The 10 daily habits that are ruining your brain – and how to boost it
A healthy brain is vital for problem solving, memory, cognition and living well as you age. Keeping your grey matter in good nick will reduce your chances of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Yet certain everyday routines can have a detrimental impact on your noggin.
It is now Brain Tumour Awareness month, and Brain Awareness Week starts on Monday. So it’s time to give yours a little love.
Lucy Gornall explains the bad habits you would do well to quit . .
SITTING down most of the day is not ideal for either body or brain.
Hana Burianová, a professor of neuroscience working with supplements firm Healthspan, advises we should get at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise every day, or 15 minutes at high intensity.
She says: “Every time you exercise, you create new brain cells so it’s important to keep moving.
“Being active increases your heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain.
“It also aids the release of hormones, providing an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells.”
Running, swimming, HIIT, cycling and walking are particularly good.
Prof Burianová says: “Combine both aerobic and strength training on a weekly basis to help achieve optimal brain health.”
AVOID sweet treats and crisps.
Prof Burianová warns: “Ultra-processed foods, those high in sugar, bad fats and other compounds, can have a negative impact on the brain’s health.
“That includes processed meats such as bacon and sausages, savoury snacks, sugary foods like cake and biscuits and fizzy drinks, and some pre-packaged meals.
“These are high in salt, which can increase blood pressure.
“Research shows that high blood pressure in midlife can increase risk of dementia in later life.”
High intake of refined sugars can promote inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells.
It can also affect regulation of insulin, causing blood sugar imbalances that can impact on mood and ability to focus.”
Stick instead to a brain-friendly Mediterranean diet rich in fruit and veg, olive oil, nuts, legumes and oily fish.
Lonely hearts club
A LACK of human contact – especially chronic loneliness – can wreak havoc on our brains.
Prof Burianová says: “It is problematic for neural plasticity, which will be slowed down if there are no new stimuli and we don’t interact with other humans or animals.
“The loneliness might be worse, though, in that it can cause anxiety and/or depression.
She says we should try to interact with others, even fleetingly, every day.
Pick up the phone or arrange a get-together with friends.
One thing at a time
DO you feel like you are constantly juggling lots of jobs and unable to focus on any one?
Prof Burianová says: “Long-term multi-tasking can cause a fragmented mind and shallow thinking, poor concentration and memory, fatigue, anxiety and stress, all of which lead to poor brain processing.”
If you’re overwhelmed around the house or at work, write a to-do list and focus on one item at a time.
Tick off each as you complete it, and take breaks to stand or move.
HEAVY boozing can hit overall health, including your mental health.
Prof Burianová advises: “The consensus is that drinking heavily and regularly has a serious impact on the brain.”
Alcohol-related dementia (ARBD) is a condition where damage to the brain can lead to problems with mood, memory, balance and empathy.
It can see people hospitalised with delirium after alcohol withdrawal.
But this condition affects only severe alcoholics, and can be managed with medication and talking therapies.
Best to stick to NHS guidelines and drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
IS there someone in your life who sucks all your energy from you?
Do they manipulate, gaslight or try to emotionally control you?
If so, it might be time to take a step back, for your brain’s sake.
Prof Burianová says: “Lack of support from people around us and toxic environments, such as those involving emotional vampires, has a detrimental impact on the brain.”
She says it can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, unhappiness, negative mindset, lack of mental flexibility, faster ageing and predisposition to autoimmune diseases and burnout.
THERE’S a reason why fish is often referred to as the ultimate brain food.
Prof Burianová says: “This is due to the Cardiovascular Health Cognition Study, published in the journal Neurology, which looked at more than 2,000 adults and found eating fish twice a week appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 41 per cent.”
It is not just any fish, but oily types like salmon, mackerel and sardines that really provide brain-health benefits, thanks to their omega-3 essential fatty acid content.
Prof Burianová says: “Omega-3 appears to support blood flow to the brain which supports memory and reduces risk of cognitive decline.
"If you don’t eat fish regularly, you can find omega-3 fats in avocados, nuts and seeds and plant oils like flaxseed and olive oil, or in supplement form.”
PROF Burianová says: “Without regular B vitamins we can be at a higher risk of memory loss and Alzheimer’s.”
Sources include wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, soy and pulses.
Prof Burianová adds: Vitamin B12, though, is just found in animal sources, so if you’re vegan or vegetarian you might benefit from a B12 supplement.”
IF your iPhone is warning your music is coming through your headphones too loudly, take note.
Prof Burianová says: “Our senses are processed and controlled by the brain, including hearing.
"All acoustic information projects to the brain, where it’s interpreted, so if we damage our auditory cells in the inner ear with constant loud music, no information will be sent to the brain network and we’ll experience deafness.”
THE worst thing you can do in the morning for your brain is grab a phone, iPad or laptop to check emails.
Prof Burianová says: “The brain becomes reactive and tuned to stressful events and negativity, whether it’s pressures of the day or war in Europe.”
Let your mind wake without tech.
Have a glass of water, shower and prepare breakfast before checking your phone.