Although some components of aging can’t be altered, things like genetics and the passage of time, there are many things that we can do that will influence how we experience aging. Consuming healthy foods, getting enough exercise, and staying mentally active are all known to reduce the negative effects of growing older, and lifestyle changes are allowing seniors to stay more vital and connected than ever before.
Some habits, however, have the opposite effect, shortening our lifespan and making it more difficult to stay active and involved. Here are seven common habits that may be accelerating your aging process.
Your morning cup of coffee may feel like a burst of sunshine in the morning, and in many ways, it is. Moderate coffee consumption is an excellent way to start the day. It can boost your memory and cognitive abilities, lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it can even help fight off diabetes and depression.
Unfortunately, unrestrained coffee consumption may also be playing a significant role in making you appear older. Not only does caffeine dehydrate your body, leading to dry skin, collagen loss, and wrinkles, but it’s addictive. For those that drink coffee on a daily basis, missing their morning cup of joe for just a day or two can lead to headaches, brain fog, and irritability.
While having the occasional drink isn’t overly problematic, regular consumption of alcohol can cause dehydration and enlarge blood vessels, leading to dry, ruddy skin and wrinkles. Alcohol also robs your body of essential vitamins and minerals, blocking the body’s absorption of vitamins A, B, D, and E, each one vital to the health and elasticity of your skin. Drinking water with each alcoholic drink helps combat dehydration somewhat, but nothing completely counteracts alcohol’s effect on the body.
Water, that is. Most adults do not drink enough water to begin with, and as we age our thirst response becomes weaker. Because of this, we reach for fluids less often, and dehydration is often the result. Even low-level dehydration can dry out your skin, leading to wrinkles, but severe or prolonged dehydration can age your brain. A loss of just 1% of our fluids leads to confusion, lack of focus, and mood swings.
Persistent stress grinds us down, exhausts us, and makes us look and feel older. It makes no difference whether the stress is physical or emotional; the brain relates to it the same way, by increasing the production of cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol, in particular, leads to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, which leads to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
Stress doesn’t just cause us to look older, however. Telomeres are compound structures that are present at the end of each chromosome. They help to protect the chromosome from damage, and longer telomeres equate to a longer life. Persistent stress actually shortens our telomeres, and can even change the structure of our DNA.
Sleep deprivation is a real problem in the modern world. It not only leaves us groggy and unable to react quickly in the short term, it also has significant long-term effects. Sleep deprivation has been linked to weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Not getting enough sleep also intensifies amyloid deposition, which increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should aim for around seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and adults over 65 should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
By now everyone knows you age faster when you smoke. The ways in which smoking cigarettes ages the body are innumerable. Chemicals from smoking break down the elasticity of the skin, and deprive it of oxygen, leaving the skin loose and grayish-yellow. The pursing motion of the lips around a cigarette can lead to the formation of deep lines around the lips. And yet, the cosmetic damage caused by smoking cigarettes is nothing compared to the way it ages you on the inside. Smoking leads to heart disease, high blood pressure, and even lung cancer. The best time to quit is now. Talk to your doctor today about kicking the habit.
Sunlight is essential to our wellbeing. Sunlight is required for our bodies to produce vitamin D, vital to the health of our bones and skin. Exposure to the sun provides the tools to produce melatonin, which regulates our circadian rhythms, and serotonin, which improves our mood.
But there’s a dark side to sunlight as well. Given enough time, it burns. Sunburnt skin becomes inflamed and swollen, and over time it loses elasticity. Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV light burns the eyes too, leading to retinal damage increasing the odds of developing cataracts.
Fortunately, the dangers of sunlight can be mitigated with a simple protective barrier. To protect your skin, wear sunblock. While this may reduce the amount of vitamin D your body produces, recent studies indicate the difference is minimal. To protect your eyes, wear good sunglasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays.
Remember, you do not need to age faster. These are all lifestyle choices that can be adjusted with the right tools and a little tenacity. Talk to a medical professional about the best way to do so. Changes that you make now can have a lasting effect on not only your appearance but also on your overall strength and vigor.
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