When it comes to aging, you might care about how your skin holds up. Or maybe how your knees are doing. (Why do they pop so much?) But have you ever considered which habits can age your brain?
It may be worth thinking about (no pun intended), especially since brain health has a tendency to decline with age. This is worrisome for those who have a genetic predisposition for things like Alzheimer's Disease or dementia. But little habits, like living with tons of stress or not getting enough sleep, can play a role in the decline, too.
So take a second and think about your daily habits. "If you don’t exercise, eat well, or use your brain then ... you may experience mental decline sooner," health expert Kelly Crawford tells Bustle. "It’s subtle, too, and as a result you may just feel its because of your age. But in reality you can improve the situation."
That's good news, right? In many cases, you can slow down and even prevent your brain from letting you down. All you have to do is take good care of yourself. So, read on for some habits you should start avoiding, if you want to be sharp as a tack for decades to come.
1. Canceling Plans At The Last Minute
Hey, if you need a night to yourself, then go ahead and take it. (It's considered healthy to spend some time alone.) But don't make a habit of it. As psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells me, those who don't socialize or challenge their minds tend to age faster. So even if you really don't want to go out, it may be worth it for the sake of your brain.
2. Going To Bed Super Late
Be honest, how much sleep do you get a night? If it isn't least seven hours of good solid rest, you may be doing your brain a huge disservice. "Sleep ... is a critical time that the body's hormones are at work regulating body temperature, metabolism, and other critical functions that have an impact on the brain and health," says sleep expert Dr. Joseph Krainin. If you aren't allowing yourself that crucial shut eye, your brain may decline faster with age.
3. Watching TV For Hours On End
OK, so I love a good Netflix binge just as much as the next gal. But I do try to balance it out with other pursuits, like reading. This balance is, as Martinez tells me, absolutely vital for long-term brain health. "Keeping the brain active with mental challenges on a regular basis will slow down the natural difficulties with the aging mind," she says. So make sure you do the same and read, try a crossword puzzle, or take up another healthy hobby.
4. Eating Food That Isn't Nutritious For Dinner
We're all super busy, and sometimes dinner is a bag of potato chips and a sip of soda. (Which is, of course, totally OK to do occasionally.) But try to make an effort to eat real, colorful, healthy foods as often as possible. As Crawford says, "If you aren't feeding your brain nutritious foods ... then your ability to think and perform at its optimum for your age isn't going to happen."
5. Staring At A Screen Before Bed
"There is a great deal of evidence that melatonin is good for your brain," says health expert Richard L. Hansler, Ph.D. And you know what slows production of melatonin in the brain? Blue light. Yes, looking at your phone, your TV, or your laptop at night can stop the production of this sleep hormone. So put that phone away and get some sleep.
6. Living That Sedentary Life
If you're like me, then you spend most of your day sitting at a desk and staring into a computer. While it's often necessary for work, Martinez tells me a sedentary life is one of the many things that can rapidly age your brain. Walking on your lunch break is a good place to start.
7. Not Having An Exercise Routine
While you're at it, consider the benefits of a daily exercise routine. "There is strong evidence to suggest that aerobic exercise increases capillary development in the brain," Crawford says. "This allows the brain to have a better nutrient and blood supply. It also means your brain will be getting more oxygen: all things important for brain health." If your life is exercise-less, consider taking up bike riding, jogging, or walking.
8. Skipping Your Cuddling Session
If you tend to push away your SO (or your dog) when they want to cuddle, it may be time to reevaluate your priorities. "Not getting touch in our lives increases cortisol, which is the stress hormone," says professional cuddler Adam Lippin, in an email to Bustle. Since cortisol is all sorts of bad for your brain, a quick hug may be totally worth it.
9. Having A Quick Smoke
Do you take a puff on a cigarette while out at the bar? While not as bad as smoking a pack a day, smoking is still something you should try to avoid, health expert Judi Zucker tells me. It's one of the many habits that can cause your brain to not function properly.
10. Not Learning Anything New
If you're done with school, it may feel like the rest of your life is a free ticket to never study again. While this may feel exciting at first (no more papers, woo!) it's not a good habit to fall into. Like I said above, making sure you take time to read is so important. But so is taking the time to learn something new. As Martinez tells me, exercising your brain is one of the best ways to keep it.
11. Letting Stress Get The Better Of You
Remember what I said before about cortisol? Stress is not good. Like, at all. If you have a super packed schedule, way too much to do at work and no way of handling it, it will eventually take a toll on your health — including your brain. So start cutting back on your obligations and making it a point to relax.
Your brain will thank you for it.
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