We know that a poor diet and lack of exercise aren’t good for your brain and body. But there are more subtle daily habits that can affect our cognition. Dr. Jessica Caldwell, the director of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at the Cleveland Clinic, and the director of Clinical Training in Neuropsychology, says that changing just one of these habits can boost brain power.
- You focus on the negative. According to AARP, dwelling on gloom-and-doom thoughts has been linked to a decline in cognitive and memory function. A study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that people who wallowed in negativity had more amyloid plaques and tau deposits in their brains. These are known markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
- You drink sugary beverages. A recent neuroscientific study revealed that when rats consumed high levels of sugary drinks they had more difficulty with memory, according to Eat This, Not That! And Dr. Annie Fenn, founder of Brain Health Kitchen, says that Alzheimer’s researchers have shown that excess sugar is linked to increased risk for dementia and stroke.
- You don’t get enough sleep. Research has found “significant association between sleep disordered breathing and the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Consistency is key. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, if possible. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime and sleep in a cool, dark room. And if you have symptoms of sleep apnea, in which breathing stops intermittently during sleep, or other breathing issues, see a health care professional.
- You blast your music. Cranking up the volume on your headphones or speakers is not only bad for your hearing, it also affects your brain. According to AARP, a study of 639 individuals found that mild hearing loss nearly doubled the risk for dementia. Dr. Nicholas Reed, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that if someone can hear your music when you are wearing earbuds, it’s too loud.
- You take certain medications. Anticholinergic antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl and others) can cause confusion, cognitive impairment, and delirium, says Dr. Pat Salber, founder of The Doctor Weighs In. Other drugs that block the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine include some overactive bladder medications and tricyclic antidepressants. Check with your doctor to review your medications.
- You don’t have a sense of purpose. “Having a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that people are depending on you, feeling that you are making important contributions can contribute to healthy aging,” says Dr. Scott Kaiser, director of geriatric cognitive health at the Pacific Brain Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that people with a positive purpose in life were 2.4 times less apt to get Alzheimer’s disease. Experts suggest finding new hobbies and opportunities to be productive and mingle with others. Adopting a pet can also provide more meaning and structure in your life.
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