Everyday Habits That Age You 10 Years, Say Experts
If you feel like you've aged more than a year in the last 12 months, you are seriously not alone. And it's more than a feeling: For millions of Americans, pandemic-related stress has opened a Pandora's box of bad habits that are all too easy to lapse into and may have profound effects on your health, including aging you before your time. We asked health experts about what they've seen in their practice—the common daily patterns that can age you a decade or more, often without you realizing it. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
Spending too much time being sedentary—staring at the computer screen or slouching on the couch—may be the biggest underminer of youth. "Deconditioning of the body due to daily inactivity will age you 10 years or more," says Joe Allen, PT, DPT, OCS, a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist in Newington, Connecticut. "The deconditioned body of a 25-year-old can feel like that of a senior." Deconditioning—a loss of fitness and function predisposing you to illness and injury—can set in after just two weeks of inactivity, he adds.
Allen recommends daily mobility stretches that can increase your body's range of motion by gently loosening joints and muscles. "Performing a brief round of stretches and exercises in the morning, at night, or during your workday can have a profound impact on your mobility and function and can make you feel young again," he says.
And experts including the American Heart Association recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week to reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Scientists at UCLA found that just one night of bad sleep actually makes older adults' cells age faster. That's a surprising discovery but perhaps not entirely shocking: A growing body of evidence suggests that during sleep, many of the body's vital systems repair and refresh themselves. Poor-quality sleep has been associated with everything from accelerated skin aging to a higher risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.
Not Using Sunscreen
To avoid premature aging, "Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF on your face daily—even if it's cloudy outside. Clouds only blocks 20 percent of UV rays," says Abby Vichill, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist with FWDfuel Sports Nutrition. "UV rays cause free radicals to damage the collagen and elastin in your skin cells."
Not Wearing Sunglasses
"In much the same way that it damages your skin, UVA and UVB rays from the sun can lead to skin cancers on the eyelids and premature aging of the delicate skin around your eyes," says Jennifer Wademan, OD, a VSP Network eye doctor in Folsom, California. "Sun damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes and can build over time." She advises regularly wearing sunglasses that are labeled as offering 100 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays.
"Chronic stress can age you," says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Root Nutrition & Education. "The physical stress response depletes you of essential vitamins. Inflammation from stress can also increase anxiety, poor cognition, and insomnia."
Stress-management techniques—like regular exercise and relaxation practices such as mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing— can help. What you eat is also crucial, says Kimszal: "Diets high in vegetables give you the essential nutrients you need to combat stress."
Eating Processed Foods
"Frozen meals are notably high in sodium, and lots of sodium contributes to water retention. Water retention results in a puffy, old-age appearance," says Courtney D'Angelo, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Eating a diet high in sodium is a primary risk factor for high blood pressure, a condition that can raise your chances of developing heart disease, stroke, erectile dysfunction, and dementia.
One truth about aging is that it's necessary to direct more focus on preventing the infrastructure from wearing down. "Controversial at this might be, running can do more harm to your body over time than good," says Tami Smith, an ACE-certified personal trainer in Williamstown, Massachusetts. "It's so jarring on your joints that they wear down faster, aging you."
"If you want to reverse the aging process, strength training is hands-down the way to go," she adds. "We need to focus more on building our bodies and making them stronger, rather than breaking them down."
Eating Too Much Sugar
Consuming too many simple carbs and foods high in added sugar can age you inside and out—prematurely degrading everything from your brain to your skin. "Experts are calling dementia the new Type 3 diabetes, because there is such a strong correlation between this disease and imbalanced blood sugar," says Vichill.
Additionally, researchers have found that eating excessive amounts of sugar may actually cause wrinkles by damaging collagen and elastin, the two proteins that keep our skin young. "Findings from research studies suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging," says the American Academy of Dermatology.
Not Eating Enough Fat
If you're still eating a fat-free or low-fat diet exclusively and haven't embraced the concept of healthy fats, it could show up on your face. "Research shows that a fat-free diet is extremely unhealthy for long-term health and skin," says Vichill. "Fat from food contains nutrients that directly impact the health and longevity of your skin cells. Consuming daily intakes of olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, and nuts/seeds is key to attenuating the aging process."
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.