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The 30 Worst Habits For Your Brain

These health-harming habits can take brain fog to the next level.

Healthy habits that are usually associated with revving up weight loss are also ones that improve both physical and mental well-being. So when you're munching on nutrient-dense foods and sticking to your workout regimen, not only are you inching closer to your dream bod, you're also bolstering your brainpower significantly.

But, there are some common culprits that are guilty of distracting you from your to-do list or causing you to forget Aunt Diane's upcoming milestone birthday. To keep your cognitive wheels spinning at their A-game, we've curated a list of the 30 Worst Habits For Your Brain that you should stay conscious of avoiding. Want to continue sharpening your brain and fighting the fog? Sort through our list of 30 Best & Worst Foods for Your Brain to find out what you should stock up on during your next grocery run.


You Guzzle Soda

soda glass

Sure, sodas are jam-packed with a boatload of sugar, but that's not even the worst of it! Many sodas like Sun Drop, Mountain Dew, and Crush Grapefruit also contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a toxic flame retardant that's been banned in Europe and Japan. While small levels of BVO aren't harmful to humans, the substance can build up in our systems and eventually cause memory loss and nerve disorders. If you can't quit the bubbly drinks, grab one of these 12 Sodas That Are Actually Healthy.


You Go For Diet Options

woman drinking diet coke
Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock

Unfortunately, diet sodas aren't any better. A study in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences found that aspartame, a commonly-used artificial sweetener in diet beverages, protein bars, and sugar-free ice creams, impaired memory performance and increased brain oxidative stress in mice. As the old adage goes, you're better safe than sorry—so steer clear from that Diet Coke.


You Crack Open Too Many Tuna Cans


While the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least two times a week to protect your ticker, cracking open too many tuna cans can do more harm than good. Bigeye, ahi, albacore and yellowfin tuna are all high in mercury—which, in high, amounts can be toxic and cause cognitive decline. To keep brain fog at bay, opt for other fatty fish that don't contain as much mercury. Anchovies, wild salmon, or trout, are all great options that boast brain-loving fats.


You Have A Close Relationship With The Salt Shaker

salt shaker

If you want to keep your brain working at full capacity, it may be time to step away from high sodium foods. According to a study released in 2014 by Neurology, hypertension can restrict blood flow to the brain and negatively impact focus, organizational skills and memory. Since this condition is often triggered by excessive sodium consumption, skipping out on these 20 Saltiest Restaurant Meals On The Planet may be in your brain's best interest.


Skipping Your Workout

man working out

Regular exercise not only strengthens your muscles; it also keeps your mind healthy. According to Marcel Daane, the author of Headstrong Performance: Improve Your Mental Performance with Nutrition, Exercise, and Neuroscience, "Movement produces proteins and hormones in the brain that stimulate memory and make you more alert." The best news? You don't need to go all out in the gym to reap these mental rewards. "Just 12 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise improves cognitive function and oxygenation and provides energy."


You Sit All Day

Man working
Man at deskShutterstock

Sitting all day isn't only affecting your jeans size. According to The Washington Post, "moving muscles pump fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and trigger the release of all sorts of brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals. When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function."


Stressing Out

Stressed out woman

If you're stuck in one too many hair-pulling situations, research shows that it can result in long-term brain changes that can potentially contribute to vulnerability to mental illness, a study in Molecular Psychology found. Nourish your mental health with these 20 Ways to Strip Away Stress.


You Can't Ignore Sugar Cravings

Pastry shop

Thinking those frosted office donuts can crush your 2 p.m. slump? According to a study in the journal Neuroscience, a Western diet (one that's high in sugar and fat) can cause cognitive decline. While belly-busting desserts may impair your memory and thinking skills, choosing antioxidant-rich sweets like raspberries and dark chocolate is a better choice for both your brain and waistline.


You're A Homebody

couple sleeping

You might want to reconsider skipping out on your next office happy hour or high school reunion. According to a University of Michigan study, people of all ages who talked and socialized with friends, family, and neighbors performed better on cognitive tests than those who didn't talk or share their feelings with others. Even if you're normally the wallflower of your friend group, making the effort to join in on a face-to-face conversation for even 10 minutes can have some major mind-boosting rewards.


You Skimp Out On Sleep

Woman sleeping

Kick insomnia to the curb, for the sake of your brain's health. According to Daane, "One study showed a single 90-minute reduction in sleep decreased performance and alertness by a whopping 32%." The long-term effects aren't pretty either. "Another study showed that a chronic lack of sleep caused significant decreases in brain volume and memory. Curious what you can do to improve your own sleep habits? Check out our list of 25 Doctor's Own Tips for Better Sleep.


You Attend Too Many Happy Hours

guys at bar

If you frequent happy hour too… well… frequently you may be hindering your brainpower. Besides temporary blurred vision and slurred speech, throwing back too many tequila shots on the reg can pose long-term damage including memory slips and disrupted new brain cell growth, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains.


…And Cheat Meals

bacon cheeseburger

That same Neuroscience study that proves sugar can cause cognitive decline also showed that high-fat diets can yield the same brain-altering results, messing up long- and short-term memory. Avoid paying the drive-thru frequent visits and opt for baking and grilling rather than frying your foods.


You Drink Too Much Coffee

Freshly ground coffee

Given it's the most widely used stimulant in the world, many of us are guilty of guzzling way too many cups of Joe to meet our busy day's demands. While your java may lend you a temporary productivity boost, a study in Neuropsychopharmacology found that sipping too many lattes can lead to an increase in the amount of adenosine receptors (the chemical in that brain that makes you feel tired) in the long run. What does this mean for you? Over time, you may develop a tolerance to caffeine, requiring more espresso shots to wake up. You may also experience caffeine-deprivation headaches and withdrawal symptoms. The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than four cups of coffee (or 400 milligrams of caffeine) a day.


And Not Enough Water

woman drinking water

Not drinking enough water can leave both your tongue and brain beyond parched. A study in Human Brain Mapping journal discovered that dehydration causes shrinkage of brain tissue as well as negative effects on cognitive performance. Try upping your water intake by sipping on detox water if you're bored of plain ol' H2O.


Your Headphones Are Always on Full Blast

Headphones and iPhone

It's time to turn your Spotify playlist down, ASAP. Not only is listening to music at high decibel levels bad for your ears, it's also potentially harmful to your brain. According to a report by Better Hearing Institute there is a link between hearing loss in the elderly and a loss of brain tissue. This damage may stem from the extra work your brain has to do to understand conversations when your hearing is no longer functioning at full capacity. Want to make sure you're not overloading your ears? Keep the volume at or below 60% of your device's maximum and take a sound break every couple hours.


You Smoke Cigarettes


The American Cancer Society warns that smoking causes about 20 percent of deaths in the U.S. And if that's not enough incentive to get you or your loved ones to quit, a UCLA study found that "the greater a teen's addiction to nicotine, the less active the prefrontal cortex was, suggesting that smoking can affect brain function." Even if you're an adult, stepping out for a coffee and cigarette break can result in memory and attention deficits over time.


You're in The Dark

watching tv

If you don't get enough natural light, you may get depressed, and that can slow your brain. Research also shows that sunlight helps keep your brain working well. Crack some windows and soak up the sun, because a lack of light can seriously harm your brain and your mood. Research by National Institutes of Health shows that sunlight helps keep your brain functioning efficiently, so don't skimp on your time outdoors or at least near a window.


You Skip Breakfast…


Even if your stomach doesn't growl in hunger first thing in the morning, you may want to whip up a quick avocado toast within one to two hours of waking up. A study in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience discovered that children who ate a morning meal had better concentration and were more alert at school. Need another reason not to sit down to an a.m. meal? Find out the 21 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Skip Breakfast.


…Or Choose The Wrong Breakfast

sugary cereal

If you cooked up some oatmeal for your kids this morning, we're totally applauding you. According to a study in Physiology & Behavior, children who ate their breakfasts every a.m. performed better that day than those who didn't—but there's a catch. The kids who showed the most stellar performance gobbled up nutrient-dense oatmeal while those who didn't perform as well ate cereal.


You Choose White Rice Over Brown

white rice

Processed carbohydrates aren't just a nutritional dud; they're also not doing your mind any favors. A study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked the consumption of high glycemic foods with a risk of depression in post-menopausal women.The same research showed a decrease in depression in women who consumed more lactose, fiber, non-juice fruit and vegetables.


You Start Your Day With Orange Juice

orange juice

It may be a breakfast staple, but you're really better off skipping the OJ if you want to keep your brain healthy. The journal Neuroscience published a study that shows that high-sugar diets lead to significant declines in cognitive function as well as long and short-term memory. There is evidence that sugar interferes with healthy gut bacteria in the microbiome, which consequently affects cognitive function. Since a 12-ounce glass of orange juice has a whopping 33 grams of sugar, nixing it is a great way to reduce your sugar consumption early in the day.


You Can't Give Up Contact Sports


NFL players aren't the only ones putting their brains at risk. You may want to avoid contact sports to protect the health of your mind. Activities like rugby and football make you more susceptible to concussions, which can eventually cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). According to research by The Journal of the American Medical Association, this condition is associated with an increased risk in developing dementia in middle or later life.


You Don't Take Sick Days

mat at office

Forget saving up your sick days; taking a day off from work when you are ill is the best thing you can do for your brain. When you're under the weather, your mind and body are taxed with fighting off disease and cannot function at the same level they do normally. If you strain yourself to work while you're sick, you won't be able to get the job done as efficiently and can risk long-term brain damage.


You Sleep The Wrong Way

Is there a wrong way to sleep? When it comes to preserving your brain health, there is. Sleeping with your head covered leads to an increased intake of carbon dioxide and a decrease in oxygen. Given that oxygen is vital for brain function, limiting it in this way has the potential to damage your brain cells.


You Live In A Big City

New York

You may not be able to choose where you reside, but you should be aware of the potential impact it has on your brain. Breathing polluted air leads to a decrease in the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain. Since oxygen is essential for brain function, a decrease in the air quality can also mean a decrease in your brain's efficiency. A recent study by the The University of Toronto found that people living near road pollution had a 12 percent greater risk of developing dementia compared to peers that resided in a more remote location.


You Try Too Many Crash Diets

hungry woman

According to a study in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, depriving your brain of nutrients can have detrimental effects. If you often restrict your calories drastically or purge after a binge, this can alter your regions of the right side of your brain significantly.


You Go To The Steakhouse Often


If you're a regular at your local steakhouse, you may want to consider cutting back on your visits. A study published by Physiology & Behavior found that consuming saturated fats (like those found in red meats) correlates with the development of Alzheimer's disease and decreased brain function. Since top steak offerings like rib-eye can have as much as 12 grams of saturated fat per 6-ounce serving, try not to make it your go-to dinner.


You Always Crave Fatty Foods

french fries

Fatty foods don't just pose a risk to your waistline; they also have the potential to put your brain in danger. A study published by Nutrients found that consuming high-fat foods can cause fatigue which will make your brain feel less sharp. If you're looking to avoid that mid-afternoon brain fog during the weekdays, try rehauling your diet and reducing your fat consumption.


You Binge Eat

empty plates

According to WebMD, "eating too much food, even the healthy kind, can affect your brain's ability to build the connections it needs to think and store memories." Not only that, inhaling too much grub can cause obesity, expanding your belly and potentially heightening your blood pressure, which is linked to brain-altering ailments such as strokes and dementia.


You Munch On Microwave Popcorn

microwave popcorn

Many popcorn brands line their microwaveable bags with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical found in Teflon that's been linked to infertility, weight gain, and impaired learning. Not only that, if you're choosing butter-flavored kernels, you may be munching on diacetyl, a chemical that can break down brain-protective cells. If you're in need of a movie time snack, pop a handful of organic kernels over the stovetop old-fashioned style, and try these 20 Delicious Ways to Dress Up Your Popcorn in place of butter.

April Benshosan
April is a born-and-raised Brooklynite who has a passion for all things health, wellness, and tastebud-related. Read more about April