Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 03, 2020

You Miss Out on Sleep

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You do a few things you know you shouldn’t -- we all do. But some of those bad habits can take a toll on your brain. For example, lack of sleep may be a cause of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. It's best to have regular sleeping hours. If you have trouble with sleep, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and electronics in the evening, and start a soothing bedtime ritual.

You Have Too Much Alone Time

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Humans are wired for social contact. It’s not about how many Facebook friends you have -- what matters is a real sense of connection. People who have that with even just a few close friends are happier and more productive. They’re also less likely to suffer from brain decline and Alzheimer’s. If you feel alone, call some friends or start something new -- salsa dancing, tennis, bridge -- that involves other people.

You Eat Too Much Junk Food

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Parts of the brain linked to learning, memory, and mental health are smaller in people who have lots of hamburgers, fries, potato chips, and soft drinks in their diet. Berries, whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables, on the other hand, preserve brain function and slow mental decline. So next time you start to reach for a bag of chips, grab a handful of nuts instead.

You Blast Your Headphones

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With your earbuds at full volume, you can permanently damage your hearing in only 30 minutes. But it’s not just your ears: Hearing loss in older adults is linked to brain problems, such as Alzheimer’s and loss of brain tissue. This may be because your brain has to work so hard to understand what’s being said around you that it can’t store what you’ve heard into memory. So turn it down -- no louder than 60% of your device’s maximum volume -- and try not to listen for more than a couple of hours at a time.

You Don’t Move Enough

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The longer you go without regular exercise, the more likely you are to have dementia. You’re also more likely to get diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure -- all of which may be linked to Alzheimer’s. You don’t have to start running marathons -- a half-hour in the garden or a brisk walk around the neighborhood will work. The important thing is to do it at least 3 days a week.

You Still Smoke

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It can shrink your brain -- and that’s not a good thing. It makes your memory worse and makes you twice as likely to get dementia, including Alzheimer’s. It also causes heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.

You Overeat

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If you eat too much food -- even the right kind of food -- your brain may not be able to build the strong network of connections that help you think and remember. Overeat for too long and you may get dangerously overweight, which can cause heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure -- all linked to brain problems and Alzheimer’s.

You Stay in the Dark Too Much

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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.

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Alzheimer’s Society: “Am I at risk of developing dementia?”

Better Hearing Institute: “What’s the link between hearing loss and cognitive function?”

BioMed Central: “Western diet is associated with a smaller hippocampus: a longitudinal investigation.”

Mayo Clinic: “How much should the average adult exercise every day?” “What are the risks of sitting too much?” “Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep,” “Feed Your Mind.”

National Institutes of Health: “The relationship between long-term sunlight radiation and cognitive decline in the REGARDS cohort study,” “Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study,” “Diet-induced insulin resistance impairs hippocampal synaptic plasticity and cognition in middle-aged rats,” “Chronic Cigarette Smoking: Implications for Neurocognition and Brain Neurobiology,” “Physical (in)activity-dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla,” “Healthy brain aging: role of exercise and physical activity,” “Lifestyle change and the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia: what is the evidence?” “Listen Up! Noises Can Damage Your Hearing,” “Impact of Sleep on the Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia,” “Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance,” “Perceived Social Isolation and Cognition.”

World Health Organization: “Make Listening Safe.”