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Everyday Habits That Make You Older, Say Experts

Are you making yourself age faster than you should?
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

When it comes to getting older, all of us would like to turn back the clock (or at least hit snooze for a bit). But that's the stuff of science fiction. Or is it? Increasingly, actual science has found there are things we do every day that age us prematurely—and conversely, there are things we can do to keep ourselves looking and feeling younger, and extend our years of optimal health. Read on to find out about these everyday habits that make you older—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

1

Stressing Out

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These days, researchers are sounding the alarm about just how destructive constant stress is to our bodies: It increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses. What's more, stress can actually age us on the cellular level. Harvard Medical School reports that chronic stress seems to shorten telomeres, the structures inside each of our cells that house DNA. Telomeres start out long and get shorter; when they get too short, a cell eventually dies. Not only is this the literal process of aging, people with shorter telomeres are at risk of serious diseases like heart problems and cancer.

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2

Eating Red Meat Frequently

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That juicy burger or steak might sound a little less savory when you consider that regularly eating red meat might shorten your life. A study published in BMJ found that consuming more red meat is associated with an increased risk of dying from eight common diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, or for any cause at all. In analyzing health data from 537,000 adults aged 50 to 71, researchers found that people who consumed the most red meat had a 26 percent higher chance of dying than those who ate the least. Certain ingredients in red meat—like nitrates and heme iron—may be to blame. But people who ate the most white meat, including poultry and fish, were 25 percent less likely to die than people who consumed the least.

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3

Not Wearing Sunscreen

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Regularly wearing sunscreen won't just protect you from potentially deadly skin cancer; it'll keep you looking younger as well. Over time, UV light exposure can damage the skin, causing long-term changes like photoaging, or premature aging of the skin because of sun exposure, says Harvard Medical School. Photoaging causes changes in collagen deep down within the skin, leading to the formation of wrinkles and fine lines. To avoid it, experts advise consistently wearing a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, with a broad spectrum of protection against both UVA and UVB rays. 

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4

Drinking Too Much Alcohol

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A boozy night might feel like you're recapturing your youth, but have too many of them, and it's a shortcut to aging. Once consumed, alcohol dehydrates and inflames the skin, which can cause facial flushing, swelling and broken capillaries, all of which make you look older than you are. In a 2019 multinational study of more than 3,200 women, researchers found that those who drank more than eight drinks a week had more "upper facial lines, under-eye puffiness, oral commissures, midface volume loss, and blood vessels" than women who drank moderately or abstained. 

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5

Eating Too Much Sugar

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Nothing appetizing about this news: Consuming too much sugar can make you older. When we eat sugar, it reacts with protein in the body, a process called glycation. Specifically, sugar binds to collagen and elastin, the two compounds in skin that keeps it looking plump and youthful,  producing advanced glycation endproducts, or AGEs. That causes damage in the form of sagging and wrinkles. Cutting back on sugar-sweetened and processed foods is an all-around good idea—it can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes, helping ensure you'll stay youthful inside and out. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.