As someone who looks a lot younger than I am, I cannot wait until the day comes that I won’t have to flash my I.D. to get into a bar—but that doesn’t mean I’m interested in my body aging any faster than it should.
It’s not just genetics—your habits influence how your body ages, too. Diet, smoking, sun exposure, and exercise all play a role in how long you live, how your skin glows, how healthy you are, and even how your brain functions. That’s right: The degradation of your mental acuity can be influenced by daily choices. University of Cambridge researchers recently discovered that being overweight or obese can cause your brain to appear an extra 10 years older compared to lean individuals of the same age! Talk about a brain drain.
Although aging is a natural process, there are some habits you may be partaking in which are speeding up the process of common age-related activities like wrinkled skin, aches and pains, mental decline, and predisposition to diseases. Often, we don’t even realize these seemingly routine habits are shortening our lifespan dramatically. So, if you’re looking to look better, live longer, stay sharp, and feel full of energy, we’ve uncovered these mistakes you could be making that are signs you’ll age faster than you should. Don’t worry if you’re guilty of one or two—it’s easy to turn your health around. And for more ways to stay healthy, don’t miss these 50 Doctors’ Anti-Aging Tips.
You love meat
If your carnivore attitude is crowding veggies from making it to your plate, you may be negatively affecting your lifespan. The link between increased meat consumption and early death has been noted in multiple studies, including a recent analysis of 1.5 million people in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. On the other hand, those who eat the most fruit and veggies have a 15 percent lower risk of mortality than those who eat the least amount, according to Vanderbilt researchers. Experts speculate the higher risk of all-cause mortality among meat-eaters is because people who eat a lot of red meat also tend to eat fewer plant-based foods, so they consume fewer of their cancer-protective antioxidants and nutrients.
Thinking about cutting meat from your diet? Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Eating Meat.
You sit a lot
You may think a construction job is dangerous, but experts have found that working a desk job may put your health in a similar amount of danger. According to a 2016 analysis of one million men and women by Cambridge University researchers, sitting for at least eight hours a day could increase your risk of premature death by up to 60%. Heart disease and cancer were the top causes of death linked to an inactive lifestyle, but prolonged periods of sitting have also been connected to slow blood circulation, poor blood sugar regulation, and high cholesterol levels—which set the stage for age-related diseases. There is a silver lining: The authors also found that among those who sat for eight hours or more a day, the participants who also engaged in at least an hour’s worth of exercise—such as moderate walking—reduced their risk of mortality by nearly 40% compared to those who didn’t move at all.
Eat This! Tip:
Simpling getting up to walk around for two minutes every half hour has been linked to improved glucose and insulin responses in overweight participants, according to studies in Diabetes Care and BMJ. Walk to grab a glass of water, and opt for the stairs. It also helps to keep you from regaining weight.
And if you have a sedentary lifestyle, don’t miss these 22 Tricks to Burn Calories While Sitting Down.
You’re driven by your sweet tooth
Whether you’re always sipping a soda, you can’t separate yourself from sugary cereals, or you constantly crave sugary “nutrition” bars, you’re aging yourself in more ways than one. For starters, when we eat foods that are high in sugar, we overwhelm our bodies with sugar molecules. As a result, these excess molecules can cause important proteins, like collagen and elastin (the proteins that keep skin looking firm and young) to haphazardly glom together. The result? Increased levels of inflammation markers—which have been implicated in causing countless age-related diseases—and the breakdown of proteins that prevent our skin from sagging.
Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, corporate dietitian at Medifast, sums it up: “Sugar promotes an unhealthy microbiome and it is also pro-inflammatory. All of these characteristics can accelerate the aging process.” Luckily, this can be reversed: Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that when people cut out sugary, processed, and fried foods that have high levels of AGEs, markers of inflammation in their body diminished.
And for a better way to satisfy your sweet tooth, don’t miss these 76 Healthy Dessert Recipes.
You don’t bother with exercise
You don’t even need a gym to work out. Experts find that just 30 minutes of moderate walking can improve health, lower bad cholesterol, protect your heart, improve insulin sensitivity, and strengthen bones. As we age, an injury can become increasingly life-threatening, so on top of ensuring you’re consuming enough vitamin D and calcium, ensure you’re getting in at least three days of 30-minute brisk walking.
You don’t go green
We’ll give it to you straight: Green tea melts belly flab. Researchers attribute the tea’s fat-burning properties to catechins like EGCG, a group of antioxidative compounds that blast adipose tissue by revving the metabolism, increasing the release of fat from adipose cells, and speeding up the liver’s fat-burning capacity.
Keeping your body trim isn’t the only way green tea will help extend your life, either. A 2015 study discovered that out of 90,000 people, those who consumed the highest amounts of green tea had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality. Sipping this brew is also connected to lower risks of dementia, psychological distress, stroke, and even bone fractures, which become increasingly prevalent in older women.
RELATED: Learn how to harness the power of tea to lose weight.
All your grains are white
White grains are stripped of their outer, fiber- and nutrient-rich shell, meaning they’re essentially just another version of sugar. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, which can then crowd out the good bacteria, which help release anti-inflammatory compounds into your body. Eating white grains, like white rice, white bread, pasta, and pizza, means you’re eating fewer whole grains—foods that researchers are finding have powerful benefits.
The high B-vitamin content of whole grains (which is nearly entirely lost during the refinement process) helps to reduce the inflammatory hormone homocysteine in the body. Plus, high-fiber foods suppress appetite and strengthen your immunity, a system that tends to weaken with age.
You rarely get a good night’s rest
If you didn’t already know from personal experience, the National Sleep Foundation tells us that most Americans don’t get enough shuteye. Because sleep is a critical component of hormone regulation, muscle recovery, memory development, and maintaining a properly functioning metabolism, over time, sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, anxiety, depression and insulin resistance—which can trigger type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Make catching some ZZZ’s a top priority so your body can adequately produce fat-burning hormones—start with these 30 Things to Do Before Bed to Lose Weight And Sleep Better.
Fish are your friends, but not your food
If you’re a “catch and release” kind of person, you could be missing out on some major benefits. The same study that found trans fats could exacerbate UV damage from the sun found that fish fats could prevent it! The magic is in the omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA, which help dampen inflammation, lower triglyceride levels, and minimize diet-induced metabolic and brain damage caused by fructose. It gets better: A study published in the journal Nutrition found supplementing your diet with Omega-3s could help minimize the shortening of your telomeres. Telo-what? Telomeres are the end part of your DNA whose length directly correlates with longevity.
You’re constantly stressed out
Constant stress means high levels of cortisol, the fat-storing stress hormone which has been shown to cause high blood pressure, chest pain, a slower metabolism, and weight gain, according to a study in Biological Psychiatry. These are all precursors to age-related diseases that shorten your lifespan. Even worse, the types of food we crave when we’re stressed out tend to be fatty, salty, and sugary—a triple threat when it comes to weight gain.
Even if you’re not obese, being overweight can be enough to shorten your lifespan, according to Boston University researchers. Their 2016 study found that people who had ever been overweight during a 23-year study period were 19% more likely to die compared with those who never exceeded a normal weight. Check out these natural chill pills: 11 Best Foods For Stress.
You’re never without coffee
America certainly runs on java. But that doesn’t mean you can drink the beverage with abandon. Consuming too much caffeine late in the day—as in, after 3 p.m.—can interfere with how long it takes to fall asleep, as well as with your sleep quality and total sleep time, according to a review in Sleep Medicine Reviews. What does that mean for aging? You’ll be cutting into this rejuvenation time, which is essential for memory retention, stable moods, and proper attention.
“Just one more” is more than two
Drinking in moderation has its health benefits, but drinking to excess can be damaging. “The occasional glass (or two) of wine is no harm to you or your skin, but drinking to excess, especially sugary drinks, causes cell-damaging free radicals. Alcohol also robs the body of vitamin A, an antioxidant that’s essential for cell renewal and turnover,” says Dr. Tasneem “Taz” Bhatia, MD, a weight-loss expert. Make sure that when you do drink, reach for cocktails without added sugars (like those frozen margaritas) and try to limit yourself to two drinks at a time.
You still use margarine
Trans fats are about as bad for your health as they are for your skin cells. Despite the FDA’s mandate to remove partially hydrogenated fats from processed goods by 2018, many of us are still consuming this artery-clogging trans fat in store-bought baked goods, fried foods, and many shelf-stable “dairy” products. According to Dr. Taz, “the trans fat [in margarine] destroys hydration, and the less your skin is hydrated, the faster the wrinkles appear.” On top of that, studies have linked the intake of trans fats with systemic inflammation, which expedites the development of coronary artery disease and diabetes.
You never turn down fried food
Onion rings, french fries, fried chicken, and deep-fried Oreos—you know they’re bad for your gut, but did you know they could knock off time from your life? “When we deep fry foods, we expose the oil and fat to extremely high temperatures. When this happens, free radicals, the primary culprit in aging, are formed,” says Lisa Hayim, MS, RD. “These foods not only cause damage to our waistlines but to our organs and insides as well.” It gets worse, too. Restaurants typically use corn oil or soybean oil, which are high in inflammatory omega-6 fats. When consumed, they can release free radicals in the body, which can cause anything from heart disease to wrinkles.
Most of your meats are processed
Pepperoni, bacon, sausages, jerky, and deli meats. The nitrates and preservatives used in processed meats are known to be pro-inflammatory in that they create free radicals in your body. Free radicals lead to oxidation of your cells and DNA, and they can cause enough damage to lead to cancer or other health conditions. Plus, these meats are often full of saturated fats, which age the heart. Keep intake of processed meats to a minimum, and whenever possible, grab a pizza with uncured pepperoni that’s made without nitrites or nitrates—check out our top options in the 25 Best and Worst Frozen Pizzas.
You don’t bother with organic
Throughout your life, you can accumulate toxins from food and drink. These substances may build up in your bloodstream or be stored in your body fat, where they can wreak havoc on your health later by disrupting hormone signaling and causing inflammation. Many of those toxins come from pesticides and hormones that are rampant in conventional produce and animal products. Choose organic fruits and vegetables and hormone-free meat to minimize exposure to toxins that accelerate aging.
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Charred food is your jam
It’s time for you to break up with burnt meat. When foods develop a blackened, charred appearance, it’s a sign they could have been exposed to carcinogenic chemicals that form when meat is cooked at high temperatures (over 300 degrees Fahrenheit) for long periods (i.e. when a steak is “well done”). The National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that two carcinogenic compounds—heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—present in charred meats have been found to cause changes in DNA that may increase your risk of cancer. The NCI recommends avoiding exposing the meat to direct flames or adding an antioxidant such as lemon juice to meat to reduce the formation of these carcinogens.
Most of your meals are microwaveable
Feel like there’s no time to whip up dinner? Join the club. But frozen meals are notoriously high in sodium, which can cause dehydration, water retention, and bloating—resulting in a puffy, aged appearance. Dr. Taz also points out that “some early studies show [high-salt foods] damage DNA, shortening telomeres and accelerating aging.” Not to mention, too much sodium leads to high blood pressure, which is linked to wrinkles and cardiovascular disease. If you’re going to reach for this kind of solution from the freezer aisle, at least find out the 22 Best & Worst Frozen Dinners!
You love the sun
Getting outside and enjoying the sunshine is good for boosting your mood and absorbing the all-important vitamin D, but too much sun exposure is bad news for aging. “The first and most common type [of skin wrinkling] is from chronic sun damage,” says Jerome Potozkin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Sun damage results in loss of collagen and elastin, resulting in wrinkling of the skin.” Not only does soaking up too many rays make you look older, but it can also lead to developing skin cancer, including the potentially fatal melanoma. Be sure to wear an SPF of at least 30 every day and if you’re going to be in the water, reapply often.
You never go to the eye doctor
Going years without an eye exam isn’t a good idea, especially if you wear glasses or contacts. If your eye prescription is outdated, not only will this damage your eyesight further in the long run, but it will also impact the delicate skin around your eyes. “Squinting and other facial expressions are the result of muscle contraction. The more the muscles are used, the stronger they become,” says Kristina Goldenberg, MD, board-certified dermatologist of Goldenberg Dermatology. “These muscle movements cause skin cells to be squeezed and wrinkles to form. Excessive squinting will, therefore, lead to deeper wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity.” If your current prescription just isn’t cutting it anymore, book an appointment with your eye doctor ASAP.
You still smoke
You’re likely well aware that smoking is terrible for your health, but it bears repeating: This deadly habit is known to cause lung cancer and heart disease. Not only will it age your heart and your lungs, but it will also show signs of wear on your face. The toxins from the cigarette will start to show wrinkles and fine lines on your face and around your mouth. “Nicotine in cigarettes causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the skin, which leaves it more prone to wrinkling because vital nutrients cannot reach the epidermis,” says Maral K. Skelsey, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington.