8 Habits That Are Damaging Your Brain and Body

We often fall into bad habits that could eventually cause serious damage to our health. Some of our day-to-day habits could seem harmless, and we are probably not aware of their negative long-term effects on our bodies. That's why I will discuss eight habits that could damage your brain and body, to create awareness so we can try to mold our routines into more convenient and healthy ones. 

1. Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation makes us moody and irritable, and it impairs brain functions such as memory, concentration, and decision-making. It also negatively affects the rest of the body—it weakens the functioning of the immune system, for example, making us more susceptible to infections. Sleep disturbances are associated with neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders, so maintaining good sleep likely reduces one’s risk of developing such conditions (see “The Link Between Depression, Sleep, and Stress”).

Sleep is key for a healthy life. While sleeping, your body recovers; it works to repair cells, muscles, and organs. Also, chemicals that strengthen your immune system start to circulate in your blood, and your body restores the energy it requires during daily life. 

2. Nutrition 

Low-quality foods, often processed, are not the best choice for our brains and bodies. These types of foods are low in fiber and digested quickly. Refined foods can cause swings in blood sugar levels, which can be harmful to overall brain health and affect the mood of an individual. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. Besides worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression. On the other hand, eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.

3. Sedentary Lifestyle 

A sedentary lifestyle (otherwise known as an inactive, or stationary lifestyle) is one of the risk factors for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric diseases. According to the World Health Organization, sedentary behavior can be defined as time spent with low energy expenditure. Molecular and biochemical evidence supports that a sedentary lifestyle, excessive caloric intake, and obesity can lead to a progressive decline in cognitive function. Being sedentary changes the shape of certain neurons in the brain, according to a study in the Journal of Comparative Neurology that suggests a link between inactivity and mental decline. 

A study from 2018 (by Ellingson et.al.), demonstrated that reductions in sedentary time, regardless of bout length, positively influenced mental wellbeing. Specifically, these results suggest that decreasing daily sedentary time by 60 min may significantly attenuate the negative effects of high levels of pre-existing sedentary time on mental wellbeing. This study concluded that decreases in total sedentary time were associated with improvements in mood, stress and sleep. 

Regular exercise is good for your overall health. Research shows the benefits of exercise for the human brain. Aerobic exercise, like walking, gardening or running and weight training helps the health of your brain. It improves blood flow in the brain, encourages the formation of new neurons, and increases the number of synaptic connections between the neurons. Exercise can also prevent memory loss by reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

4. Avoiding social interactions

By nature, humans need to be social. Spending long periods of time alone, with no type of social interaction, could be bad for your mental health. Loneliness has been found to increase the risk of developing dementia by as much as 20%. In fact, loneliness has an influence similar to other more well-established dementia risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, physical inactivity, and hearing loss.

Research has shown that prolonged loneliness is associated with an increased risk of premature death, similar to smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity. Other health consequences that are also associated with loneliness are an elevated risk for heart disease and strokes. Contrarily, individuals who have frequent interactions with others are happier and more productive. They’re also less likely to suffer from cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. 

5. Stressing too much 

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. The feeling of stress is your body's reaction to a challenge. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline; but when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health.

When chronic stress is experienced, the body makes more of the hormone cortisol (a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress) than it has a chance to release. This is when cortisol and stress can lead to trouble; high levels of cortisol can wear down the brain’s ability to function properly. According to several studies, chronic stress impairs brain function in multiple ways. It can disrupt synapse regulation (synapse is a small gap at the end of a neuron that allows a signal to pass from one neuron to the next), resulting in the loss of sociability and the avoidance of interactions with others. Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress also has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

6. Multitasking and information overload 

Often we want to get things done fast, and for that reason we tend to do them all at the same time. We think that it is harmless, but actually, multitasking is not good for your brain. Multitasking increases the stress hormone cortisol and the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Have in mind that when you multitask, you don't let your brain concentrate fully on either of the tasks you are doing. 

Interestingly enough, Glenn Wilson, former visiting professor of psychology at Gresham College in London, found out in his research that when you are trying to concentrate on a task, and an email is sitting unread in your inbox, it can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points. To maximize your brain’s performance every day, plan your day, and prioritize your tasks in terms of the urgency with which they should be done. Prepare your brain to ignore unnecessary information by being proactive about how you consume media.

7. Too much screen time

Electronic devices such as phones, television, computers, and others, have become a huge part of our lifestyle. Some of the negative effects of too much screen time are behavioral and educational problems, and disturbances in sleeping and nutrition habits. When it comes to our bodies, looking at screens (playing video games, glancing at our phones, or being on the computer) all day can hurt the eyes, neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and forearms. In some cases, due to the extensive exposure to violent TV shows and video games, an individual can engage violent behaviours. Too much screen time can also affect face-to-face interactions.

Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent over two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests.Some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning

8. Blasting music

The habit of increasing the volume when your favorite songs start playing, or just to avoid listening to what is around you, could seriously damage your hearing. But it doesn't just hurt your ears: hearing loss in older adults is linked to diseases and complications, such as Alzheimer's and loss of brain tissue. According to neuroscientists, prolonged exposure to loud noises alters how the brain processes speech, potentially increasing the difficulty in distinguishing speech sounds.