13 Shockingly Simple Ways to Slow the Aging Process, Backed by Science
These easy habits can help slow the arrival of those unwanted gray hairs and wrinkles.
You're already familiar with the tell-tale signs of aging, like deepening wrinkles or graying hair. But while scientists are still unraveling the many mysteries of aging, research has revealed several ways you can set yourself up for a healthy, long life.
At a biological level, aging occurs from the accumulation of molecular and cellular damage over time, according to the World Health Organization. This can cause inflammation and leads to a decrease in physical and mental capacity, plus a higher risk of disease.
Of course, it's not all bad news. "Everybody always looks at aging in terms of the deficits," says Scott Kaiser, MD, geriatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "But there's a lot you gain with age, like wisdom, experience, and a greater sense of priorities."
That said, these 13 surprisingly simple tips can help you prevent some of the less desirable aspects of aging. As a result, you'll be more likely to gracefully move through the years while still enjoying the things you love to do most. And for more on healthy routines, here are 50 Important Habits Linked to a Longer Life.
Get enough quality sleep.
Rarely catching enough z's can impact you now and for years to come. In the shorter term, being well-rested helps improve your learning and problem-solving skills, plus your attention, decision making, and creativity, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In the longer term, sleep deficiency has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and stroke—all of which are age-related diseases.
"One of the fundamental pillars of health and well-being is sleep," says Kaiser. "It's so important to have that opportunity for your whole system to reset and restore. There's a lot of indication both in animal models and human experiments that clearing of cellular debris happens during the night, which is critical."
In fact, one 2018 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that just one night of lost sleep can cause a five percent increase in the brain's beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Wear sunscreen every day.
This is key for slowing down the emergence of wrinkles and other skin aging, but you have to use it every day. After four and half years, participants who used SPF daily showed no detectable increase in skin aging and had 24 percent lower aging scores than those who used SPF whenever they felt like it, according to a 2013 study of 903 adults published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
More importantly, daily sunscreen can prevent health problems: Sunscreen helps to reduce your overall UV exposure and lowers your risk of skin cancer, skin precancers, and sun damage as a result. In fact, using SPF 15 sunscreen regularly can lower your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
It doesn't matter if you burn easily or not—sunscreen is essential for everyone over six months of age. And for more on protecting your body's largest organ, here are 20 Face-Washing Habits That Are Aging Your Skin.
Start meditating to manage stress.
Managing your stress levels is part of everyday wellness, and practicing mindfulness is one way to achieve that. A recent 2020 study published in the journal Neurocase looked at the brain of a Buddhist monk and found that intensive meditation slowed his brain's aging by up to eight years when compared to a control group—at age 41, his brain resembled that of a 33-year-old.
Previous research has shown that meditation may slow the loss of the brain's gray matter and the shortening of telomeres, compounds that protect the ends of chromosomes and cause cells to age as they shorten, per the study.
"Having some outlet for just being able to relax, manage stress, become more aware and present, appreciate things, and have gratitude has an unbelievable payoff," says Kaiser. And for more on the importance of managing your mind, check out 18 Subtle Signs Your Stress Levels Are Harming Your Health.
Catch up with your friends.
A 2020 report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that more than one-third of adults ages 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly a quarter of adults ages 65 and older are considered to be isolated socially. Of course, it's difficult to be with loved ones when you're social distancing during COVID-19, but even catching up with a friend over a phone call or video chat can make a difference.
Recent studies have shown that social isolation significantly raises the risk of premature death from all causes (a risk that might even rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity), and is associated with a 50 percent higher risk of dementia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"It's amazing to look at what happens on a cellular level in terms of immune factors and inflammation when you're lonely versus when you have healthy social connections," says Kaiser. "I really encourage people to work on maintaining healthy relationships as part of slowing down the aging process." And for more things you can do to prevent cognitive decline, check out 40 Habits to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia After 40.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Maintaining a nutritious diet can help you stay healthy and active for longer. One easy way to start: Fill half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables. Mix up your veggies by adding fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables to salads, sides, and main dishes, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Fruits and vegetables have compounds that protect them from degradation from sun radiation," says Kaiser. "When we eat them, our body does a great job of absorbing those compounds and hanging on to them. The same way that they protect the plants from radiation damage, they protect our cells from free radicals—which are a big part of inflammation."
A February 2017 review in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily might slightly lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Meanwhile, 10 daily servings may lower your heart disease risk by 28 percent and premature death risk by 31 percent.
Drink enough water.
As you get older, your sense of thirst decreases—so you may not realize when you need to drink more, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Water is needed for almost every function in your body, including pumping blood into the muscles and lubricating your joints. Being persistently dehydrated can cause confusion, rapid heart rate, and other more severe symptoms that can hospitalize seniors.
"Drinking lots of water is very important," says Kaiser. "When we're drinking, we're not just putting water in our stomach, but we're hydrating every cell in our body. Your body depends upon that hydration to maintain good cellular health."
Sip on green tea, too
Tea counts toward your daily hydration goals, so it'll help you feel your best and can make drinking fluids more exciting. However, green tea in particular has been shown to have powerful antioxidants that can benefit your body in the long-term.
A 2019 analysis of two epidemiological studies published in the journal Molecules found that green tea consumption was associated with healthier aging and a reduced likelihood of high blood pressure compared to black tea. This may be due to green tea's high levels of catechins, which are potent antioxidants. And for more helpful health information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
But limit your alcohol.
While you don't have to completely give up your favorite drinks, stick to the CDC's guidelines: no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Over time, excessive drinking can lead to chronic diseases and problems like heart disease, liver disease, digestive problems, cancer, dementia, and poor immune system.
"A small, reasonable amount of alcohol with no binge episodes seems to be protective overall," says Kaiser. "But it really depends on your particular health conditions, and it doesn't appear that starting to drink is protective. There are many conditions where alcohol can be very harmful, and excessive amounts of alcohol are extremely toxic."
Floss your teeth every day.
Oral health is incredibly important for your overall health, and simply flossing can help you prevent gum disease—and the host of problems associated with it.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some research shows that heart disease, stroke, and clogged arteries might be linked to inflammation and infections caused by oral bacteria. Gum disease patients had a significantly elevated risk of experiencing a first heart attack compared to healthy patients, according to a large 2016 study published in the journal Circulation. And for more on dental health, here are 13 Warning Signs Your Teeth Are Trying to Send You.
Get enough vitamin D.
Research has indicated an association between low vitamin D levels and diseases associated with aging such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, per a 2014 paper published in the Journal of Aging and Gerontology.
What's more, a new study in the JAMA Network Open found that patients "likely deficient" in vitamin D deficiency had nearly double the likelihood of testing positive for COVID-19 than those who were "likely sufficient" in vitamin D. And for more on your sunshine vitamin levels, here 20 Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency.
Exercise most days of the week.
Regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging and can help prevent, delay, or manage a number of chronic diseases common in adults ages 50 and older, says the CDC. It also reduces the risk of premature death and supports your mental health.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for 150 to 300 minutes (between two and a half and five hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes to 150 minutes (between an hour and 15 minutes to two and half hours) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. That said, any amount of activity is better than none.
"Just getting 10 minutes here and there can start to add up and make a big difference," says Kaiser. "Exercises that combine aerobic and cognitive challenges have an extra benefit. That could be dance, martial arts, or surfing—something where you get your heart rate up and need to learn something, remember something, or figure something out."
Find your sense of purpose.
Having a purpose in life typically refers to having goals, a sense of direction, and believing there is meaning to your present and past life experiences, and it's strongly associated with improved mental and physical health outcomes among older adults, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Population Health Management.
"Having things that give you a really strong, unique sense of meaning, that give back to make the world a better place, and that keep you engaged have a tremendously positive impact and can slow down the aging process," says Kaiser.
Pick up a creative hobby
If being at home during COVID-19 has encouraged you to learn an instrument, start painting, or expand your garden, stick with it—it'll benefit your longevity. Creative engagement might have a neuroprotective effect on older adults, helping them maintain their cognition and strengthen their resilience, according to a 2010 study in the journal Clinics in Geriatric Medicine. This may be due to the motivation, attention, and social aspects of creative hobbies.
"There are fantastic associations between creative engagement and increased lifespan, increased quality of life, improved health, and improved function," says Kaiser. "It's one of the best things you can do for your brain health."
In fact, a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that playing a musical instrument was linked to a significantly lower risk of developing dementia.