There’s no escaping the passage of time – you will get older, and your body will age. And yet, some people in their 60s look like they’re in their 40s, while some people in their 30s look like they’re in their 50s. So what gives?
Some lucky individuals do end up hitting the genetic jackpot, but lifestyle choices and daily habits play a big role in the aging process. These are just a few of the habits you should break right now if you want to look bright and wrinkle-free well into your life’s later chapters.
Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle to slather on the sunscreen every time you walk outside, but sun damage doesn’t just lead to skin cancer, it leads to wrinkles and sun spots. I spoke with Dr. Alan J. Parks, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse who says, "I know it seems obvious, but the one terrible habit that will age you beyond belief is not wearing sunscreen. Ninety-percent of skin aging is from the sun, so wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is one of the best habits you can get into to keep you looking young." He also emphasizes that it’s not just the summer sun that does the damage: "Always wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days and in the winter time. The UVA rays, which are the most damaging, can penetrate through clouds and glass, causing premature aging and possibly skin cancer."
There’s nothing like a good twins study to show the physical effects of a bad habit, and that’s exactly what a 2013 study published in the Plastic and Reproductive Surgery journal sought to uncover in regards to smoking… and the results were jarring (you can check out some of the pictures in this CNN article). In addition to some very clear comparison pictures that demonstrate the additional wrinkles and baggy eyelids experienced by the smoking twin, the study found that as little as a five-year difference in smoking history "can cause noticeable differences in facial aging in twins." Even if you don’t have a doppelganger to compare your facial aging to, you can pretty much count on smoking’s negative impact when it comes to premature aging.
Harboring anger and grudges
Anger, stress, and grudge-holding don’t just wreak havoc on your insides, they can actually lead to premature aging. When I contacted Alixandra Foisy, a licensed clinical social worker and retirement transitions specialist who works with soon-to-be and recent retirees, she pointed out that, "Attitude can make you extremely rigid and uncompromising, and literally stiffens the body. A rigid person who cannot relax is not able to heal. The body does a great job of healing itself, but it must be relaxed to do so." Holding onto anger is actually associated with coronary heart disease, while depression is linked to cellular aging. You may not be able to avoid stress or anger completely, but you can find positive ways to let go through exercise, meditation, and regular social engagement.
Skipping sunglasses on sunny days
It’s time to store a pair of sunglasses in every bag you own! When I reached out to Dr. Christian Subbio, a board-certified plastic surgeon, he pointed out that constant squinting can lead to major wrinkles, "You might be surprised to find that not wearing sunglasses could be aging you. This is especially true during the summer and during winter snows, which can reflect high levels of sunlight, leading to increased squinting. This repetitive squinting reinforces the ‘crow’s feet,’ which are the small lines splaying out from the sides of the eyes. Failing to wear sunglasses could mean more frequent trips to your plastic surgeon for Botox!" So yeah, even if it means stocking up on drug store sunglasses, you should always have a pair handy to keep your face fresh.
Sleeping on your face
Unless you’re a back sleeper, it’s time to switch up your bedtime routine. Dr. Anthony Youn, a board-certified plastic surgeon and the author of the book, The Age Fix: A Leading Plastic Surgeon Reveals How to Really Look Ten Years Younger, got right to the point in our email correspondence, "Sleep wrinkles are real and can be permanent. Sure, sleeping on your face for a night after a bender won’t create permanent lines, but if you sleep on your face night after night, year after year, then those sleep wrinkles will eventually stay there permanently." The good news is there’s a solution, "Sleep on your back or side, and if you must sleep on your face, try a satin or silk pillowcase, which will be less likely to cause creasing of the face."
Staring at your phone 24/7
The skin on your neck is thinner than the skin on your face, making it even more susceptible to showing early signs of aging. This isn’t good news if you’re permanently attached to your phone. Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Joel Schlessinger, shared with me a very real (and very recent) phenomena known as "tech neck," which takes place when you constantly look down at your cell phone, laptop, or tablet. If you’re like most people, you stare at your phone for almost three hours a day. This forward tilt of your head results in the combination of a loss of firmness in the neck, physical strain, and premature wrinkling of the skin along the front of your neck. The solution is simple, says Dr. Schlessinger, "Hold your phone or device higher when you look at it. Try to hold your head in a neutral position whenever possible and limit the time you spend on your devices. If you’re working on a laptop, sit at a desk and place the monitor at eye-level."
Eating a poor diet
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that what you eat can significantly impact how you look. A constant stream of junk food and alcohol denies your body the key nutrients it needs to function at full capacity, but the damage doesn’t stop there. Dr. Schlessinger explains, "A poor diet, specifically one that is high in sugar, can affect your skin from the inside out. Sugar molecules attach to collagen and elastin proteins in the skin through a process called glycation. This process produces advanced glycosylation end products, or AGEs for short. AGEs are free radicals that lead to inflammation, breaking down collagen and elastin in the skin."
Owner of Fresh Approach Nutrition Kristie LeBeau, MPH, RN, RDN agreed. "Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is another habit that can be aging. Without enough antioxidants and phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables, we cannot fight free radical damage and will be more susceptible to aging," LeBeau told me. "One study even showed that with increased intake of vegetables and fruits, there was an increase in pigmentation, a more ‘rosy’ glow to the skin which adds to a youthful appearance." Who doesn’t want that?
Poor skin care
Basic skin care is a big deal when it comes to limiting the effects of aging. As tempting as it is to head to bed after a long day without washing your face, Dr. Youn says this is a big no-no. "This is a bad habit that really needs to not happen. Makeup, as well as the day’s grime, oil, and pollution, clog your pores and can result in acne. Your skin rejuvenates itself at night and cannot do this very well if it isn’t cleaned."
Even if you’re a rock star about washing your face before bed, it’s equally important that you don’t skip the moisturizer. Skin expert and founder of the skin care brand trillpiderm, Frank Fanning, told me, "By restoring moisture and lipids to skin, we, as humans, will have a body that has reduced lines and wrinkles, reduced flakiness, softer feel, improved elasticity, better cell renewal (especially at night), and improved immune system response."
Drinking from a straw
Drinking from a straw seems so benign – maybe you even do it to help prevent dark liquids from staining your teeth. At any rate, it might be time to retire your straws because pursing your lips to sip from a straw can lead to "smoker-style" lines surrounding your mouth. Dr. Youn emphasizes that these smoker’s lines "can worsen and deepen with any activity that involves pursing your lips, including drinking out of a straw or drinking from a non-reusable water bottle." Yikes.
The one thing that’s worse for your skin than laying out in the sun is laying under the UV rays of a tanning bed for a fake-baked glow. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to the very real risks that indoor tanning poses, including increased risk for skin cancer, premature skin aging, and changes in skin texture. There’s nothing sexier than cancer-riddled, crackly, wrinkly skin, right? Wrong. It’s time to turn in your tanning membership and embrace the beauty of pale, soft, wrinkle-free skin. It may be an adjustment, but in 20 years, you’ll be glad you made a change.
Too many cocktails
If your goal is to look younger, alcohol is not your friend. "Alcohol is dehydrating and damaging to DNA, which can lead to a less youthful appearance," LeBeau told me.
Meeting friends for cocktails every weekend can feel like no big deal, but it affects you over time. As Dr. Schlessinger stated, "Alcohol dehydrates the body causing skin to look red, blotchy, and bloated. Drinking alcohol prevents the production of vasopressin, and anti-diuretic hormone that the body uses to absorb water. This causes the kidneys to work twice as hard to remove excess water from your system, leaving all of your organs, including your skin, dehydrated." It’s best to skip the second drink and have a water with lime instead.
Running too much
Staying active and exercising throughout the week is vital to keeping that youthful glow, but it is certainly possible to have too much of a good thing. Running too much can leave you looking and feeling older. "Too much running punishes the bones and joints, and one can get stress fractures and cartilage damage," Powerlifter and trainer Robert S. Herbst told me. "It has also been associated with blood markers that show damage to the heart muscle."
Running is great for cardio, but does not help build muscle. As we age, strengthening our muscles is crucial, so be sure to mix up your running routine with some weights. "People who run too much usually do not weight train, so they suffer the natural wasting of the upper body muscles which can be reversed with strength training," Herbst explained. "They also do not get weight bearing exercise that stresses the spine and long bones, so they will also not prevent the natural decline in bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis. If they run outdoors, their skin will age from being exposed to the sun and the elements such as drying wind."
If outdoor running is your passion, don’t hang up your running shoes just yet. Simply make sure to break up your routine with indoor workouts, strengthening, and rest days.
Some bad habits like smoking are obviously going to affect our health and aging. However, there are also small habits that we may not even realize we’re doing that can affect us too. The simple act of frowning can make you look older over time. "Smiling makes you younger and increases immunity," Dr. Murray Grossan told me. "Even just a ‘fake smile’ will reduce the number of colds you get." The next time you catch yourself frowning during the drive to work, take a moment to smile. Not only will you feel an instant mood lift, you’ll look younger too.
Healthy eating and steering clear of sugar is vital to looking younger. However, if the pendulum swings too far, and you are concerned you’ve become obsessed with restricting calories, it’s time to seek help. "Restricting too many calories actually lowers your metabolism, sending your body into starvation mode. Your body will then hold onto all calories you put in, which actually slows down weight loss," Therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW told me.
"Additionally, your body will break down calorie-burning muscle tissue for energy. The key is to eat a healthy small meal every three to four hours. This keeps you satisfied, keeps your metabolism up, and keep from overeating later in the day." Make a plan each day to nourish your body with enough healthy food.
Multitasking is tempting for each one of us. Even as I write this article, I feel the tug to check my email each time the page takes an extra moment to load on the computer. Especially with the constant barrage of social media, multitasking has become the norm. Unfortunately, it’s slowly aging us. "People think multitasking is good, but you don’t actually get anything done — you just create more stress," Raymond Casciari, MD told Health. This constant stress wears on the body, aging us and zapping our energy. Dr. Casciari recommended focusing on one task at a time and not moving on until it is complete.
Even if you’re one of those people who feels fine on four or five hours of sleep, it’s not serving you. Going to bed late every night does not give our bodies a chance to repair and replenish. This only adds to the aging process. Skipping sleep even leads to a shorter lifespan. "Sleeping within the seven-hour range is optimal," Dr. Casciari told Health. Try going to bed just 15 or 30 minutes earlier tonight and see how you feel.
Too much television
Well, it turns out our moms were right. Television really is bad for our brains. A study in JAMA Psychiatry examined TV’s effects on our brains. Participants in the study with the lowest percent of time working out and the highest TV watching actually had changes to their brains, and they weren’t good. These participants scored lower on brain power tests, meaning they weren’t able to perform as well cognitively. Watching too much TV ages our brains to the point where we can’t perform like we used to. The takeaway? Turn it off and go for a walk outside.
Sitting all day
If you spend the majority of your day sitting, you are not alone. Most of us sit on the way to work, sit at work, then sit in front of the TV in the evenings. All this sitting is making us older. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology (via TIME) found that sitting too much actually ages our body’s cells. Researchers examined the chromosomes of over 1,500 older women and looked at their cells’ telomeres, the tips of the DNA in our cells. These telomeres shorten as we age, but researchers found that sitting too much and not getting active caused the shortening to happen faster, by as much as eight years!
"Our results suggest that the combination of being sedentary and not engaging in enough physical activity to prevent the telomeres from shortening leads to the shorter telomere length," Study author Aladdin Shadyab told TIME. "Women who did not meet the physical activity guideline and were sedentary for at least 10 hours a day were biologically older; their cells are aging faster than those of women who were less sedentary." Yikes! To offset this effect, commit to an exercise routine and take plenty of walking and standing breaks throughout the day.
If you walk like an older person, you’re going to become one faster. Slouching when you walk actually zaps your energy. A study in Biofeedback found that when participants walked with a hunched over posture, they felt less energetic afterwards. This was especially pronounced in participants who already had depression.
Slouching also pulls on your muscles and tendons, causing tight muscles and soreness. Chronic slouching can even lead to chronic back pain. There’s nothing like a chronic backache to make you feel years or even decades older than you truly are.
Not managing your stress
Perhaps no habit on this list is as dangerous to our health and aging as stress. Feeling stressed out not only robs your day of happiness, but makes you older in the process. "Studies have shown that excessive worrying can lead to premature aging. Frequent or habitual worrying increases cortisol and promotes oxidative damage," Psychiatrist Jared Heathman told me. "This results in shorter telomere lengths that may reduce lifespan by two to eight years." Those darn telomeres again!
The stress hormone cortisol is to blame for this expedited aging process. "Cortisol is considered the stress hormone, which pinches off the health and pleasure hormones triggered by the ‘relaxation response’ we can achieve in yoga and meditation," Midwife Elizabeth Manning told me. "Cortisol literally causes wrinkles in our plump little cells, causing us to shrivel like raisins."
And it’s not just the stress on our cells that causes aging. "When we are stressed, we are less likely to take care of ourselves, drink plenty of water, eat the right foods, and practice regular self care. Instead we are not taking breaks, pushing ourselves to the max, squinting at a computer screen, and staying up too late," Manning explained. "When we are stressed, we are pinching and scrunching our faces, frowning, and pursing our lips. We are slouching, tired, and droopy." Start brainstorming activities to help you ditch the stress. Try a new workout class or go for a walk with a good friend.
Skipping the eye cream
How often do you fall into bed after a long day, rather than winding down and doing your skincare routine? Dabbing on a dot of eye cream at night only takes a moment, but can help you look younger over time. "The skin around your eyes is the thinnest and has very few oil glands," Dermatologist Debra Jaliman told Shape.
This sensitive skin around the eyes can look more wrinkled the more we touch it. "As we mature the skin thins, and this is very noticeable around the eyes," Dermatologist Sandra Johnson told the Huffington Post. "When you rub your eyes you further break those blood vessels, which makes dark circles worse and increases wrinkling." Soothing your skin with a quality eye cream can help offset those effects.
It’s up to you
While learning about all of these bad habits and their negative effects can feel overwhelming, this is positive. The good news is that all of these habits and choices are up to us. Lifestyle factors have a huge effect on how our bodies age, so let’s start taking control today.
Some lifestyle factors that are associated with healthy aging are higher education, not smoking, eating a healthy diet, staying active, and limiting alcohol. Choose one area to focus on and start making changes today. Sign up for a continuing education class that sounds interesting to you. Swap your normal fast food breakfast for a hearty bowl of oatmeal or smoothie on the run. Try a new dance fitness class with some friends. Small changes add up, so start today!