the common flu is also associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Why worry about the nano-machines when the microplastics in your body will block them?
Not having a sense of purpose
The world is becoming increasingly automated and isolated, so it’s no wonder children who show such passion and curiosity have it crushed out of them by 18. Most of us settle for the grim now, which is somehow healthier than the alternative! People who scored high on the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s purpose-in-life assessment were less likely to develop the condition.
Just eating highly processed foods
Processed foods are usually loaded with sugar, extra fats, and salt. Chips, instant noodles, store-bought sauces, and ready-made meals (all the good stuff) will kill your brain over time if you indulge too frequently. The kind of fats that build up around organs, often called visceral fats, can inflame the brain by messing with the immune system. If this happens, you can develop all kinds of health issues.
Not making the changes will better your brain
It’s one thing to read a list like this so you can see how many bad habits you have and compare scores with your friends, but ultimately the core takeaway is the fact that a lot of momentary choices build up over time. A little treat is okay if it is a treat, but as you age your brain becomes the most powerful tool you have, so make the effort!
Not airing the room when painting
Most chemicals and aerosols are harmful when used in an enclosed setting, and that goes for paint too. This goes extra if it’s your job, or if you have a hobby that uses paint as the constant exposure could risk fumes being absorbed into your lungs. From here they travel through the bloodstream and can lead to serious brain damage. If you’re painting, make sure to wear a mask or crack open a window.
Feeling constant stress
Stress has been mentioned a few times, as it’s usually a byproduct of living life while trying to meet your material and social needs. Constant, ongoing stress and the cortisol you flood your system with are one of the leading causes of later life complications, which include all kinds of brain issues. Reach out to a trusted friend if you feel overwhelmed.
Shaking your head too much
The most fun you can have as a child is spinning around as fast as you possibly can, it’s a biological imperative like breathing or following TikTok challenges. It’s a good idea to keep that to a minimum, especially as you age, as vibrations and rapid movement can tear your axons, the nerve fibers that make up the brain. This can, unsurprisingly, contribute to increased risk of brain damage and illness.
Like most new-age health trends, sensory deprivation can indeed work for people in certain circumstances. It’s not a miracle, however, and too much time spent without sensory stimulation is terrible for the brain. People often experience auditory or visual hallucinations, a phenomenon that isn’t actually going to make you feel better, and the result of a brain in distress.
Drinking way too much water
While we did sing the benefits of water not too long ago, it is also true that too much of the clear stuff will kill you. The reality is there is a known, pretty perfect amount of water to drink every day to stay hydrated, and a huge amount of water in a very short period risks killing off brain cells by flooding your nervous system, reducing the level of oxygen in your red blood cells.
Suffering from PTSD
That old foe stress makes another appearance, perhaps in its most destructive form. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect anybody, and there is no real cure. It can be managed throughout life with therapy and medications, but ultimately the visceral stress at the core of those suffering does untold damage to the brain. If you’re suffering with past trauma, seek advice where possible.
Having unstable testosterone levels
Many men treat testosterone as a power level, and if you have the highest that means you win the man competition that day. In reality, it functions much like weight, where your measurement going up or down at any one time is probably fine as long as it fits within healthy parameters. Both too much and too little are linked to brain and behavioral issues.
Steroids are prescribed for medical treatments of all kinds, and even the “illegal” use is pretty highly monitored. Professional bodybuilding treats steroid use as an open secret, so we know how long-term usage affects the body and brain. The surges of testosterone and stress the brain gets are way too much for it to process, so if not for medical treatment, taking steroids is not the best idea.
Having too much anxiety
Like stress, our bodies have evolved to take a little bit of an anxious energy surge if it means not being eaten by a lion or a dinosaur. Higher levels of anxiety keep your body in that fight or flight mode for far too long, often over quite mundane circumstances. This not only impairs short-term performance but stresses the brain to no end.
Inhaling carbon monoxide
Do not ignore carbon monoxide threats in your home – if you don’t already have a detector, be sure to get one and keep it powered. The beeps are annoying but you can fix that by changing the batteries, and then it won’t be in the background of your TikToks anymore. Also, a cool bonus, you won’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning.