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7 bad habits that diminish brains and undermine work performance

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

As demands grow and resources shrink, we all struggle to do more with less – and without proper coping skills, we slide down a slippery slope of chronic exhaustion into debilitating burnout. That’s bad news for the middle-age-ish among us who must compete with the endless line of fresh-faced, energetic younger workers jostling for positions.

Marcel Daane, a performance expert who synthesizes best practices from nutrition, exercise, and neuroscience, says we may be committing predictable brain-aging “sins” on a regular basis. Here are some of the most damaging:


You regularly forgo a daily walk in favor of a flop on the couch. After a long day, it’s tempting to talk yourself out of exercise with a weary. “I’m just too tired”. But sedentary behavior doesn’t reward your fatigued brain and body – it makes you more fatigued. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true: Your brain recovers faster when your body moves.


You hit the snooze button (again) and run out of time for breakfast. While you’re still lying in bed, it may seem like a good idea to stay there for an extra 30 minutes at the expense of breakfast. But robbing your brain of essential nutrients in the morning is a big mistake. In the same way that an athlete needs fuel for the body to perform and recover from training, you need fuel for the brain to perform and recover from stress.


You skip lunch to take an emergency conference call. If your workday includes last-minute meetings, emergency conference calls, staffing issues, or other urgent craziness, taking time to refuel your brain can seem impossible. Interruptions can derail the most well-intentioned healthy meal plan. It may be tempting to skip lunch or snacks and just keep working. But how can a brain perform without fuel? It can’t.


You don’t stock up on good snacks (so you naturally grab bad ones when temptation strikes). Stress and fatigues are notorious triggers for bad-food binges. That’s why many people grab chips or #cookies and mindlessly devour them while multitasking. Daane says the problem is that stress causes chronic brain inflammation, and processed foods like cookies, sodas, and cakes only add fuel to the fire. They speed up brain-cell destruction from stress, resulting in memory decline similar to what we see in Alzheimer’s patients.


You swill #coffee and soda instead of water. You may think your morning jolt of caffeine is revving you up, but it really isn’t. Yes, it creates a momentary lift as it blocks neurons in the brain that make you feel tired, but the lift quickly declines, and fatigue sets in. The more you consume, the greater the impact of stress on your brain, the more #dehydrated you become. The best hydration is water, which transports nutrients and oxygen into your tissues and brain cells.


You regularly “relax” with an after-work beer or a nightcap. No one is saying you have to be a teetotaler. The occasional drink with friends is okay. But don’t go beyond one 250 – ml glass of wine or two 8-oz glasses of beer a day – at most. Any more and you’re accelerating brain aging.


You sacrifice sleep on the altar of work. On occasion, we all have to burn the midnight oil to finish a project. Yet many workers think it’s a badge of commitment to regularly sacrifice sleep in favor of working late or starting up in the wee hours of the morning. The irony is that a bit more sleep would make them far more effective by allowing the body to recuperate and super-compensate (a fancy word that means to store excess energy for the next day).

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