It’s been widely claimed that it takes 30 days to form a habit, but much longer to rid ourselves of one. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that everyday things we do (or in some cases don’t), can actively affect our brain and cause long term effects. Here are 8 easy things you can do to ensure you're keeping your brain healthy.
Don't Skip Breakfast
I love breakfast, but many people are on the go and forgo this meal in order to get to work faster, or sleep in a bit. The problem is that if we spend too much time fasting between meals, we send our bodies into stress. Our blood sugar levels plummet, leading to insufficient nutrient supply to our brains.
Suggestions: Make it a habit to sit down and eat. Perhaps combine it with listening to the news. If you’re running low on time to prepare breakfast grab a yogurt or fruit to go.
Keep Yourself Stimulated
Anatomically, your brain isn't a muscle. However, there's good reason why many people equate the brain with a muscle – in both cases, the "use it or lose it" principle applies. These days we outsource much of its activity to machines and paid services. We use Google to answer our questions instead of thinking for ourselves.
Suggestions: Spend more time reading, thinking, exploring, do brain teasers, play games that stimulate your mind and focus on one task at a time to allow for greater reflection periods.
Throughout most of the world there is too much food. It is easy to access with online deliveries and convenient food takeaways. It has also become part of our leisure. We eat when bored, we go out to dinner at restaurants, and we munch on snacks while watching movies.
Research has found that lower calorie intake stalls the ageing process and protects our brains from prematurely degenerating.
Suggestions: Download a calorie counting app, or adopt specific eating times or habits to cut down on unnecessary calories.
Unknown to most, sugar is hidden in many foods, and this excess is damaging to our brains as high levels of sugar reduce our brain’s ability to produce an important chemical called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF helps us form new memories, learn, and controls our ability to know when it's time to stop eating. Without BDNF we are also more susceptible to depression and dementia.
Suggestions: Read food labels to check the ingredients for hidden sugars and opt for sugar-free products.
There is a lot of noise about the effects of smoking on your heart and lungs, but new research suggests your brain is at risk too. Smoking disturbs the blood flow and leads to much higher rates of stroke, aneurysms and Alzheimer’s. Scientists have found it also lowers our cognitive abilities, specifically memory.
Suggestions: Quit or reduce the amount of cigarettes - the risks mentioned decrease drastically within 2-5 years of quitting.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is our best battery charger. When you don’t get enough sleep your frontal lobe can't function properly. This means your creative thinking will suffer, you'll find yourself less decisive in your actions and have less control of your emotions. That's why so many of us can't help being cranky when we don't get our sleep. Other cognitive processes are disturbed as well: Alertness, concentration and problem solving chief among them. Sleep deprivation can also lead to depression, mania and paranoia.
Suggestions: Make sure to get 7 hours of sleep and skip that late TV show you like. Try our guide to sleep if you're having trouble, and if you’re not able to sleep well no matter what, consult with a sleep clinic.
Getting enough water is also a factor that affects our brain. Mild dehydration interferes with our energy levels, mood and ability to think well. Since our brain is mostly water, when we become dehydrated the rest of our body borrows some of the brain’s fluids for other essential processes, causing the cells to wither and shrink. This can also press on our skulls and give us headaches.
Suggestions: The key is to drink a little before you feel thirsty. Carry a water bottle with you and eat fruits, which are naturally full of water.
Don't Cover Your Head While Sleeping
This is a very simple thing we do. If you cover your head you’ll be exposed to more carbon dioxide. This can lead to increased blood pressure in your head and headaches. Research also indicates an increase in the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s, caused by this seemingly minor sleep habit.
Suggestions: Tuck in your blankets so that they don’t cover your face, get someone else to yank them down or forgo covers in summer.