A few smart choices can drastically increase your brain’s capacity to learn.

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The SAME Daily Routine

It may sound odd, but it’s true: following the exact same routine every day can be bad for your brain.

Routines follow a specific neurological pattern,something cues or triggers a behavior, your brain behaves as instructed, and the sensation of “reward” is the result, which further reinforces the habit.

The problem is, the more you follow that loop, the less effort is required. Over time, your brain becomes more efficient at going through the cycle, reducing the amount of willpower or conscious effort demanded. Behavior can become “automated”—which is excellent for efficiency, but terrible for adapting and changing.

A brain that experiences little change or isn’t pushed to adapt will stop forming new connections and absorbing new information. The more that persists, the less you learn and the less pliable your brain becomes.

Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol is toxic to the brain and can damage the cells—not just in the short term with the common symptoms of drunkenness (including slurred words, impaired balance, slowed thinking, reduced reflexes, and poor memory), but also in the long term with more serous symptoms, including-

  • Impulsivity
  • Slower processing speed
  • Learning difficulties
  • Reduced verbal fluency
  • Slower working memory
  • Reduced problem solving capacity
  • Reduced spatial processing

The parts of your brain that control your “higher functions” are more sensitive to—and more easily damaged by—alcohol.

To put it simply: the more you drink, the more damage you are doing to your brain, and the more you will ultimately reduce your brain’s capacity.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Research has shown that “sedentary behavior has been linked to poor glycemic control and increased risk of all-cause mortality” as well as “impaired cognitive function” . The evidence points to poor blood sugar control (the result of spending too much time sedentary and not getting enough physical exercise) as being the cause of decreased cognition. Your brain can only handle so much sugar, and excessive sugar can lead to damage to the nerves, blood vessels, and even the cells in your brain —ultimately decreasing your cognitive function and triggering memory and learning problems (along with a host of other health problems, of course).

 Excessive Screen Time

Multiple studies  have linked excessive screen time with decreased cognitive function.

People who spend large quantities of time in “disordered screen use” (aka, randomly scrolling through social media) tend to have a harder time paying attention or sustaining attention for long periods. Not only that, but they had poorer impulse control, were less able to manage their responses, and experienced decreased executive function.

The research identified periods longer than 1 hour per day (as recommended by The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology) as being detrimental for cognitive function and brain health.

Excessive Sugar Intake

Sugar is terrible for your brain.

In small quantities, it’s a good source of energy that keeps your brain “fueled and ready to function”. But our modern diet contains amounts of sugar that can be dangerous for our brain.

Excess sugar can flood your brain and damage the blood vessels, nerves, and brain cells . Over time, the damage caused by excessive blood sugar can lead to memory problems and cognitive deficiencies. Too much sugar can actually shrink your brain—especially the parts related to executive and higher function—and reduce your cognitive capacity across the board.

Insufficient or Poor Sleep

A lack of sleep can have significant consequences for your brain.

One study highlighted the mechanism of damage, particularly for your working memory, explaining, Sleep deprivation appears to disrupt memory consolidation in the hippocampus through long-term potentiation (LTP).

Sleep deprivation (the result of poor or insufficient sleep) disrupts the NMDA receptor that is necessary for consolidating memories. It also decreases mTOR, a “translational regulatory protein” that your brain needs to remain plastic and pliable and which plays a significant role in long-standing memory development.

Basically, by sleeping less than your body needs, you’re depriving your brain of critical proteins and receptors and bringing on the damage that will ultimately reduce cognitive function.

Exposure to Consistent Air Pollution

A 2023 study from the University of British Columbia found that traffic pollution can impair brain function. Even “normal” levels of traffic pollution, the sort you’d be exposed to on a busy downtown street or near a highway, can have a significant negative impact on your cognition in a matter of hours.

The pollution alters the functional connectivity in your brain’s “default mode network”, preventing it from communicating efficiently. This can not only decrease cognition, but also elevate depression risk.

Pollution in the city air, toxins in your home environment, and airborne chemicals at work or around town can all have long-term negative impacts on your brain function.

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