Published on: February 19, 2017
by Carolyn Steber for Bustle:
If you’ve been feeling a bit hazy, forgetful, or out of it, it may be to due to your lifestyle and other bad habits that affect your memory. Yes, what you do/eat/think can have an impact on your brain and its ability to hold onto all those to-do lists, deadlines, and names of new acquaintances.
That’s because, just like the rest of your body, your brain is directly affected by bad habits like smoking, lack of sleep, and a crappy diet. If you consistently do things that are bad for your brain, it can deteriorate and start sucking at its job. Before you know it, your mind can feel like one big useless cloud.
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Some bad habits take weeks, or years, to take a toll. But it’s still important to always remember the mind/body connection. “Brain health, as any other part of the body, is directly related to how we treat ourselves,” says Dr. Scott Schreiber.
Poor habits, he tells me, can start to degenerate brain tissue and lead to memory loss. So it’s important to respect your brain and treat it well by nourishing it (with good food), stimulating it (with hobbies and other activities), and resting it (with lots of sleep). Read on for the habits that aren’t as great, as well as the negative affects they can have.
1. Not Getting Those Full Eight Hours
When was the last time you really, truly got a good night’s sleep? If it’s been awhile, it may be taking a toll on that brain of yours. “Those who do not get seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night are at higher risk of cognitive impairment,” Schreiber tells Bustle. “During sleep, our body repairs and regenerates. If this is not allowed to happen, degeneration will occur.” So go ahead and hop into bed, OK?
2. Letting Worry Get The Best Of You
Magically stopping your worry is way is easier said than done. But if you can find a way to relax, I recommend doing it ASAP — especially since studies have shown that chronic worry really can get to your head. As health writer Linda Melone said on Health, “Prolonged periods of everyday stress increase cortisol levels in the brain, which causes our brain cells to lose synapses (the bridges that connect our brain cells to one another), and make it more difficult to create and retrieve memories.”
3. Never Seeing The Sun
If you’re all about hanging around indoors, it may be time to take your vampiric self outside. Sure, the fresh air is good. But what you really want is that sunlight. As Schreiber says, “Vitamin D deficiency has been correlated with cognitive decline. Spending more time outside and/or taking a supplement will help.”
4. Forgetting To Take Your Vitamins
If your diet is severely lacking in healthy foods (you know, colorful fruits, vegetables, etc.) it may explain why you’ve been feeling a bit foggy as of late. “Certain vitamin deficiencies can clearly affect your memory negatively,” says Arielle Levitan M.D., in an email to Bustle. “These include vitamin D, iron and certain B vitamins.” To fix things, start adding healthier foods to every meal. Or, ask your doctor about taking a multi-vitamin.
5. Listening To Super Loud Music
I’m guilty of doing this pretty much 24/7 and haven’t noticed a difference (yet). But there are studies that show a connection between listening to loud music, hearing loss, and eventual memory problems, founder of Ozen Hearing Akiva Szental tells me. To prevent it from happening, start listening to your music at a more reasonable level.
6. Lighting Up On The Regular
If you need another reason to quit smoking, memory loss might be it. As Schreiber tells me, smoking impairs lung and heart function, which in turn slows oxygen transport to the brain. And less oxygen in your brain means less brain function. (Yikes.)
7. Sitting Around With Your Lazy Self
I’m all about a lazy weekend. But constantly giving into the siren song of your couch — and hours of mind-numbing Netflix — can affect your head. So if you can get out there and try something new, do it. As Schreiber tells me, challenging your mind and trying new activities has been shown to decrease your chance of memory loss.
8. Skipping Out On Any Form Of Exercise
You don’t have to train for a marathon if that’s not your thing. But it is important to get some form of exercise, lest your memory start to fail. According to senior lifestyle blog editor Jordan K. Turgeon on HufftingonPost.com, a recent study found that exercise can improve memory function. So grab a bike, go for a walk, or try some yoga. It really can help.
9. Getting Your Drink On (And On, And On)
Everyone knows that a night of heavy drinking can affect your memory. But even a night of social drinking can take its toll — even thought it’s perfectly OK to do so. According to Turgeon, a 2004 study found that participants experienced delayed recognition after an evening out, despite their blood alcohol levels being back to normal. Maybe that’s why drinking is best left for the weekends? The choice is up to you.
10. Eating A Consistently High-Fat Diet
While it’s perfectly OK to have fries (and pizza, and other greasy foods), too many of them can have a negative impact on your health. According to Melone, there have been studies in mice that show a high-fat diet can affect memory. While more studies are needed in humans, it is true that a fatty diet can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. And that can definitely damage the brain.
11. Not Doing Anything About That Stress
Just like with chronic worry, feeling smothered by chronic stress can have negative affects, too. That’s why it’s so important to deal with that stress of yours, either by cutting back on your work, taking time to relax, or even giving meditation a try. One study, according to Melone, showed that college students who completed eight 45-minute meditation sessions over two weeks increased their average GRE exam scores from 460 to 520 and showed improvement on tests for working memory. So worth it, right?
It just goes to show that your habits — good, bad, or otherwise — can affect your memory. So keep an eye out for the ones that mess things up, and add in more healthy habits that help your brain do it’s thing.
On Mother’s Day, amazing support for women’s brain health and our initiative from Robin Wright, Diane Lane, Trudie Styler, Teddy Sears, Martha Stewart, Tonya Lewis Lee, Marcia Gay Harden, Donna Karan, and Cecile Richards.
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