There’s an endless array of anti-aging supplements and skincare items in every drugstore wellness aisle, but the reality few realize is slowing down the process of aging is not so much about putting more stuff onto or into our bodies, but stopping some bad habits we are already doing that are harmful.
The process of aging is impacted by many areas of our diet and lifestyle, and the science backs this up. “Cellular aging is dictated by our telomeres,” said Naturopathic Physician Dr. Tricia Pingel, NMD. “Telomeres are tiny protein chains that sit on the ends of your DNA and they protect your chromosomes from deteriorating.” In terms that are a bit more simple to understand, the longer your telomeres, the more protected your DNA, and the less signs of aging. Research shows that the longer your telomeres, not only will you age slower, but longer telomeres are linked to longer lifespan and lower likelihood of disease development! Read on for seven everyday habits that lead to aging, according to experts—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
We all want to sleep more, and yet sleep seems to be a constant struggle for many of us. Hectic schedules, stress, and a disruptive environment are just some of the factors that make it harder to get the sleep we need. But we do need it: Sleep is the foundation of good health. “Getting enough sleep is essential for healthy bone marrow, which is where stem cells are made,” said Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD., CNS. These stem cells are essential for repairing everything from the immune system to your brain to your bones, and so much more. “Sleep deficits of just four hours is enough to cut the activity of these stem cells in half,” said Gittleman.
Drinking enough water is simply a habit to get into, but not many of us are maintaining that habit. Hydration is incredibly important though for our cells to promote healthy aging. First of all, when you are dehydrated, your skin shows it in the form of wrinkles, discolorations, and sagging. “This deflated impact on the outside also translates to the inside–where your cells are water deficient impacting proper nutrient absorption,” said Dr. Pingel. But that’s not all: There has also been some indication that chronic dehydration may shorten telomere length.
If you make stressing out things and problems as a habit, it will totally lead you to aging in the fastest way possible. Being consistently stressed out can even alter your DNA, according to studies. It can lead to wrinkles, lines, acne breakout, blood pressure, sleep disruptions, even weight gain. All this will contribute to us looking a lot older than our age, and that will be even more stressful. So better find a way to distress sometimes. “Stress raises cortisol levels, cortisol imbalance can lead to inflammation, weight gain, additional stress, poor sleep,” said Dr. Seema Bonney is the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia. It is so important for this reason to get cortisol under control. Managing stress can include getting into a routine of meditation, yoga, exercise, time in nature, and building our social circles. Meditation has been shown to prevent the deterioration of telomeres and increase length. “Unfortunately, stress can shorten your telomeres over time, so implementing calming exercises for stress reduction can have a powerful impact,” said Dr. Pingel.
Life is hard, and we’re all busy. It’s easy to grab food that is fast and readily available. The problem is that those foods are often processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar, all ingredients for aging faster. “These foods increase inflammation, the marker behind most chronic diseases, such as diabetes type 2, heart disease and even some types of cancer,” said Dr. Bonney. Counteract this age by instead eating real, whole foods, including a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein.
RELATED: The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Science
Exercise may feel like another chore, and for many of us it’s just not an enjoyable experience. But sitting at our desks for hours and then going right home to sit on the couch is terrible for our bodies, and is making us age. This is especially worse the past year as the lockdown forced people into their homes and eliminated even their daily commuting routine. “I’d say the daily habit of living a sedentary lifestyle and not exercising are the biggest contributors to many of the negative attributes of feeling old,” said Jamie Costello, MSC, VP, Sales & Fitness at Pritikin Longevity.
Another way to look at it is that the body is the only machine that gets better with use. Sitting all day is unnatural for the human body. We were made to keep moving through the day and throughout our lives. “Loss of bone and muscle due to lack of strength training is one the biggest influences on feeling the effects of aging,” said Costello. “Losing strength will affect performing normal activities such as lifting or carrying items or simply getting out of a car seat or chair. It also contributes to a loss of balance and mobility,” said Costello. In fact, falls are the largest cause of premature death in people over the age of 65.
Fatigue due to lack of cardiovascular exercise is another large factor in feeling old prematurely. “Aerobic conditioning and endurance training enables the body to maintain sub-maximum effort for long duration,” said Costello. Having stamina and energy can be sustained beyond the 80’s with the proper exercise routine. “There are countless examples of octogenarians who are able to run marathons, ski, mountain climb and do just about any recreational sport activity they desire because of a life of fitness,” said Costello. Studies also show a sedentary lifestyle can also dull mental acuity and lead to depression both of which are symptoms of premature aging.
There’s no denying we all need sunlight and the heat of the sun to survive. That goes for everyone but humans to plant life. But at the same time, the sun can be pretty aging — and dangerous! “The sun alters your skin permanently causing wrinkles through fiber damage and dark sun spots,” said Jay Cowin, NNCP, RNT, RNC, CHN, CSNA, who is ASYSTEM’s Registered Nutritionist and Director of Formulations. Always protect your skin with sunscreen, especially if you plan on being outside for hours on end on a hot, sunny day. Try to opt for shade if possible, and if that’s not an option, try to avoid being in the sun during peak sunlight hours when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
RELATED: 5 Ways to Prevent Dementia, Says Dr. Sanjay Gupta
The last year has shown many of us that it is hard to survive without the companionship of others. Whether experiencing lockdown living alone, or at a great distance from our loved ones, we all felt older and sadder, especially as stress and sleep issues set in. We are human beings and we need love and connection. This is especially true as we age, because older adults tend to have more memory issues. Fight isolation and loneliness wherever you can by staying in touch with family and friends and staying connected. And if you are still in a situation where you need to socially distance, embrace virtual clubs and video chats wherever possible! And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.