30 Surprising Habits That Make You Age Quicker
The secret to effortless aging is quitting these bad behaviors.
As we get older, we tend to obsess over looking and feeling younger. We inspect every new worry line, stress over every grey hair, and revamp our wardrobes to create the illusion that we're not as old as we actually are. But in many cases, it's not the finer points of our appearance that contribute to aging, but the things we're doing every day that show on our faces. Even sleeping on sub-par pillowcases or slouching over our phones while in quarantine can age us beyond our years. Curious what you're doing to speed up the aging process? Read on to learn which habits are making you age faster. And for the things you should be doing as you age, here are 20 Habits Proven to Slow Down Aging.
Neglecting your stress levels
We're living in super stressful times these days, but it's important now more than ever to try to stay positive. Numerous studies support the fact that stress (both short-term and long-term) can cause premature aging. That's because when you're stressed, your body produces cortisol, a hormone that can damage your telomerase and telomeres (the caps at the end of each strand of DNA).
"Wrinkles, grey hair, and a weakened immune system may be associated with shortened telomeres," says Monica Lam-Feist, an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness lead at AlgaeCal, a calcium supplement company in Canada. "So, by giving yourself a simple attitude adjustment or participating in stress-reducing activities (such as meditation, breathing, and yoga, etc.), you could combat aging." And when you feel on edge, try the 30 Most Effective Ways to Relax When You're Totally Stressed Out.
Letting your hypertension go unmanaged
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has been linked to everything from heart failure to metabolic syndrome. And researchers also discovered that hypertension can lead to Alzheimer's disease down the line. In his 2018 study published in Cardiovascular Research, study coordinator Guiseppe Lembo explained that "there was a deterioration of white matter fibers connecting brain areas typically involved in attention, emotions, and memory" in patients with high blood pressure. And if you're hypertensive, check out these 40 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure After 40.
Trying fad diets
Those worried about living healthier often start by eating healthier. But jumping on the latest fad diet can have the exact opposite result, especially since a diet that involves serious changes to your eating habits usually doesn't stick—and often just leads to the next fad diet.
"Yo-yo dieting can contribute to a loss of fat-free mass (muscle and bone) [in the] long term," explains Kate Milne, founder of Cardea Health Consulting, a Canadian firm that conducts healthy living research for older adults. "Loss of fat-free mass can lead to poor mobility, increased fall risk, and lower overall strength. In studies of those whose weight-cycled, a higher ratio of fat… was found when participants regained some or all their original weight."
It can also negatively affect your heart, as seen in a 2019 study by the American Heart Association (AHA), which found that women who yo-yo diet 10 pounds or more have a greater risk of heart disease.
Drinking from plastic bottles
No, this doesn't have anything to do with the chemicals that can leach off of plastic bottles (though that's something to consider, too). According to Anthony Youn, MD, a holistic beauty specialist and author of The Age Fix: A Leading Plastic Surgeon Reveals How to Really Look 10 Years Younger, drinking regularly from water bottles can cause wrinkles.
According to Youn, "drinking from water bottles causes us to purse our lips repeatedly, and even though the water hydrates our skin, some doctors believe that the repeated lip pursing causes our lips to wrinkle more." Youn says the solution is to "drink from wide-mouthed bottles, or, if you need to use a small-mouthed bottle, then squirt the water into your open mouth." And if you need help kicking your plastic bottle habit, start with these 25 Cute Water Bottles That Will Keep You Hydrated.
Neglecting your friendships
When you think of the things that can boost your chance of a long, healthy life, you probably default straight to diet and exercise. But as it turns out, having good friends is also key.
Just consider a 2010 analysis of social health studies published in PLOS Medicine. For the review, researchers looked at data from nearly 309,000 individuals over the course of 7.5 years. What they found was that "those with strong social relationships were 50 percent more likely to survive during the study period than those with poor quality relationships," says Milne. "This health effect could be compared with quitting smoking and has a bigger impact than other well-known interventions like reducing obesity." The findings remained consistent across age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death, meaning that, no matter your health concerns, strong relationships can help slow down the hands of time. And if you want to expand your social circle, check out these 7 Easy Ways to Stay Social While in Isolation, According to Experts.
Your emotional state can significantly influence your physical state. So, holding on to past events or arguments is something that can wear on your mind and your body. "The body holds onto stress and traumas through clenched jaws, permanent frowns or furrowed eyebrows, and slumped shoulders," explains Heather Larivee, a corporate wellness consultant and the founder and CEO of Sparkflo, LLC.
Being depressed takes a toll on both your physical and mental health—and if left untreated, it can even speed up the aging process. One 2018 review of 34 studies published in the journal Psychological Medicine concluded that people with depression tend to experience greater and faster cognitive decline as they age. And if you're worried about your brain, check out these 40 Habits to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia After 40.
Consuming too much dairy
Sure, calcium builds strong bones, but a glass of milk every day might be too much. "Dairy is pro-inflammatory to the gut, which means that if you are consuming dairy on a daily basis, you are increasing your risk of gut inflammation," says Alissia Zenhausern, MD, a naturopathic physician at NMD Wellness of Scottsdale, in Arizona. "Our gut is our major organ of not only digestion but also detoxification, and a lack of proper detoxification can lead to skin that appears older. Proper gut health is what provides us with young, fresh, glowing skin."
When it comes to aging yourself, soda is just as bad for your brain as it is for your other organs. In one 2017 study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, researchers found that daily soda consumption is associated with decreased brain volume and memory function. What's more, in a follow-up study, it was also found that people who drank diet soda were nearly three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those who never consumed the sugary beverage.
Not drinking enough water
The body is made up primarily of water, so naturally, it needs to be replenished with quite a bit of H2O every day. If you drink less than the recommended amount, your lack of fluids might just manifest on your skin. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), not drinking enough liquids is one of the many causes of dry skin patches and itching in older individuals.
Drinking too much coffee
If you're worried about looking older than you are, you might want to limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee per day. "Caffeine is like any other diuretic: It can make you excrete fluid and deplete your body of moisture," Ranella Hirsch, MD, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery, told Health. "Anything dehydrating can dehydrate your skin, making it look dull and aged."
Using chemical-infused skincare products
The skincare products you use every day could be hiding some seriously scary ingredients. "Many beauty and skincare items contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, pesticides, and plastics," says Lorraine Miano, an integrative health coach and author of The Magic of Menopause: A Holistic Guide to Get Your Happy Back. "These chemicals can mimic hormones, destroy others, and cause internal signaling issues, leading to premature cell death."
Talk to your dermatologist about decoding labels and finding the safest products for your skin, because, as Miano cautions, "our skin is our largest organ and what you put on it is absorbed into your body."
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of moisturizing every night. In addition to keeping your skin blemish- and wrinkle-free, one 2019 study from the University of California at San Francisco found that taking proper care of your skin can lower inflammation levels and thusly reduce your risk of age-related diseases like Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Evidently, aging skin releases cytokines into the circulatory system that can cause inflammation, so if you keep your skin young, your body will stay young, too. And for more lessons you can learn from your skin, here are 30 Health Secrets Your Skin Is Trying to Tell You.
Not wearing sunscreen all year
When it comes to your skin, the sun is a ferocious for 365 days a year. Forego sunscreen in the winter and fall, and you might just find that your skin is covered in wrinkles and age spots when you're only in your 40s and 50s. Per the NIH, UVA and UVB rays from the sun can cause serious damage to your skin, so make sure that you never leave the house before applying SPF. And for more reasons to always wear sunscreen, here are 20 Ways a Sunburn Harms Your Overall Health.
Letting sweat sit on your skin
Do you wash your face after every sweat session? If not, you could be contributing to the aging process of your skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), perspiration can irritate and inflame the skin if it's left to sit for too long. In addition to washing your face when you wake up and before you go to bed, make sure you're giving your skin a good cleanse any time you get sweaty.
Working out twice a day
While exercise is key to a long and healthy life, there is such a thing as too much working out. Miano says that when you exercise too hard or too frequently, it can make it so your muscles never have time to fully recover. "This can lead to inflammation, poor sleep, and a compromised immune system," says Miano. "Especially for women as they age, the stress caused by excessive exercise can raise cortisol levels and lead to hormone imbalances." Depending on your age, you'll want to space your workouts anywhere from 24 to 36 hours apart. And when it is time to break a sweat, check out these 23 Easy Exercises You Can Do at Home During Quarantine.
Only doing cardio
Though cardio is great, make sure not to ignore the weight room at the gym. Anyone trying to keep the body of their youth should strength train at least three times a week, says Jill Brown, a certified health and nutrition coach, functional strength coach, and group fitness instructor in Beverly Hills.
"Sarcopenia [loss of muscle tissue] can begin as young as 25 to 30 years old," Brown says. "If you don't exercise enough to make muscle and maintain what you've built, you may begin to lose as much as 3 percent to 5 percent [muscle mass] per decade after the age of 30."
Sitting for prolonged periods of time
Though you've probably heard that sitting is the new smoking, you might not realize just how much it can affect the aging process. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Aging Research found that those who were sedentary for more than four hours a day were associated with lower odds of "aging successfully," due to a combination of physical, psychological, and social health. Conversely, those who were sedentary for fewer than two hours a day were 43 percent more likely to age successfully.
Sitting for extended periods can decrease oxygen intake and atrophy your muscles. These factors contribute to weight gain and inhibit your body's production of feel-good endorphins, such as dopamine.
Slouching at your desk
While sitting itself is bad for you, the way that you sit can also impact aging. Among other things, bad posture can lead to kyphosis, also known as Dowager's hump, the abnormal curvature of the spine that's common in the elderly.
"[Dowager's hump is] becoming more and more common in younger people too, due mostly to poor posture sitting at their desks hunching over a computer," says Lam-Feist. "This habit rounds your upper back and can weaken your spine by placing constant stress on it. This can lead to pain, arthritis and, of course, the physical change of a curved, rounded spine."
Looking down at your cell phone
Text neck occurs when you tilt your head down to look at your phone. And since the average head weighs between 8 and 12 pounds, constantly looking down can have major effects on your health.
"Text neck puts an incredible amount of force on our neck and spine, causing undue strain on the neck," says Larivee. This can age your body prematurely and lead to headaches, neck and shoulder pain, decreased range of motion, and a visible hump in the spine. Larivee recommends holding your phone at eye level, as doing so will prevent text neck and help strengthen the muscles in your upper body.
Using your devices all the time
Excessive device usage is just as bad for adults as it is for children. Specifically, studies have found that the blue light emitted from electronics like cell phones can cause vision impairment and, in severe cases, total vision loss. To avoid aging your eyes beyond repair, try limiting the amount of time you spend looking at a screen every day.
Using your phone before bed
Getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is important when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing. However, if you're the kind of person who likes to fall asleep scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, you might be unwittingly setting yourself up for failure. One 2017 study from the University of Haifa found that exposure to blue light both shortened participants' sleep duration and caused them to wake up more frequently throughout the night. And for suggestions on getting your best sleep ever, you'll want to know the 40 Ways Your Sleep Changes After 40.
Not getting enough sleep
Sleep plays a huge role in our health and the aging process. Getting regular, deep sleep can make the difference between looking bright and chipper in the morning and appearing 10 years older than you actually are. Christine Scott-Hudson, a California-based psychotherapist and the owner of Create Your Life Studio, emphasizes that it "ages you faster to chronically undersleep."
Sleeping on a bad pillow
Sleeping on your face or side can create creases in your cheeks that can progress to permanent sleep wrinkles, says Youn. This is exacerbated if you use a rough pillowcase, like one made of polyester.
His solution? "Sleep on your back—or if you can't, then change your pillowcase to a silk or satin pillowcase."
Sleeping in a face full of makeup
A touch of makeup might make you look younger during the day, but keeping it on while you sleep is going to have the opposite effect, aging your skin from the inside out. Licensed medical aesthetician Jamie Cantu, LA, of Westlake Dermatology in Texas, explains that when makeup is left on throughout the night, it "seals… free radicals onto the surface of the skin," which "can break down collagen and cause line and wrinkle development."
Paying little attention to your oral hygiene
Good oral hygiene only becomes more important as you age. One of the first places that aging manifests both externally and internally is in the mouth—and beyond that, studies have shown that forgetting to floss can increase your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's. And now that you know the importance of proper oral hygiene, This Is How You're Brushing Your Teeth All Wrong.
Wearing heavy earrings
It may sound strange, but your earlobes could be a dead giveaway that you're getting up there in age. And if you're in the habit of wearing big, heavy earrings, that could be even more true.
"As we get older, our earlobes droop (like everything else in our body) and we get stretched and elongated earlobes," says Youn. "For women, it's even worse than for men, since heavy earrings can weigh down an ear and cause it to stretch over the years. Ear piercings also weaken the earlobe and can stretch and tear." As a solution, Youn suggests Lobe Wonder support patches, which attach to the back of the earlobe to support it and counteract the weight of the jewelry. (Good news: They cost just $7 for a pack of 60.)
Going outside without sunglasses
It pays to invest in a pair of sunglasses. Not only can direct sunlight cause vision problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, but the AAD warns that squinting repeatedly can cause those wrinkles near your eyes to become permanent.
Bleaching your hair
Think twice before bleaching your hair. Sure, sporting a head of highlights might help you fit in with the younger crowd, but it could also lead to premature hair loss and hair thinning. According to AAD, frequent bleaching—along with using a blow dryer every day and overusing hairspray—"can cause the hair to break." And for more on your locks, here are 15 Ways Women Over 40 Are Hurting Their Hair.
Hitting up the tanning beds
It's a widely held belief that people can only look young and attractive if their skin is the right shade of olive. However, if you think that hitting up the tanning beds is going to make you look 10 years younger, think again.
Though those artificial UV rays might give you the hue you desire, the AAD warns that tanning beds can cause skin cancer and make the skin age more quickly. At the end of the day, you're better off being pale and cancer-free. And for some new habits to adopt in place of these fast-aging ones, here are 50 Doctor-Approved Habits You Should Totally Steal.