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Everyday Habits That Wreck Your Brain

Some bad habits that can damage your brain beyond repair.

The brain is a complex computer no one has managed to quite hack; there's still much we don't understand about the incredibly elaborate processing center for the human body. But that doesn't mean brain health is completely out of your control. There are plenty of things you can do every day to improve your cognitive health—and conversely, some bad habits that can damage your brain beyond repair. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Drinking Too Much Alcohol

woman drinking wine alcohol at home

A cocktail or two may help you get out of your head, but regularly overindulging may cause your brain to shrink. Several studies have found that chronic heavy drinking is associated with a reduction of brain volume, including a 2007 study that found the more alcohol people drink on a regular basis, the lower their brain volume is. To stay safe, drink only in moderation: No more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.




You know that smoking can destroy your lungs, but did you realize it can wreck your brain? One study found that regularly smoking just one cigarette a day can reduce cognitive ability, while smoking a pack a day can reduce critical thinking and memory by almost 2 percent. The hundreds of toxins in tobacco constrict and damage blood vessels, including those in the brain, depriving the organ of nourishing blood and oxygen.


Drinking Too Much Coffee


If you're a hardcore java junkie, you might want to dial it back a bit. An Australian study of nearly 400,000 people found that those who reported drinking more than six cups of coffee a day had a 53% higher risk of dementia and smaller brain volume than people who drank less. But if you love coffee, that doesn't mean you have to abstain: Moderate coffee consumption has been associated with many health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, several cancers, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. "As with most things in life, moderation is the key. Very high coffee intakes are unlikely to be good for you," wrote the study's author.


Not Getting Enough Exercise

woman lying on sofa and watching tv.

A study presented last spring found that older adults who get moderate levels of exercise—including walking, gardening, swimming, or dancing—have significantly less brain shrinkage than those who are inactive. The difference was equivalent to four years of brain aging, said researchers from Columbia University, who compared brain MRIs of 1,557 older people to their levels of physical activity. 


Stressing Out

Mature businessman experiencing a headache while working at his desk

A 2018 study published in the journal Neurology found that people who lead high-stress lives may experience brain shrinkage and memory loss even before they turn 50. "Higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, seem to predict brain function, brain size and performance on cognitive tests," said study author Dr. Sudha Seshadri, professor of neurology at UT Health San Antonio. "We found memory loss and brain shrinkage in relatively young people long before any symptoms could be seen. It's never too early to be mindful of reducing stress." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael