8 Bad Habits That Affect Your Brain
Humans are creatures of habit. Many of us go through our daily routines without consciously thinking about how each action may affect our body and mind. Unfortunately, some common habits have been shown to be bad for your brain.
Physical Activity Guidelines
National Institute on Aging1
Here are 8 habits that research suggests we should avoid if we want to stay as mentally sharp as possible. Pharmacists can help their clients understand the effects of these habits on the brain and take steps to make positive change.
#1 Being a Couch Potato
After sitting all day at our office desks, many of us come home and sit all evening on our couches. A sedentary lifestyle can have many negative effects on the brain, according to long-held research. The habitual couch potato denies his or her body of aerobic exercise, which pumps blood through the body and brain, providing it with needed oxygen and essential nutrients. Physical activity also has been shown to improve mood and reduce stress.
Break the habit: Get up and move. Adults should engage in at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate to intense physical activity, according to the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Walking is an excellent low-impact way to get started.
#2 Taking Your Phone to Bed
Smart phones have become ubiquitous in today’s world, including in bed. Checking emails and social media feeds are often the last things we do before closing our eyes at night. That bedtime phone habit, however, may be leaving people sleepy and less than sharp the following morning. Some research has shown that blue light from electronic devices may disrupt our circadian rhythms, depriving us of a restful slumber. The content we consume through our devices also may leave us stimulated or agitated, making it harder to gain a good night’s sleep.
Break the habit: Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom, is one suggestion offered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Tips for Better Sleep. Leaving your phone outside the bedroom is one way to reduce the temptation to scroll.
#3 Snacking Late at Night
Some people love to binge on their favorite snacks as they binge watch their favorite series late at night. Overeating right before bed, however, can cause indigestion, heartburn, and other uncomfortable stomach issues that keep us awake at night. Among the worst culprits are spicy foods, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and chocolate.
Break the habit: The CDC recommends avoiding large meals right before bedtime. Others suggest selecting healthy snacks that will ward off hunger pangs but not leave you lying awake. These include almonds and walnuts, Greek yogurt and berries, and cheese and fruit.
#4 Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Knocking down a few drinks with friends at happy hour is a common habit for many. But heavy drinking may result in adverse effects on brain health, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
Break the habit: Reduce your cocktail intake. According to the CDC’s Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol, adults should drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.
#5 Dwelling on the Negative
Unfortunately, some people are prone to holding grudges, stoking resentments, and stewing on perceived slights. In addition to being unpleasant, such negative mental habits can trigger the body’s “fight-or-flight” mode, disrupt sleep patterns, experts note. Extended periods of negativity may even harm our ability to process information and think clearly, according to studies.
Break the habit: Many experts recommend replacing negative thoughts with positive ones through deliberate mental training techniques. Mindfulness practices are one way to develop a greater appreciation for life while also lowering stress levels and improving one’s attention span.
#6 Blasting Your Headphones
Many of us go through life with a personal soundtrack playing through our earbuds. This musical habit can brighten our mood, but it can also damage our hearing if played too loud. Researchers have found links between hearing loss and memory.
Break the habit: Lower the volume, urges the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Many music devices have the option to set volume control limits. Sounds of up to 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA) are generally considered safe, while sound at or above 85 dBA is more likely to damage your hearing over time, the National Institute notes.
#7 Taking Life Too Seriously
Some of us laugh at adversity while others take life too seriously. If you’re in the second category, you might want to consider lightening up, for your brain’s sake, according to experts. Conditions of this habit — constantly worrying, being afraid of looking silly, feeling overly self-conscious, and becoming easily frustrated or hurt — can contribute to stress.
Break the habit: Make time to laugh, urges the CDC. Laughter is a great way to manage stress and stay healthy, including by boosting the immune system and heart health.
The undisputed king of bad habits, smoking causes many health problems, including possible effects on the brain. Evidence suggests that smokers have, on average, slightly poorer global cognitive functioning in later life, as well as lower mean scores on several cognitive domains such as cognitive flexibility and memory, according to one study.
Break the habit: Nicotine is an addictive substance, but there are many programs on the market that help people kick this bad habit. The CDC offers various tips and resources on how to quit smoking.