No matter how many TV shows, apps, and games are dedicated to helping us think more critically and learn, you could still be participating in bad habits that are severely dumbing you down. From checking your phone to what you’re eating and how well you’re sleeping, even the brightest among us may be making themselves dumber without even realizing it. To retain your intelligence and stay as quick thinking as possible, you’ll need a little self-awareness to make sure you’re avoiding these bad habits. Try limiting these six behaviors to save your brain and keep your intelligence at an all-time high.
1. Eating sugary foods
We all know that sugary foods contribute to a wealth of issues from diabetes to heart disease, but your daily dessert could also be making you dumber. Men’s Fitness explains that high-fructose corn syrup — the processed sugar product that is added into many processed foods and is found in high quantities in processed dessert — might have profound effects on the brain.
Researchers from UCLA fed rats a diet that was loaded with high-fructose corn syrup with varied amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (a substance that is key to a high-functioning brain). The rats that ate a lot of high-fructose corn syrup and low amounts of omega-3s were found to have a far worse memory than rats that ate no high-fructose corn syrup. The corn syrup has been found to steeply alter your brain’s ability to learn as well, so it’s not just your memory that’s affected.
2. You’re always on your phone, laptop, or tablet
Most of us rely on our phones to remember important dates and times, our alarms to alert us when we need to go do something, and our computers to blink to life when we have emails we need to answer, but that leaves little need for our brains to do any remembering of its own, explains The Huffington Post. We have gadgets for everything, from navigating our way in the car to calculators that can solve every equation we’ve ever needed (even if it’s simple math that we should know anyway). Our dependency on technology means less brainpower is needed from us, so our smart gadgets might be making us dumber.
3. You can’t stop multitasking
Much like being on your phone and laptop is bad for your brain, so is being on all of your devices at once. If you’re prone to watching TV while juggling paperwork for your job while making lunch and scheduling appointments at the same time, it’s time to stop and focus on one task at a time. Otherwise, you could be making yourself dumber.
Forbes explains that researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that multitasking with electronic media caused as much of a decrease in IQ as smoking marijuana does, or as much as sleeping very little. Focusing on too many things (especially the blue light of the screens that surround us) is one of the worst things that we can do for our brain health, and multitasking in general typically means you’ll be more distracted and less likely to get tasks finished as efficiently. Do yourself a favor and take one task at a time.
4. Not sleeping enough
Your lack of sleep isn’t just causing you to lose energy and yawn constantly throughout the day, it’s also making you dumber over time. According to Daily Superfood Love, you could be severely impacting your brain even when you’re only mildly sleep deprived, as your brain is unable to function properly when you haven’t allowed it to rest.
If you ever feel a little drunk after a few consecutive days of little sleep, that’s not your imagination — the temporal lobe, the area of the brain that helps you process language, cannot function properly when you haven’t slept, which leads to slurred speech and difficulty formulating coherent thoughts. The parietal lobe is also compromised when you don’t sleep, which is the area of the brain that helps you solve math problems. And, when different areas of your brain are not working as efficiently as they need to be, they call on other areas of your brain for help, which sounds better for you than it really is. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do for your memory, your efficiency in daily tasks, and your ability to learn new things, so get to bed at a decent time.
5. Taking on tasks that stress you out
Stress is a natural response in our body, so it’s fine to feel stressed at certain moments during the day (like before a big meeting that you’re leading or during a presentation you have to give). If you find that your stress levels are through the roof, you could be making yourself dumb, and not necessarily in terms of your ability to learn facts, but in your ability to understand others. Dr. Steven Stein reports to TIME that stress mainly affects your emotional intelligence, which affects how well you can convey your feelings to others, understand other people’s thoughts and emotions, and communicate.
If you’re always stressed and you feel as if you just can’t understand anyone around you, then it might be the stress taking over and not the fault of anyone else around you. Your high stress levels could be making you more impulsive, less productive, and more prone to mistakes as well.
6. You’re skipping the gym
It’s tough to find time to exercise amongst all of the other tasks that you have to accomplish in a day, but skipping out on even light aerobic activities like walking or jogging outside can cause serious brain fog. Exercising is key to building muscles and getting fit, but it also improves your mental health, memory, and ability to learn new material. Also, because chronically high stress levels can dumb you down, exercise helps control your levels of stress as well.
According to Gizmodo, studies have shown that people who participate in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise may be developing new neurons and help old neurons survive. This can really boost your memory — studies show that elderly women who take brisk walks regularly or weight lift have better verbal and spatial memory. You also might feel a little more creative after you exercise, so if you feel like your creative abilities have been in a rut lately, then it might be time to hit the gym.