It does not take much to rob your brain of its essential vitality. Dr. Daniel Amen, a renowned psychiatrist, has spent his entire career trying to understand the ways we can preserve or sabotage our brain health.
In his book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Dr. Amen explores the root of these essential brain robbers. The good news is that because the brain is highly plastic, any good habit that forms over time can replace short-term damage.
Below are some of the ways you could be harming your brain without even knowing it:
People who drink alcohol excessively have smaller brains than nondrinkers. Excessive or binge drinking for both genders lowers activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for judgment, forethought, and planning.
As your weight goes up, brain size goes down. Obesity more than doubles your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, with a decrease in brain tissue.
- Dysregulated hormones
This could be due to imbalances with your thyroid, testosterone, or estrogen levels. It is important to get a complete blood count (CBC) yearly.
- Poor diet
Although your brain accounts for only two percent of your body weight, it uses 20 to 30 percent of all the calories you consume. A fast food routine will leave you with a “fast food brain” and a “fast food body” to boot.
- Lack of new learning
The brain gets easily bored and requires new and different challenges to stay healthy. Once the brain really learns something, such as how to navigate the streets of your hometown, it uses less energy to accomplish the task. Learn to familiarize yourself with uncharted territory. These experiences actually help our neurons grow.
Most people are aware that marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines, and heroin seriously decrease brain function. Unfortunately, Illegal drugs aren’t the only culprits. Abusing prescription medications, such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Xanax, also can hurt the brain. So can an over-reliance on supplements and over-the-counter drugs.
- Chronic inflammation
Inflammation now is thought to be at the center of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. C-reactive protein, found in our blood plasma, often rises in response to inflammation. Ask your doctor to perform this test, as it is not usually part of a standard scan.
- Chronic stress
When you constantly feel stressed, your brain tells your body to secrete higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. Our bodies need an optimal level of cortisol to function, accomplish the things we want to do and maintain focus. At elevated levels, cortisol increases your appetite, cravings for sugar, increases muscle tension and chronic pain, increases blood pressure, and raises your risk for many serious health conditions.
- Chronic sleep deprivation
Getting less than five to six hours of sleep a night lowers overall brain function and causes your brain to release hormones that increase your appetite and cravings for high-sugar snacks. People who don’t get enough sleep tend to eat more calories and gain weight.
- Lack of exercise
Lack of exercise decreases blood flow to your brain, body, and genitals. It is well-documented that a lack of physical activity can negatively affect your weight, overall health and sexual well-being.
- Negative thinking
fMRI scans have shown that focusing on the things you don’t like lowers brain activity, causes your heart to beat faster, increases blood pressure, and negatively affects many systems in your body. Negative thinking also can sabotage your efforts to change your bad habits, lose weight, start an exercise program, or quit smoking.
- Too much TV
Watching too much TV can be harmful for your brain and body. Excessive TV watching has been associated with ADD in children, obesity, and in recent studies to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Excessive texting and social networking
Spending too much time texting and social networking leads to attention problems and may cause difficulties communicating face-to-face, especially in romantic relationships. It also takes time away from physical activities, making you more prone to weight gain.
There are many other ways you can sabotage your brain. Only you know how you are treating, protecting and preserving your brain, and subsequently body and heart health. Even though on a daily basis we cannot physically see the changes we are making to our brains, we intuitively know how it is doing based on how we feel. We have to work hard to show our brain who is boss.