Protecting Your Brain is Worthwhile… You’re taking care of your brain, right? Of course you are. After all, we don’t do the ‘bad’ things which we know will hurt our brains. We avoid the use of drugs. We don’t use alcohol in excess. You’re even a little more aware of what smoking does to brain cells and make efforts not to experience the effects of smoke and nicotine on our own bodies, even secondhand, so you must be protecting your brain.
Overall, it looks like we’re doing everything right… right?
Maybe not. In fact, there’s a good chance you have a habit or two that are already doing some severe damage to your brain health. Read on to find out about a ‘dirty dozen’ habits killing brain cells even as you sit here reading this. This is important, so if protecting your brain is top of mind, please keep reading and bookmark this post for further reference.
The Dirty Dozen and Brain Health
Sugar Affects Our Brain
While sugar has gotten a bad rap for years in causing things like diabetes and obesity, few realize just how damaging to your brain too much sweetness can be. The problem is all the added sugar in your blood when you’re in the habit of ingesting sugar often. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for nutrients to move around and get to where they need to go. This especially affects the developing brain, keeping it from growing properly, but it’s also not good for adults, leading to problems thinking, such as ‘brain fog.’
The fix? This one is pretty simple to solve. You start by limiting your sugars severely, especially in children who still haven’t fully developed. There’s a lot of other sweet options you can enjoy with more natural sugars such as fruits and some vegetables. To avoid excessive sugar in drinks, try water flavored with lemon, berries, or other infusions to keep it interesting.
Breakfast and Your Brain
You’ve heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but you’re still skipping it. The problem? Time spent sleeping has used up the fuel you need to function. Your body needs nutrients, especially for good brain health. In fact, if you skip breakfast regularly, you’re going to see some serious deterioration of brain function over time.
The solution? Plan breakfast the night before. Prep something beforehand or set out items that are easy to grab and go if you’re worried about having time to eat.
Multitasking… Is This Even Possible?
Whew, you’re really getting a lot done when you multitask…or are you? Your brain doesn’t think so. Studies have proven multitasking will shrink your brain, doing some serious harm to the structure itself.
The solution? Single task. Work on only one project at a time. If you have a lot to do, assign part of the day to each, and then focus only on the item in front of you, knowing you are protecting your brain in the process. I don’t even believe it is possible to work actively on more than one thing at a time.
Your Brain Loves Peace and Quiet
You wouldn’t think a lack of conversation would hurt anything, but it can. The brain really does need regular conversation to be stimulated and even to grow. What’s surprising is just how much your silence can hurt your brain, shrinking the grey matter itself when you go too long without talking to someone else.
The solution: Talk to your friends. Join in-person discussion groups. Get out and interact more with people and be sure to take part in the conversation. Worried about what to say? Read interesting books or get in the habit of following current events, so you always have something to contribute to the conversation.
Not Enough Sleep Deprives Your Brain
Sleep is where the body heals best. It’s also the time of day when your body sweeps the toxins out of your brain. This means when you’re not getting enough rest, your brain can’t do what it needs to stay fresh and alert. Over time this lack of sleep can become even more critical as you start adversely affecting memory and can make you more prone to dementia and other related issues as you age.
The solution? Make sure you get seven to nine hours of sleep at night for optimal brain health, as a part of your goal of protecting your brain.
Covering Your Head While Sleeping
The room not dark enough? If so, you’re not alone. Many people cover their heads while sleeping, in pursuit of that perfect sleep environment. The problem is, your pillow and blankets aren’t allowing for enough oxygen to reach your brain, and worse, you get a buildup of carbon dioxide under the blankets which you’re then breathing in. This is a quick way to kill brain cells.
The fix? It’s time to work on your sleep space. If you’re under the blankets because you’re cold, you might need to turn up the thermostat a degree or two before bed. If this is a light issue, it’s time to invest in light-blocking window coverings, and to turn off electronics which give off a background glow.
Overeating and It’s Affect on Your Brain
Too much food can leave you feeling uncomfortable and bloated. Worse, an excess of eating hardens the arteries in your brain, slowing down cognitive function. In short, eating too much slows down your brain…considerably.
The Fix? Pay attention to what you put into your body. Watch your portion sizes, but also pay attention to the types of foods you eat, opting for healthier choices which are less likely to give you that ‘over full’ feeling. As an added tip? Always stop eating before you feel full.
Most people don’t drink anywhere near enough water. This does more than leave you thirsty. Dehydration keeps your body from being able to flush out toxins from your system. This has another side effect, though, which affects the brain directly. Dehydration keeps you from being able to concentrate or to recall basic information, like names or words.
The Fix? The general rule of thumb is to take your weight and divide it in half. The number you reach is how many ounces of water you should be drinking every day. So, someone who weighs 150 pounds, should be aiming for 75 ounces of water. Seem like a lot? Ease into it at first by setting up designated water breaks throughout the day, slowing increasing how much water you drink over time.
Stressing Out Your Brain? Stop It!
You already knew stress wasn’t good for you, but did you know chronic stress changes the shape and function of the brain itself? This leads to poor mental health on all fronts and even impairs memory and cognitive function. The added dump of chemicals in your brain from stress is what leads to changes in shape and size, while other effects will wipe out neurons you need to regulate things like emotions, learning, and memory.
The fix? It sounds so simple to say, ‘remove stress,’ but in truth, that’s exactly what you need to do. Start by saying ‘no’ to things, setting boundaries, and becoming more protective of your mental health. Don’t allow those around you to ruin your day…and your brain…with their constant demands.
Electronics and the Brain
Spending too much time in front of a screen? If you’re a gamer, you almost certainly are, though just about everyone can be guilty of too much time with the electronics. This is the polar opposite of protecting your brain. The problem comes with how this time spent staring can atrophy the brain. Worse, if you are into playing games, you’re setting up artificial reward responses in your brain, which can hurt your ability to think and reason. Over time you might even lose the ability to communicate well if left untended.
The fix? Take charge of your electronics. Check email only a few times a day. Limit your time in playing games or watching videos or TV. Pursue other hobbies which will stimulate the brain and forge new neural pathways. Try doing things such as reading, engaging in conversation, or learning something new.
Pushing Too Hard
We all do it. We think we can do more than we’re capable of. So, we exert ourselves past the point of no return. We’re especially guilty of this when feeling sick or even just a little under the weather. We think it’s okay, but really, it’s not. The overworked brain is not a pretty thing and quickly slips into cognitive decline. Mental exhaustion is not pretty and can lead to permanent damage, to the point where you start seeing age-related mental impairment years before you would expect to.
The fix? Know when to stop. If you’re not feeling well, give yourself a break. The work will be there when you’re better. If not, it’s time to learn how to delegate. No one says you have to be the one to do everything. Give yourself time to heal when you need it.
Not Enough Nature
This is actually a thing. When we spend all our time indoors, we’re doing untold harm to both our physical and mental health. We need green spaces and fresh air to feel our best. The effects don’t stop at mood and exercise though. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to be said for fresh air. We need oxygen, lots of it. Without it, we become drowsy, depressed, irritable, and lose brain function. Being cooped up in stuffy spaces where the air is constantly being recirculated is more hazardous than you think!
The fix: Lobby for fresh air in the workplace. Open a window. Go outside and breathe deeply. Make a point to spend time in green spaces. Take a walk and learn to enjoy nature. Give yourself all the fresh air and nature you can!
The brain is a complicated thing but taking care of it doesn’t have to be. If you’re guilty of any of these habits, it’s easy enough to reverse the effects.
Simply put a stop to bad behavior by layering in better habits in their place. No more ‘dirty dozen’ for you!
Keep Your Brain Healthy in Just 5 Minutes a Day
You look after your body, stay as fit as you can and make time for a healthy lifestyle, right? It’s just as important to keep your brain healthy too if you want to deal better with stress, be more productive, and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life.
The good news is that you can keep your brain in tip-top condition by practicing meditation for as little as five minutes a day. Meditation has been shown to reverse the shrinking that happens as part of the natural aging process from your mid-20s onwards. A Harvard study showed that meditation can increase the size of your brain after just eight weeks of regular practice.
Here’s how you can develop a meditation practice to suit you and your lifestyle to start taking better care of your brain right now.
Find the Right Meditation Style for You
Possibly the most important way to start a meditation habit is to find what works for you. You don’t have to sit on a cushion for hours in a temple unless you want to. There are meditation apps for your smartphone, yoga and meditation tutorials on the internet, or you can find a meditation group in your local community. It can be as easy as sitting in a park during your lunch hour.
Schedule Meditation Time
Be intentional and make time in your schedule for regular meditation practice. Studies have shown that as little as five or ten minutes a day is enough to feel the benefits of meditation, but it must be done consistently. If you can find time to brush your teeth, you can find time to meditate.
Start Small and Increase Over Time
You don’t have to launch into a full meditation to start with. Take baby steps and begin by just sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. Observe your breathing and feel calmer as you concentrate inwards.
Add Some Meditation Exercises
Once you feel comfortable with sitting and breathing quietly, you can add in some meditation exercises. A good one is the V-Shaped Breath exercise:
Focus your attention on the point between your eyes. Imagine cool air coming in and out in the shape of a V. As you breathe in, expand the V across your forehead. Then as you exhale bring the breath down the V to the point between your eyes.
As well as regulating your breathing, you are calming your frontal lobes, increasing your capacity to analyze and problem solve. Adding a five-minute meditation practice to your day is the first step in a healthier, happier brain.
Supercharge Your Brain Power Through Exercise
You know exercise is good for your physical health, but did you know it’s also good for your brain? The latest neurological research has shown that there is a so-called ‘magic protein’ called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) that has the power to supercharge your brain and improve your memory. And it is stimulated by cardiovascular exercise!
BDNF can rewire and build new neural pathways in the brain, especially in the crucial areas that control memory (the hippocampus) and analysis, thinking, and decision-making (the frontal lobes). Your frontal lobes are where most of the intellectual activity of the brain takes place, from processing the data that’s coming in all the time to problem-solving and making ethical decisions. And you can keep these critical parts of your brain bathed in BDNF by merely increasing the amount of exercise in your daily routine.
If you find it hard to commit to regular exercise, here are three ways you can make it easier and supercharge your brain at the same time.
1. Make it Fun
The key to maintaining an exercise regime is to choose an activity or activities that you enjoy. Not everyone likes going to the gym, but there are many other ways to increase your heart rate and get the BDNF pumping.
Dancing, swimming, hiking out in nature, and bike riding will all get your heart rate up, and you’ll enjoy doing it. Even brisk walking will help. As a bonus, exercise will boost your endorphins, too, making you happier and more relaxed.
2. Schedule Your Exercise
It’s easier to stick to a regular exercise plan if you schedule time in your diary. Set aside time and increase your sessions until you’re exercising for thirty minutes, four or five times a week. Like any other habit, once you make it a priority, it will become just another part of your regular routine like brushing your teeth.
3. Make it Musical
Research has shown that music can increase motivation and happiness. Exercise will be much more fun if you’re bopping away to your favorite tunes. Even housework can become a brain-boosting dance routine when you’re vacuuming along to music that makes you smile. Turn up the volume and start cleaning to the beat!
Create a playlist of your favorite songs, and you will find that exercise is pleasurable and much easier to stick to when there’s upbeat music to encourage you!
Proven Ways Walking Improves Your Brain
It might surprise you to hear that something as simple as walking can actually improve your brainpower. It doesn’t even have to be full-on power walking! Even a twenty- or thirty-minute walk during your lunch break can have a positive impact on protecting your brain. Here are eight ways science has proven that walking is excellent for your brain.
1. Walking Helps Lower Your Risk of Depression
Walking is an excellent way to improve your mental health. A 2018 study showed that any kind of moderate aerobic exercise like brisk walking can boost your brain health and lower your risk of developing depression by a third.
2. Walking Improve Your Cognitive Function
A number of studies have shown that the magic amount of twenty to thirty minutes of daily aerobic exercise, such as walking, improves cognitive function and memory.
3. Walking Stimulates Endorphins
Just ten minutes of walking is enough to start your brain releasing endorphins, the brain chemicals that lower stress, boost your mental health, and make you feel good. You’ve heard of the runner’s high? Well, you can get a similar positive rush from a brisk walk!
4. Walking Releases the Brain’s Magic Protein
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) has been dubbed the brain’s ‘magic protein’ as it helps to rewire and build new neural pathways. Scientists believe it can even help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. And cardiovascular exercise is an easy way to stimulate the production of BDNF and keep your brain in peak condition.
5. Walking Lowers Physical and Mental Fatigue
A 2008 study by the University of Georgia found that just three sessions a week of a low-intensity exercise like walking can reduce fatigue levels by as much as 65 percent.
6. Walking Builds Hippocampus Strength
Your hippocampus is the key part of the brain for forming and storing memories. Research has shown that even brief walks can actually increase the size and efficiency of your hippocampus.
7. Walking Improves Creativity
Artists, writers, and philosophers have long known the importance of walking for clearing blocked creativity and getting inspiration flowing again. Science can now back this up with a 2014 study by Stanford University showing that walking increases your creative output by up to sixty percent.
8. Walking Increases Blood Flow to the Brain
Blood is vital for every organ in your body, not least of all, your brain. That magic twenty minutes is all it takes to increase the blood flow to your brain to keep it active and healthy.
As you can see, there are many simple ways to begin protecting your brain. I’d love to know your strategies for keeping your brain safe and sound. Would you please comment here and let me know?
I’m bestselling author, marketing strategist, and online entrepreneur Connie Ragen Green, helping you to start protecting your brain at all costs and connecting with people all over the world. Let’s you and I connect, shall we? Who knows what is possible when we put our brains together in a positive way.