When we think about our health, usually we think about nourishing our bodies, not our brains. Our daily habits influence our cognitive health. As use of technology during our daily lives, particularly with changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are changing our technology habits at a rapid pace. Using technology during our day can actually damage our brains. Our neural pathways are changed in such a way that we are less able to have original thoughts and ideas come more slowly to us. Being hyperconnected is affecting our brains, making us less productive and ineffective in our work. To become more productive, there are steps we can take to improve our brain health and slow cognitive decline. We’ve collected a few ways you can start to adjust your daily habits for better brain health.
Be Physically Active
Being inactive is linked to many chronic health problems such as obesity, depression, heart disease, dementia, and cancer. A sedentary lifestyle can change the shape of neurons in our brain, which may cause sedentary people to have more cognitive decline than others. By incorporating regular exercise physical activity activity, such as walking, cycling, or stretching, you can increase the chemicals in your brain that promote memory and learning.
Limit Your Multitasking
Multitasking might seem like a great way to be more productive, but it actually is quite the opposite! When we multitask, we reduce our productivity, but we also are rewiring our brains to be even less productive long-term. Technology such as smartphones have only made multitasking more common. We check our email or social media during any amount of downtime, or listen to podcasts while commuting or standing in line. The facts are that our brains are not meant to multitask. It increases the stress hormone cortisol and activates adrenaline, the fight-or-flight hormone responsible for overstimulating our brains, causing mental fog.
Stop the Information Overload.
The volume for notifications, emails, and updates we receive each day can be overwhelming. The sheer amount of content being blasted at us leads to decision overload and increased stress. A recent study found that while trying to concentrate on a task, if an unopened email was sitting in an inbox the participant’s effective IQ dropped by 10 points.
To limit the information glut, be proactive about how you consume media during your day. Try to ignore unnecessary distractions and find tools or device settings that can help you focus.
Take Breaks from Sitting
A 2018 study from UCLA found that sedentary individuals have increased thinning in the areas of their brains linked to memory. The study also found that despite regular physical activity, if an active individual is sitting for too long during the day the physical activity does not offset sitting for extended periods.
You can incorporate more movement into your day through short walks, standing while working, standup meetings, or short stretching sessions.
Monitor Screen Time
During the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face interactions were replaced by digital tools. As we move into our “new normal”, many of these tools will remain in use. Individuals are spending more time looking at screens than ever before. This includes phones, tablets, computers, TV, or video games.
Having face-to-face conversations is important for your brain health. Studies have shown that even 10-minute conversations each day can improve memory. A lack of social interaction leads to loneliness and depression, which can further contribute to reduced brain health. Screentime is also bad for our physical health. Staring at a screen for hours can hurt our neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and eyes. Blue light can also disrupt our sleep cycles.
Try to set limits around the amount of time spent on screens. It’s not realistic to avoid them entirely, but be more mindful of when you absolutely need to use a screen and when you can take a break.
Turn Down the Volume
The rise of noise-cancelling earbuds and headphones have made blasting music or tuning out the world when it gets too distracting more popular. However, if you’re playing your music too loud, it can damage your hearing. Not only will your ears be damaged, your brain functioning may be as well. Hearing loss has been linked to Alzheimer and decreased brain tissue. Protect those ears by turning down the music, or use tools that limit the amount of decibels you can have on your earbuds or headphones.
Get Better Sleep
Not getting enough sleep has short and long term effects. Sleep loss can affect glucose levels, headache, mood, memory, and hormones. Sleep deprivation over many years can actually shrink your brain. Sleep is essential to our health. Aim to get between 7-8 hours of sleep each night to stimulate brain growth and new connections.