Between Botox and plastic surgery, it can be hard to distinguish a 30-year-old from a 45-year-old, and a 55-year-old from someone in his or her late 60s. All too often, we associate gray hair, wrinkled skin and facial lines with the elderly. But in reality, these signs of aging can come about much earlier in life. Sure, genetics play a part, but so do other changeable environmental factors like a person’s lifestyle. Here’s things you can rid yourself of to making aging come a little later in life.
People who lead a sedentary lifestyle often age faster than those who are active. According to Roy Elam, MD, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and medical director of the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health, those who are inactive have more cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes, along with a higher incidence of cancer, memory loss, diabetes and depression.
Exercise stimulates the neural peptides in the brain, which helps the brain make changes, such as growing new memory cells, Dr. Elam explains. “It doesn’t matter if it’s climbing the steps at work, mowing the lawn, swimming, hiking, gardening or working out at the gym—physical activity is very good for you,” he says. “More is better, but even 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, can make a difference.”
While it’s known that obesity promotes diabetes and cardiovascular disease, mounting scientific evidence suggests the aging process may also be affected. A 2005 study by University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found a link between increased body weight and accelerated cellular aging. Focusing on the telomeres—caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten every time a cell divides—of participants’ white blood cells, researchers discovered a correlation between increased weight and decreased telomere length. When the telomere lengths—which serve as a cell’s life timeline—of obese and lean participants were compared, obese cells appeared between eight and nine years older than their leaner counterparts. Again, exercise and mindfulness can help a person to lose weight and improve his or her quality of life, Dr. Elam says.
As associated with anxiety and depression, stress tends to cause a person to overeat and can be damaging to his or her overall health. Dr. Elam says stress increases the body’s “fight or flight” hormones, which release cortisol—a chemical that can have adverse effects on the memory center of the brain. Stress also makes people more prone to cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes, and can contribute to premature death.
“Relationships are most important in reducing stress,” Dr. Elam says. “Exercise, laughter and mindfulness (learning to be in the present) can also diminish stress.”
Excessive alcohol use and/or drug abuse
One glass of wine at dinner may be good for you, but five every night is not. According to Robert Clinton, MD, of Coressence Laser & Skin Center in Fayetteville and Pinehurst, North Carolina, excessive consumption of alcohol and/or drug use causes the breakdown of organs, in addition to liver problems and pancreatic, kidney and reproductive failure. “It can cascade into big, life-changing problems, resulting in decreased energy levels, restricted diet and activities, financial hardship, family struggles and an increased dependence on medicine,” he says.
Besides staining the teeth and making you cough, smoking causes emphysema, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and cancer of the throat. More precisely, Dr. Elam explains, the nicotine damages the body’s blood vessels and the smoke harms the lungs. “You can get lung cancer from secondhand smoke,” he says. “The farther away from smoking you are, the better your health will be.”
It’s never too late to stop smoking and reclaim a few years of your life. Smoking cessation classes, the nicotine patch and Chantix—a prescribed drug that minimizes cravings—are just a few ways you can stave off addiction.
“We age faster without proper sleep,” Dr. Elam says. “There is evidence that it may alter the immune system.” Lack of sleep can affect the circadian rhythm, which regulates hormones control, and can create anxiety, depression and a diminished quality of life. The solution is simple: Get more sleep! What could be more important than your health?
Increased sun exposure
Spending too much time in the sun or tanning bed breaks down collagen, causes sun damage and predisposes your skin to cancer, Dr. Clinton says. Sun damage can result in increased wrinkles, deflation of youthful contours, hollowed eyes, deep lines, crow’s feet, sunspots and sunken cheeks.
“Most of the damage is done when you’re young, but often it doesn’t show up until 20 years later,” he says. “It’s never too early or late to start good habits, such as applying sunscreen every couple of hours and wearing at least SPF 15 or 30.” Clear Essence Cosmetics offers many SPF 15 products such as its Skin Beautifying Milk, Medicated Fade Cream and the My Natural Beauty Moisturizing Lotion all containing sunscreen properties.
Certain laser treatments can resurface the skin, thickening the collagen and removing precancerous lesions, but prevention is key.
Maybe you work a lot, live far away from family and don’t have time to date. Those excuses may seem sufficient, but your body doesn’t care—simply put, it doesn’t like feeling lonely. “Humans are ultra-social organisms who thrive on relationships,” Dr. Elam says.
Those who are lonely are more likely to be depressed or anxious, eat lower-quality food and exercise less. “Laughter—often the result of interaction with others—is incredibly important because it helps diminish anxiety and depression, encourage sleep and improve happiness.”
And you thought there was nothing that could be done to avoid aging. Well, take down that white flag and take action! With the right tools and the right mindset, turning back the clock is easier than you thought. And with so many reasons to stay healthy, looking good as you look to the future shouldn’t be that hard. Maybe you’re genetically predisposed to gray hair, but if you treat your body right, you might be able to postpone the aging process—at least for a little while. So exercise, eat right, avoid too much sun and most of all, lighten up and spend time with others. Your body will thank you for it.