Aging is a complicated process – but it’s not completely out of your control! If you pay attention and avoid these 8 habits you will be able to slow down extrinsic aging (aging that depends on environmental factors) and will start feeling and looking better!
Lately, I’ve been feeling kinda OLD. Now, I guess for most people it’s no wonder that at 32 I am going through a little bit of a life crisis. I know nothing about new trends, new phones and I only recently found out what yolo means (<- which I now know is very 2008). And I definitely notice more wrinkles, “fine lines”(<-aren’t those also wrinkles?) and age spots. Plus I am constantly TIRED. And if you haven’t noticed – I complain a lot.
Now, I’m not the kind of person to say that getting older is a bad thing and should never happen. I don’t plan to resist aging using every trick possible on Earth. After all getting older is the only way to stay alive. The alternative is what? That’s right – not living.
Getting older is a natural process and when you think about it, if you want to live past 90, then you might need to accept that you’ll be older for the larger part of your life. So let’s keep this quote in mind:
Now before you go and say: “I’m letting myself go, yolo!”, you need to consider something: Getting old with time passing is inevitable, but looking & feeling prematurely old is evitable (that’s a word).
While we can’t all stop time and stay FOREVER young like J.Lo, there are some habits and things most of us do daily that might be making us look and feel prematurely old.
Which on the other hand would mean: If we eliminate those habits or at least limit them, we’ll stop looking and feeling prematurely old and we’ll start feeling our real age. And that might look and feel a lot younger than we’ve ever imagined.
Why do we look older as we age?
When it comes to aging (and skin aging), there are two types of processes involved:
- intrinsic – depends on time (seriously, just time) and is due to normal biochemical processes inside the body – causing thinning of the skin and fine lines. So nothing REALLY bad. You can see how much damage this kind of aging causes when you look at parts of your body that are less exposed to sun. I don’t mean your butt, just check the inner parts of your arms. Doesn’t look that bad, right?
- extrinsic – due to environmental influences. So mostly our own habits & the lovely pollution we’re exposed to daily. Now these cause the more serious visible damage to our skin like wrinkles, age spots and roughness of the skin.
While we can’t stop or control intrinsic aging, we can do something about extrinsic aging. Because the more extrinsic damage we add to the intrinsic aging (that is anyway always there) – the older we look and feel.
Intrinsic aging happens whether we do something or not – it is there. The variable is extrinsic aging. It varies in 1) the way, 2) for how long (how much) and 3) how often we do certain things.
The Common Cause
A common cause that is biologically relevant in both types of aging is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress happens when the body has to deal with more free radicals than its “equipment” can handle.
There are two practical steps we can take to deal with oxidative stress (and to slow down aging):
1. Reducing the formation of free radicals by avoiding bad habits and
2. Adding more antioxidants from plants to our diet.
So guess what? We can do a lot about not looking & feeling older than we actually are. And dare I say: that might even be enough! You don’t need to look 15 when you’re 40. You might just need to look 40 to feel great.
Now let’s get to the habits we need to get rid of.
1. The Sun
If you enjoy being in the sun and having fun outdoors as much as me, something to keep in mind is that sun damage is the main reason for wrinkles and for looking old.
It accounts for more than 80% of skin aging.
That’s 80 percent!
This means, even if you eliminate all other skin damaging habits you might have, but still spend too much time in the sun, it’s all a waste of your efforts.
No matter how much collagen-building vitamin C you eat or put on your body, no matter how many antioxidants you get from your diet, if you put your body under the sun for a longer period of time, you will get wrinkles, spots and saggy skin. That’s just the way it is.
If you want to prevent looking older, this is the number one habit you need to drop.
Smoking might kill, but it does a lot of other bad stuff while we’re still alive. Like for example make you look old when you’re actually still young.
It changes your skin color, makes your skin wrinkly and saggy. Science is not sure why it happens, it might be:
- the high temperature of the smoke (around 900°C / ~ 1652 °F)
- the 5000 different chemicals inside that smoke
- the fact that smoking reduces the amount of antioxidants in the body
- or the fact that it is just a bomb of free radicals and activates enzymes that destroy collagen and other skin structures.
Whatever it is, a study showed that the amount of wrinkling increases with amount and duration of cigarettes smoked.
Smoking: Beyond skin aging
What’s even a little more shocking to me, is the realization that smoking makes your whole body look and feel older sooner. I knew smoking is not healthy, but it also:
- creates hormonal imbalances
- decreases fertility
- causes a number of cancers & increases the risk for cardiovascular disease
- is involved in all kinds of dermatological issues like acne, poor wound healing, psoriasis, hair loss.
However, I understand that quitting smoking is not easy, despite what Mark Twain said.
Many of my friends have successfully quit smoking, while some of them are still struggling. I know that those who did it successfully, just quit from one day to the other and never looked back. No e-cigarettes, no nicotine patches. But since I don’t have a lot of experience with smoking, if you’re a smoker and would like to quit, you might find this article helpful.
3. Eating Sugar
Before I became an annoying person telling everyone to eat more garlic and not to eat sweets, I used to eat 3 chocolate bars as my afternoon snack. Pre-workout, post-workout snack – call it whatever you want. I did the snack thing without the workout thing.
If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve probably just eaten 1 chocolate bar as an afternoon snack. I’m sure I’ve got some of my wrinkles because of those snacks.
Why? Well what else is an evil thing like sugar supposed to do? Give you beautiful glowing skin and breath that smells like roses?
No. Wrinkles. That’s the answer of sugar. It binds to collagen and destroys its function. And then laughs in an evil way. Then your skin is inelastic and looks tired. That’s what sugar does.
So to anyone who hasn’t broken up with sugar yet, take a look at this post.
4. Drinking Alcohol
If you have ever drunk too much alcohol you’d know that the next morning you not only feel, but also look like you’ve been beaten while you were asleep. Your face is swollen and your skin seems kinda rough and red.
While there might be some health benefits to moderate alcohol consumption (mostly wine), too much alcohol, even if it’s just a few times a week could destroy your skin and weaken your immune system (1).
Ethanol (that’s the real alcohol) causes DNA damage and a mass production of free radicals that damage skin collagen and might even increase your risk of skin cancer by about 20%. Alcohol also is very dehydrating – which results in, yes, dry skin. Over time that turns into less elastic skin.
Then again what is too much alcohol anyway? Well it seems to be more than a glass of wine a day for women and more than 2 for men.
What we eat or not eat might be important, but how much we eat is just as important. Because any excess of nutrients can cause excess inflammation and oxidative stress.
See again, these two – everything we can do comes down to oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Therefore eating too much of anything and torturing your body with too much food would also result in a skin that is less than perfect.
Many studies have shown that people who are overweight look on average older than people who are normal weight.
6. Stop doing this
Worrying too much also makes you old. That’s because constant stress (which btw is very unnatural, but yes we all have it) also causes too many free radicals and inflammation in the body.
As I mentioned earlier these free radicals are the reason for aging, diseases and wrinkles, because they damage our own molecules – DNA, lipids or proteins like collagen. Once collagen is broken, a wrinkle is born (ok it will take a little more than that, but you see where I’m going with this).
Stress is also linked to a number of other skin diseases like acne, warts, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and many more.
If you’d like to reduce stress and feel good daily, here are 11 simple ways you can do this.
Well, this habit has nothing to do with wrinkles and your skin, but it does ruin your posture and increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, so it also makes you prematurely old. Sitting.
We’re bound to our computers these days.
And not only is it painful for our eyes, neck and shoulders, but if you don’t sit up straight while working on a computer you’ve probably got a tiny hunchback.
That’s me at least.
But after lots and lots of years in front of the computer and some extreme neck pain, I now have developed some strategies to reduce sitting time and neck and shoulder pain. You can find these simple strategies here.
8. Unhappy Relationships
Just like worrying for no apparent reason, an unhappy relationship can also increase stress and make you age faster. And there are a ton of studies to back this up. It’s common sense that when you’re with somebody who makes you unhappy, you stop feeling and looking your best. Some people say your hair gets gray, you get more wrinkles and you just don’t have that spark anymore.
Well, what research has shown is that couples who are unhappily married or who have fights often also show signs of increased systemic inflammation and delayed wound healing – which is an essential process for good health.
A very interesting study compared the healing of blister wounds for couples in good relationships and couples in bad relationships after a fight. Well, the wounds of couples who were in bad relationships healed slower – at 60% the rate of the good relationship couples. This means that their wounds took almost twice as long to heal! (See research here).
People in unhappy relationships also have on average higher blood pressure and a 25times higher risk of major depression than people in happy relationships.
Another major thing about whether or not you look younger is of course genes.
You can prevent and prevent, but it still might be written in your genes to have wrinkles and age spots all over your face.
But before we all burst into hysterical tears and start feeling sorry for ourselves, we need to consider something. And that’s: You can’t read your whole future from your genes.
First of all. We don’t know anything about our own DNA. We’d need to spend a lot of money for someone to analyze it and give us a HINT of what might or might not be in our future.
Second: Yes, you might see what your parents, grandparents, all your relatives look like and what kind of health problems they have. BUT you don’t know what your relatives have been up to before you were born (or all the time after that – I’m just assuming you don’t stalk them all the time). So in the case of wrinkles – you don’t know if your relatives are avoiding sun, moisturizing enough, eating healthy all the time, drinking or smoking…And let’s not forget: Nobody can have the exact same experiences someone else had. Experiences also influence aging and gene expression.
For example in my family, we’re all Caucasians who eat too much sugar, never use sunscreen and stress about everything. So no surprise none of my relatives looks like J.Lo.
Can I do something about my genes? No. Can I do some things better than my relatives to avoid premature aging? Of course. Genes matter, but choices matter just as much.
I’m absolutely sure that we all are guilty of at least one of these habits. If it’s not smoking or alcohol, you’d at least have to worry from time to time. But, hey, we do only live once. So let’s make sure we do our best to live healthy, happy and stay positive.
Hope you keep these habits in mind and do your best to keep them to a minimum, but also remember to enjoy life along the way.