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General Health

Unhealthy Habits That Affect Brain Health

Your brain is begging you to calm down, exercise and quit smoking, for goodness’ sake — here’s why you should listen to it.

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Ever find yourself feeling foggy as you anticipate (or, more accurately, dread) a big meeting? Or do you notice how much sharper you feel following a quick outdoor run? You aren’t imagining things. The same lifestyle choices that benefit—or impede—your heart, weight and disease risk can also have profound effects on your mood, memory and cognition.

Exercise and Your Brain


The next time you hit the gym, don’t think of it as simply working your body—you’re working your brain, too. Physical activity can improve neuroplasticity, mood and overall sense of wellbeing, according to a 2018 review of animal and human studies published in Frontiers of Psychology. Even less-intense exercise, such as household chores, can provide both short- and long-term brain benefits in older adults. (The study in question chose recumbent bikes as its exercise method of choice.) And don’t believe that if you shirk movement things will remain status quo: a lack of exercise during middle age can shrink the size of your brain later in life, according to research from the Boston University School of Medicine.

Stress and Your Brain

They say that stress is the new smoking, and this belief rings especially true when it comes to your health and happiness. Chronic stress can actually harm brain matter and how it functions, making it more likely for you to fall victim to mental illness.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true: habits that help you bliss out have been shown to improve your brain’s health. Meditation, in particular, can have amazing effects on your brain’s wellbeing— the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health notes that mind-body practices like yoga and mindfulness exercises can lessen the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Smoking and Your Brain

We know how detrimental cigarettes can be to one’s overall health, and though the lungs receive the most recognition in this arena your brain is angling for that number-one spot. Nicotine has a powerful effect on your brain from an addiction standpoint, with many organizations comparing it heroin in regards to its dependence-building characteristics. And smoking’s ability to impede blood flood can contribute to a number of brain-related maladies, including stroke and dementia.

Alcohol and Your Brain

Though research has found low alcohol consumption, especially from wine, can help reduce inflammation in the brain and remove waste, among other markers of cognitive decline, those benefits are (pardon the pun) all but forgotten once you pass the “moderate” level of consumption mark. A new study from the Spanish National Research Council found that white matter—the portions of the brain in which communication occurs—can be negatively affected weeks after a drinking binge has ended. American Addiction Centers further warns that diminished brain matter, a shortened attention span and difficulty learning are all side effects of long-term alcohol abuse.