The Worst Lifestyle Habits Causing You to Feel Older, Science Says
We're all getting just a little bit older each day, but at least we're in it together. The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2050, there will be over two billion people ages 60 and older on a global scale! Indeed, people all over the world are living longer than ever, and there's no sign of that trend slowing down. Near unbelievably, a recent study published in Demographic Research even predicts that we'll see a human live into their 120s by the end of this century.
The prospect of waking up one day and blowing out 125 birthday candles may sound preposterous, but just a couple short centuries ago, the average American life expectancy was only roughly 40 years old!
Now, plenty of people tend to worry that with advanced age comes more pain, less independence, and a decline in mental facilities. While a certain level of physical and mental deterioration is unavoidable as the years pass by, it's not a foregone conclusion. Research released in Nature Human Behavior concludes that many older adults actually see their mental capacities improve with age.
"These results are amazing, and have important consequences for how we should view aging," says senior study investigator, Michael T. Ullman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience, and Director of Georgetown's Brain and Language Lab.
"People have widely assumed that attention and executive functions decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller-scale studies that raised questions about these assumptions," he continues. "But the results from our large study indicate that critical elements of these abilities actually improve during aging, likely because we simply practice these skills throughout our life."
No aging outcome is set in stone. We all very much dictate how smoothly we age with the choices we make each day. Of course, that also means there are lifestyle decisions and choices we should avoid in the interest of graceful aging. Read on to learn about the worst lifestyle habits causing you to feel older, and for more, don't miss 4 Exercise Tricks to Fight Aging.
You watch too much TV
There's nothing wrong with the occasional night spent watching movies, but don't make a habit of gluing yourself to the living room couch.
One compelling set of research from the American Heart Association tells us that too much time channel surfing during middle age can lead to increased odds of cognitive decline and loss of thinking skills later in life. More specifically, the research indicates watching lots of television is associated with lower gray matter volumes in the brain. Gray matter is responsible for a number of important neural processes, such as decision making.
"Our findings suggest that the amount of television viewing, a type of sedentary behavior, may be related to cognitive decline and imaging markers of brain health," says Priya Palta, a neurologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "Therefore, reducing sedentary behaviors, such as television viewing, may be an important lifestyle modification target to support optimal brain health."
You stay pretty stagnant all day
It isn't just TV either. Too much lounging, in general, can lead to you feeling older than you should—both mentally and physically. It's well documented that exercise keeps our muscles and bones healthy, but did you know that more movement can help you stay young from a biological and cellular perspective?
Research published in JAMA and Archives Journals finds that those who stay active in their free time are actually biologically younger than other, lazier people of the exact same age. That's right, a stagnant lifestyle can literally age you at a faster pace. "A sedentary lifestyle increases the propensity to aging-related disease and premature death," the study reads. "Inactivity may diminish life expectancy not only by predisposing to aging-related diseases but also because it may influence the aging process itself."
Further research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings also tells us that a regular cardio habit can be a major asset when it comes to maintaining robust brain health well into old age. Study authors report cardio workouts are linked with increased levels of gray matter volume. "This is another piece of the puzzle showing physical activity and physical fitness is protective against aging-related cognitive decline," comments editorial co-author Dr. Michael Joyner, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and physiologist.
You have an irregular sleep schedule
If you've had an erratic sleep schedule lately, you're certainly not alone. The pandemic has interrupted virtually everyone's slumber to varying degrees, but sleep is an age-fighting endeavor well worth prioritizing. This study released in the scientific journal Sleep even finds that middle-aged adults who sleep more or less than 6-8 hours regularly may experience an accelerated rate of cognitive decline equal to 4-7 years of aging! That's a high cognitive price to pay for staying up late (or sleeping in too often).
Another research project published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology discovered that poor sleepers' skin tends to age at a faster pace. "Our study is the first to conclusively demonstrate that inadequate sleep is correlated with reduced skin health and accelerates skin aging. Sleep deprived women show signs of premature skin aging and a decrease in their skin's ability to recover after sun exposure," explains Dr. Elma Baron, Director of the Skin Study Center at UH Case Medical Center and Associate Professor of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. It isn't always easy, but sticking with a regular sleep schedule can keep you feeling and looking young.
You spend too much time online
The internet is an incredible tool, but just like anything else in life, it's very possible to have too much of a good thing. More specifically, it's a good idea to cut down on your screen time. Research suggests that prolonged exposure to the blue light emitted by computers, smartphones, and everything in between may accelerate the aging process. Published in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, the study concludes the blue light may damage both brain and eye cells.
Instead, invest your time in offline activities like reading or writing. Plenty of research indicates that a consistent reading habit can do wonders for both the brain and body. This study from the Radiological Society of America reports that writing and reading help preserve the "structural integrity" of our brains. Sounds like it's time to dust off the old library card. "Reading the newspaper, writing letters, visiting a library, attending a play or playing games, such as chess or checkers, are all simple activities that can contribute to a healthier brain," study co-author Konstantinos Arfanakis, Ph.D., comments.
Doing your reading away from a computer screen benefits more than just the mind. This study from the University of Liverpool actually found that joining a book club can help alleviate back pain and chronic pain, in general. Another study published in Cell Reports collected evidence suggesting that reading outside can improve eyesight.
You have poor stress management
Life moves fast, and oftentimes, it's easier to push stress aside than actually process and deal with it. Living with constant stress may save time, but finding a way to destress that works for you can go a long way toward slower, more graceful aging. New research from Yale University just published in Translational Psychiatry finds that chronic stress indeed causes our biological clocks to tick faster.
Researchers focused on DNA-related chemical "epigenetic" bodily changes, or disease markers associated with growing older like increased insulin resistance. Among a collection of over 400 participants, those who reported higher levels of stress universally showed signs of accelerated aging.
Importantly, however, certain participants showed more resilience to the impact of stress on aging. This cohort scored very well when it came to both emotional regulation and self-control, suggesting that finding a way to cope with stressors in a healthy way is of the utmost importance to healthy aging.
"These results support the popular notion that stress makes us age faster," notes study co-author Zachary Harvanek, a resident in the Yale Department of Psychiatry, "but they also suggest a promising way to possibly minimize these adverse consequences of stress through strengthening emotion regulation and self-control."