Three things to avoid to protect your brain, according to a neuroscientist (2024)

When your alarm goes off in the morning, it's often easier to start the day with a quick scroll through TikTok, a glance at the headlines and a look at what your favorite Instagram influencers are making for their breakfast.

The ease of browsing on your phone first thing is an easy way to postpone getting out of bed. But, according to neuroscientist Emily McDonald, this is one of many habits which could actually cause more harm to your brain health.

McDonald, from Phoenix, Arizona, has outlined the three rules which she has been following for two years now, telling Newsweek that she's noticed "a huge difference since not doing these things."

Three things to avoid to protect your brain, according to a neuroscientist (1)

Don't Scroll in the Morning

McDonald, a neuroscience and wellness consultant who also works as a mindset coach, has discouraged people from using their phones for the first hour after they wake up because of how it affects brain activity so early in the day.

"As we wake up, brain activity is high in theta and alpha activity. Our minds are very susceptible to the information we put into it during this time," McDonald told Newsweek.

"Going on the phone will cause brain activity to transition to higher beta power, which primes us for a more stressful day. Starting the day with a phone also provides a big dopamine hit, which leads us to continue to check our phone throughout the day."

There are five recognized brain waves, ranging from gamma which is linked to high concentration, to delta which is sleep. Theta and alpha frequencies both suggest a very relaxed state, whereas a beta frequency occurs in an active and anxious brain, so an early shift to this brain frequency can get your day off to an already nervous start.

McDonald admits that not using her phone for 30 to 60 minutes in the morning is difficult, but she's found a way of replacing that urge with other tasks.

"Avoiding my phone in the morning is by far the most difficult task for me on the list," she said. "It's a practice, but I find it helpful to replace that habit with a different activity. I choose to set intentions for the day, practice gratitude and repeat daily affirmations."

Be Kind to Yourself, It's Good for the Brain

Another thing that McDonald has cut out over the last two years is negativity—particularly negative opinions about herself—due to neuroplasticity, which is the process that allows the central nervous system to structurally and functionally change as a response to its environment and stimuli.

"The concept of neuroplasticity explains that neurons, brain cells, and neural pathways which are activated often become stronger," McDonald said. "I don't want to strengthen circuits in my brain that promote negativity towards myself or others. Self-esteem and optimism have also been shown to correlate with lifespan, so be kind to yourself."

Three things to avoid to protect your brain, according to a neuroscientist (2)

Avoid Unhealthy Processed Food

You might not automatically link diet to brain health, but McDonald has highlighted that what you eat can also play a fundamental role in cognitive function. For that reason, she has cut out highly processed foods to protect her brain's health.

"Not only have highly processed foods been linked to brain aging and cognitive decline, but they also lack the nutrients that whole foods have," McDonald said.

A 2022 study published by the journal Neurology of 72,000 participants aged 55 or over measured the associations between processed foods and the risk of cognitive decline. The study revealed that higher consumption of processed foods was linked to an increased risk of dementia.

However, when 10 percent of processed foods were replaced with healthier alternatives, the researchers found a 19 percent lower risk of developing dementia.

'You Are Putting Yourself at a Disadvantage if You Don't Do It'

While these are only small changes to make each day, McDonald says that they've had a hugely positive effect on her health overall.

"I've avoided doing these things for over two years now. Avoiding my phone in the mornings brings benefits the same day. Also, eating highly processed foods gives me brain fog that I notice within hours. These are activities that have long-term implications as well as short-term, and more immediate ones," she said.

"There are two more things that I do every day for brain health, which are meditation and daily sunlight. Sunlight and vitamin D are essential for mood, anti-aging and improving the symptoms of anxiety or depression. Meditation also has so many benefits for the brain, so you are putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don't do it."

In May, McDonald posted a video on her TikTok account (@emonthebrain) explaining the three key things she does to help maintain her brain health. Since the video was shared, it has already been viewed more than 7.9 million times and received over 777,000 likes.

In the caption, she explained that you should "not do these things if you care [about] your brain," and the clip has received a great response online.

Over 3,000 people have commented on the post so far, with many people praising McDonald for the valuable insights.

One comment reads: "Thanks for the morning tip. And I was wondering why my phone addiction got worse."

Another person wrote: "This is why it's best to manifest right before bed and right when you wake up."

Is there a health issue that's worrying you? Let us know via We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.

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Three things to avoid to protect your brain, according to a neuroscientist (2024)


Three things to avoid to protect your brain, according to a neuroscientist? ›

Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart outlines the five pillars of wellness she lives by in her 2019 best-seller The Source: rest, fuel, hydrate, oxygenate and simplify. These are key components of neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt, rewire itself and grow, she explains.

What are the 5 things neuroscientists do to keep their brains healthy? ›

Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart outlines the five pillars of wellness she lives by in her 2019 best-seller The Source: rest, fuel, hydrate, oxygenate and simplify. These are key components of neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt, rewire itself and grow, she explains.

What are the 7 ways to keep your brain healthy? ›

Maintaining Your Brain Health
  • Quit smoking. ...
  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure level. ...
  • Be physically active. ...
  • Maintain a healthy weight. ...
  • Get enough sleep. ...
  • Stay engaged. ...
  • Manage blood sugar.

How to make your brain function better? ›

Here are six things I recommend to my patients in order of importance:
  1. Exercise regularly. Exercise has many known benefits, and regular physical activity also benefits the brain. ...
  2. Get plenty of sleep. ...
  3. Eat a Mediterranean diet. ...
  4. Stay mentally active. ...
  5. Remain socially involved. ...
  6. Keep your blood vessels healthy.
Dec 29, 2022

What are 3 things your brain needs to function? ›

Your brain also needs special materials to run properly: glucose, vitamins, minerals and other essential chemicals. For example, the fuel (energy) for your brain is glucose. You can get glucose by eating carbohydrates or other foods that can be converted to glucose.

What are the 6 best habits to keep your brain fit according to neuroscience? ›

10 Healthy Habits for Your Brain
  • Challenge your mind. Be curious! ...
  • Stay in school. Education reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. ...
  • Get moving. Engage in regular exercise. ...
  • Protect your head. Help prevent an injury to your head. ...
  • Be smoke-free. ...
  • Control your blood pressure. ...
  • Manage diabetes. ...
  • Eat right.

What are the 7 bad habits for your brain? ›

Neurology Professors Just Listed the 9 Worst Habits for the Human...
  • You don't exercise. ...
  • You sit around all day. ...
  • You eat fast food and drink sugary beverages. ...
  • You spend a lot of time alone. ...
  • You don't watch your blood pressure. ...
  • You cheat on sleep. ...
  • You stress a lot. ...
  • You don't take time for play.

How can I sharpen my brain naturally? ›

8 Ways To Keep Your Mind Sharp
  1. Learn a foreign language. ...
  2. Quick tip: Pick one night a week to speak in another language (however poorly), or stay silent and communicate with sign language.
  3. Try a new activity. ...
  4. Quick tip: If you're a whiz at crossword puzzles, do a word search activity instead. ...
  5. Eat brain-boosting foods.
Jun 13, 2016

How to avoid brain rot? ›

Consequences of brain rot include difficulty organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and recalling information. To prevent or reduce brain rot, try limiting screen time, deleting distracting apps from your phone, and turning off unnecessary notifications.

What speeds up brain aging? ›

Obesity and a high fat diet may accelerate brain aging, lead to cognitive decline. Written by Katharine Lang on April 6, 2024 — Fact checked by Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph. D. Obesity increases the risk of health problems such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and several types of cancer.

How can I make my brain age slower? ›

For example, an NIA-funded study of almost 3,000 older adults showed that healthy lifestyle factors — physical activity, not smoking, not drinking heavily, following the Mediterranean-style diet, and engaging in mentally stimulating activities — can have important benefits.

At what age is your brain the sharpest? ›

At what age is your brain the sharpest? Researchers have found that while some mental abilities tend to peak earlier in life, many don't reach their highest point until around age 40 or later. It can be helpful to learn more about when your brain might be at its best.

How to increase brain capacity to 100%? ›

  1. Fit in some exercise a few times a week. Exercising doesn't only improve our fitness levels, but can also help to develop a healthier brain. ...
  2. Get creative. ...
  3. Stock up on your vitamins and micronutrients. ...
  4. Socialize. ...
  5. Allow yourself to power nap. ...
  6. Break out of your daily routine. ...
  7. Try something new.
Dec 13, 2023

What are the 5 ways we study the brain? ›

Some techniques that may be used for studying the human brain include:
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) ...
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG) ...
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) ...
  • Photon migration tomography. ...
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation. ...
  • Further Reading.

What is 5 things that the brain can do? ›

What is the brain? The brain is a complex organ that controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and every process that regulates our body. Together, the brain and spinal cord that extends from it make up the central nervous system, or CNS.

What are the five pillars of brain health? ›

Lifestyle has a profound impact on your brain health. What you eat and drink, how much you exercise, how well you sleep, the way you socialize, and how you manage stress are all critically important to your brain health.

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