Having lived a full life, you tend to look forward to the “golden years” of life as a time to unwind, sit back, and cherish the memories that you made along the way. What then could be more disconcerting than the thought of having your twilight years marred by the curse of dementia or the constant feeling that your brain is slipping away. The fear looms particularly large over people who have previously watched family members with diseases like Alzheimer’s tread down that rocky path. But instead of squandering the time you have left dreading about what’s to come, you must proactively try to fortify your mental health, especially because this kind of cognitive damage doesn’t happen overnight but sets in over the years without you even realizing it.
Certain bad habits, in particular, are more culpable than others for slowly degrading and degenerating your brain power, thereby shrinking its caliber from that of a mental giant to a mental midget. Once it digs its claws too deep, it might be too late to undo the mental scarring. It is, however, never too late to set your life on the right course by letting go of such potentially debilitating practices and patterns.
Bad Habit #1 That Kills Your Brain: Recreational Drugs
Most people already know that recreational drugs “fry” the brain, triggering the reward pathway that leads to addiction and results in altered levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Recreational drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine age your body rapidly, bringing you closer to the rocking chair long before your time because of the effects of the drugs and the high concentrations of toxic chemicals in them. These drugs also weaken your immunity and make you more susceptible to serious infections.
Drugs like ecstasy and crack can permanently alter moods and excitability and cause anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness while simultaneously increasing the risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression later in life.
Bad Habit #2 That Kills Your Brain: Alcohol
When alcohol is consumed in excessive amounts, your appetite tends to dwindle. The alcohol replaces the feeling of hunger as it’s laden with calories. To add insult to injury, since alcohol runs low on nutrients and cannot provide the basic sustenance and nourishment that food does, it ends up depleting the body’s store of vitamins and minerals.
Two common deficiencies found in alcoholics are thiamine (vitamin B1) and magnesium. Thiamine deficiency causes decreased mental alertness, emotional instability, confusion, memory loss, and decreased coordination.Magnesium deficiency, on the other hand, is associated with symptoms such as confusion, depression, disorientation, apprehensiveness, and irritability.
Bad Habit #3 That Disrupts Your Brain’s Functioning: Bad Diet
What’s the common trait between high-sugar and processed foods that makes them bad for your brain? It’s their content of advanced glycation end products or AGEs. These molecular fragments act like minuscule terrorists tying up your cells’ DNA and rendering it useless. After enough of the DNA is bound up in a gnarled mass, organ failure can set in. Foods that are highly processed or high in sugar such as pizza or hot dogs have the highest level of AGEs and their detrimental effects tend to amplify once they enter your digestive system.
AGEs have been linked to every degenerative disease there is, including diabetes, diabetes complications, high blood pressure, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
Bad Habit #4 That Kills Your Brain: Avoiding Reading
Researchers at the French National Institute found that people who were not disposed to reading had an 18% greater chance of developing dementia. And when dementia did occur, symptoms were worse in those who didn’t read than in those who did.
Reading not only engages and stimulates multiple areas of the brain at a time, it feeds your thinking machine new information and affects changes to it by increasing brain connectivity, rewiring the brain to create more white matter, and enhancing your memory and attention span. Thus, reading does indeed end up lighting the proverbial light bulb within your brain.
The concept of neuroplasticity implies that the brain will constantly adapt to its environment, and if you are putting new information in regularly from books, you’re controlling the eventual outcome of your brain and how it (you) interprets new situations. Reading makes it easier to keep your cognitive skills, especially verbal skills, intact during the advanced years of your life. Not only is it a “shield” against mental decline, but some experts uphold a 30-minute reading break as a cathartic form of relaxation to decrease stress and blood pressure.
For decades, people have known that one of the major characteristics of top executives is their reading ability. The more you read, the more you know about everything you read, and the better your ability to creatively solve problems. And if you are the go-to person for problem-solving, you’re valued more among friends and coworkers.
However, like there is a correct way of doing everything else, there is a preferred way to read as well. Recent studies find that reading books on a screen rather than a physical book is a good way to tire the eyes, create headaches, and even blur the vision. Optometrists even have a term for a disorder called computer vision syndrome that occurs in people who stare at the screen for too many hours at a time. Scientific findings also suggest that comprehension and recall are less when text is read digitally rather than on paper.
Other Bad Habits That Disrupt Your Brain’s Functioning
There are numerous other bad habits that can contribute to brain degeneration if repeated throughout the years. Some are obvious, such as not getting enough sleep, watching a lot of television, and neglecting to exercise. Others are more insidious, such as avoiding mental stimulation, never expressing an opinion, or feasting on pornographic images.
Think about your life, and critically analyze your choices. It may seem convenient to look away right now and shrug off such behaviors as temporary or harmless. But mental health is a slippery slope and once you let it slide, it’s hard to reverse the damage, which truly raises its ugly head at a later stage – a stage way past your physical prime, which makes it all the more important for your mental faculties to be intact since you depend on them more than ever.
So, cut out your bad habits that disrupt proper brain functioning. Start today – and never look back.
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