The 4 Worst Things You Can Do for Your Brain Health, According to Doctors


To say that the brain is a miraculous organ, and deserves your every effort to protect it and boost its health, is a tremendous understatement. Just a few amazing facts: weighing in at about three pounds, your brain basically has unlimited storage capacity, and the information within travels up to 268 miles an hour.

Whether it's taking a nap in the afternoon to improve your cognitive performance, or brushing and flossing every day to reduce your risk of dementia (really!), practicing a brain-healthy lifestyle should be part of your daily routine. And just as you can do things to boost your brain health, certain other choices you make may hurt your brain. Read on to find out the four worst things you can do for your gray matter.

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Not getting enough vitamin D
Helin Loik-Tomson/iStock

Vitamin D is important for building and maintaining bone strength, and it also plays an important role in the nervous, muscle, and immune systems, according to MedlinePlus—and studies have found a link between vitamin D and brain health.

"A recent meta-analysis… showed that maintaining adequate vitamin D levels significantly reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's," advises Michael Dominello, DO, a radiation oncologist at Karmanos Cancer Institute. "It will also ensure your cognition is optimized on a day-to-day basis."

Dominello suggests speaking with your doctor about vitamin D. "You can increase your vitamin D level with dietary intake of high vitamin D foods, exposing your skin to safe levels of sunlight (depending on the time of year and your location), and supplementation with pills or gummies," he says.

Physical inactivity

A sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health in more ways than one. Studies have shown that it can have a negative affect on your heart health—and that's not all. "Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). "Approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, prompting WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world."

We now also know that physical inactivity can affect your memory. "Researchers found sedentary behavior is linked to thinning in regions of the brain that are critical to memory formation," says Science Daily.

So how do you transition from a sedentary lifestyle to a routine that includes physical exercise? "Start small with a goal of increasing your heart rate with physical activity (biking,
running, swimming, or even brisk walking) for a minimum of 10 minutes daily," says Dominello. "It doesn't need to be a long, protracted workout, just commit to at least 10 minutes per day and be consistent!"

Lack of sleep

While it's true that napping can help give your brain a boost, getting a good night's sleep is still essential. "The proof is in the pudding; if sleep were nonessential, evolution would've eliminated it a long time ago," explains Dominello."Beyond the common sense of it all, there are plenty of data to support that human beings need seven hours of sleep per day, at a bare minimum."

"Recent research suggests ongoing sleep deficits could take a considerable toll on the brain," reports Brain & Life. "Experts agree quality sleep is critical to cognitive function, especially in the short term [and] studies show sleep deprivation hinders learning, impairs cognitive performance, and slows reaction time—like being intoxicated but without the buzz." Brain & Life notes that scientists have also linked sleep and memory storage.

Make sure to make the most of your bedtime routine by utilizing sleep tips such as creating a routine and avoiding fluids right before you sleep. Dominello also recommends creating a peaceful environment for yourself and eliminating screen time.

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Not prioritizing self-care

"Life can be hectic," Dominello says. "Especially in the mornings, many people find it hard to do anything but get out of bed and get ready for work, manage the family (if this applies), and rush off to their job. This can affect our cognitive performance and put us behind even before the day has truly started."

Dominello suggests making time for yourself first thing in the morning. "Go to bed a little bit earlier and wake up a little bit earlier so you have a few minutes to plan the day, meditate, stretch, and eat a high protein breakfast that will fuel your morning and keep you satiated."

Other activities that can be part of your self-care routine include journaling, meditating, and taking a simple walk in a natural setting.