When it comes to everyday behaviors that lead to aging, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking are fairly well-known offenders at this point — you don’t need to be told they’re bad for your health and appearance. But did you know there are other, less obvious factors that might be causing us to age prematurely? You might be surprised at how the most seemingly innocent habits might actually be causing significant damage to your DNA and undermining your otherwise healthy lifestyle.
Read on to find out which everyday habits could be making you older—and how to mitigate the potential damage—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.
Stress Causes Aging
Stress is the enemy of your telomeres, those important little caps at the end of each strand of DNA responsible for protecting our chromosomes. While telomeres naturally shorten as we grow older, that disintegration is accelerated by chronic stress. So yes — while being stressed out all the time could be aging you, it doesn’t have to be a given.
“One of my top recommendations for stress relief is a powerful technique that combines the principles of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or ‘Tapping’ that has been found to lower the stress hormone cortisol by up to 43%, significantly more than traditional talk therapy or resting,” says Melanie Keller ND, naturopathic doctor.
A Bad Diet Is Bad News
If you are what you eat, then consuming a diet which is made up of industrial-made trans fats, sugar and overly-processed junk food is a recipe for fast-tracked aging.
“Processed sugar, carbohydrates and excess alcohol are known to accelerate inflammation,” says Keller.
Chronic inflammation is not only a major cause of premature aging (or “inflammaging“), it can also lead to a host of damaging health conditions including but not limited to diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. By changing your diet to one that is mainly focused on green leafy vegetables, oily fish, fruit, nuts, and olive oil, you can offset the occasional naughty indulgence and help prevent diet-related age issues.
Not Getting Enough Sleep Is Harming More Than Your Mood
Consistent lack of sleep is another factor that leads to damaging inflammation and premature aging. Not only does poor sleep negatively impact your skin, making you look older than you actually are, it’s one of the worst offenders for accelerated aging — especially where your brain is concerned.
“Brain aging is described by the interplay of our sleep patterns and changes in the brain’s garbage cleaning abilities,” Keller explains. “Insufficient sleep leads to an increase of the brain’s garbage concentration and may explain an underlying mechanism behind healthy or unhealthy brain aging.”
The CDC recommends healthy adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep every day, while teenagers should get between 8-10 hours (no, they’re not just lazy, it’s science!).
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Limit Sun Exposure
Too much exposure to UV rays is one of the absolute worst things you can do in terms of aging, be it by direct sunlight or using a sunbed. While some UVB rays are necessary for the production of vitamin D, excessive exposure is extremely harsh on your DNA and unfortunately the damage continues long after you are no longer in the sun. Protect yourself by following CDC guidelines about wearing protective clothing, wearing sunscreen, and avoiding direct sunlight during hours when UV rays are strongest.
“An over or under exposure to the sun are risk factors in aging,” says Keller. “Over exposure has been associated with increased wrinkles and an advanced appearance in age, while an under exposure to the sun has been associated with lower vitamin D levels and an increased risk for chronic health problems.”
Lack of Exercise Will Age You — Fast!
Regular exercise is instrumental in keeping you young, healthy, and happy, whereas little to no exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases and contributes to the speedy demise of those crucial little telomeres we discussed earlier. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day can make a huge impact on your rate of aging and appearance.
“Exercise reduces age-related oxidative damage and chronic inflammation, improves mitochondrial function, and insulin sensitivity,” says Keller. “It’s important to consider different types of exercise to improve different aspects of physical functioning such as adequate weight bearing exercise as it relates to osteoporosis awareness and prevention.” And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.