6 Habits That Are Quietly Eating Your Brain

By Brittany Lyte on 25 November 2014 2 comments

Bad habits — everybody's got 'em. But did you know that some of them are actually making you dumber? That's right, just as you can engage in practices that boost your brain power, there are other actions — including some you may be taking right now while mistakenly thinking they're harmless — that actually diminish your intellectual capacity. (See also: 7 Habits That Are Quietly Making You Fat)

So read on, smarten up, and don't say we didn't warn you.

1. Overeating

Listen up, men. Especially those of you who carry around a little extra weight. Researchers have found that being overweight may actually increase the risk of mental decline in men, making it more difficult for their brains to function at peak levels over time. So next time you get the midnight munchies, think not just of the damage it could do to your waistline, but also the harm it could cause to your intellect.

Women, by the way, are not at risk for this eating-induced loss of mental function because of where and how the female body stores and distributes fat. Hurray!

2. Using GPS Navigation

A series of studies has uncovered a startling fact about the way we navigate this modern world, and the effect it has on our brains. It turns out that depending on GPS to get from point A to point B may have negative consequences on brain function, especially on the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and navigation processes. Neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot of McGill University in Montreal contends that it's probably wise for us all to limit our use of GPS strictly for occasions when we're finding the way to a new destination. Then, on the way back, or when we're going somewhere else we're already familiar with, we should turn it off.

3. Working Odd Hours

If you work the graveyard shift or otherwise make a living by a strange schedule, you may want to put in for a change of hours. Studies show that long-term shift work leads to impaired memory and stunted brain function. "The cognitive impairment observed in the present study may have important safety consequences not only for the individuals concerned, but also for society as a whole, given the increasing number of jobs in high hazard situations that are performed at night," wrote a team of researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research at the University of Toulouse in France. Experts say it all boils down to the toll sleep disruption has on the brain's ability to store information. The old 9-to-5 doesn't sound so bad afterall, now does it?

4. Getting Stressed Out

Only 37% of Americans feel they are doing an adequate job of managing their stress. And now there's evidence that stress could be shrinking our brains. New research shows that prolonged stress is associated with decreased volume in the parts of the brain responsible for regulating thoughts and feelings and creating new memories. So it would seem to reason that it's more important now than ever to pick up a few little tricks to help release those tightly wound tensions we all accumulate in the mind and body as we go about our day. (See also: 6 Little Ways to De-Stress (and Enjoy Life More))

5. Skipping Meals

When you skip a meal, you aren't just starving your stomach — you're also starving your brain. The brain relies on blood sugar from the food we eat as fuel to keep all our neural-activity functioning properly. All it takes is a few hours on an empty stomach for our blood sugar to drop to subnormal levels, which means the brain can't perform optimally. "In short, skipping meals leads to poor cognitive functioning, including loss of memory, concentration, the ability to learn, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to catch mistakes," said Rallie McAllister, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.

6. Eating Soda, Candy, and Sugary Snacks

Yet another reason to wrangle in that sweet tooth: A diet high in fructose slows the brain, which hampers memory and learning. And studies show all it takes is six weeks of sugary eating for the effects on the mind to begin to show. "Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," UCLA biology professor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla told CBS News. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information."

Are you guilty of any of these bad habits? Planning to stop now? Tell us about it in comments!

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Guest's picture
Roger

It would have been helpful if the article told us if the effects of the bad habits were reversible if we correct the behavior. I imagine they are especially if combined with memory challenge games and activities.

Guest's picture
Chris

I'm definitely guilty of #6, but I'm trying to wean myself off - it's as bad as trying to quit smoking!