12 habits that age you

Aging is inevitable, but you can still feel and look younger than your years if you know few facts. If you’re fatigued in the middle of the day or notice new lines on your face in the morning, your everyday habits may be adding more years to you than you know. Experts give advice on ways to turn back the clock.

1) Staying up late: Staying up late is fun in your teens, but burning the midnight oil can make you look older as you age. Beauty sleep is not just an old wives’ tale. “Sleep deprivation causes bags under the eyes and droopy, tired eyelids and pallor,” says Dr. Allen Towfigh, a board-certified sleep medicine doctor and neurologist affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital. “This makes us look less healthy, and, hence, we appear less attractive to others.” To determine how much sleep you need to look your best, add up the number of hours of sleep you get over a period of two weeks (including naps) and divide by 14.

2) Let it go: If you’re unable to let bygones be bygones, you may add years to your body. Several studies show a link between forgiveness and physical health. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine from 2005 showed that a lack of forgiveness increased nervous symptom activity, contributing to a greater number of medications taken and decreased sleep quality. “Holding a grudge increases stress, which boosts levels of the hormone cortisol,” says Dr. Jennifer Landa, chief medical officer of BodyLogicMD, an anti-aging network. “Cortisol contributes to weight gain, raises blood pressure, elevates blood sugar and increases the risk of diabetes.” Learn how to let go, and you may live longer.

3) Exercise regularly: If your exercise plan starts every Jan. 1 and lasts only until you’re able to fit back into your jeans, you may be cheating yourself out of longevity. Many studies show that regular exercise helps prevent age-related diseases and prolongs life span. “Daily exercise helps lower cortisol levels and increases beneficial hormones like testosterone,” says Landa. “It also helps control high blood pressure, improve mood and keeps us strong and flexible as we age.” The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of activity most days of the week.

4) Say no to sugar: If you never say no to dessert, you may be saying yes to more wrinkles. “Sugar increases aging of every part of our body,” says Landa. “Eating a diet high in sugar will not only damage your waistline but it will increase your risk of diabetes and can even cause skin problems, especially acne and wrinkles.” When you eat sugar a process called glycation occurs, where the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins, forming new molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short. These AGEs damage nearby protein fibers that keep skin elastic. “A better choice would be dark chocolate with low sugar, or if you need to use sweeteners, consider monk fruit, a natural sweetener that doesn’t raise blood sugar,” suggests Landa.

5) Smoking is bad: It’s time to kick those butts to the curb if you want to live a long, healthy life. A clear link between smoking and longevity exists, and the earlier you quit the more years you add to your life. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2002 showed that smokers who quit at age 35 add approximately eight years to their life, compared with people who continue to smoke. Smokers who quit at age 65 add between two to four years of longevity. “Smoking causes the release of free radicals . . . which is like rust for your body,” says Landa. “Smokers have higher risks of almost any disease under the sun, including cancer, heart disease, dementia and generally premature death.”

6) Don’t touch your eyes: Tired eyes? Avoid rubbing them if you want to stay younger-looking. Rubbing your eyes breaks down the collagen and elasticity around the area, which produces wrinkles and broken capillaries. “The skin in this area is incredibly thin and extremely sensitive and vulnerable to sun damage and wrinkling,” says Dr. Dennis Gross, a dermatologist and founder of 900 5th Dermatology in New York City. “This is why rubbing your eyes may result in broken capillaries.” For relief from tired or irritated eyes, instead of rubbing them, try brewing two green tea bags, allow them to cool and place them over your eyes for 10 minutes. If you are concerned about broken capillaries, look for ingredients that build collagen. Applying creams that contain vitamins K and D, as well as including them as part of a balanced diet, can also help.

7) Limit alcohol: A moderate amount of alcohol has heart healthy-benefits, but an excess shortens your life, according to a study published in the January 2013 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Alcohol-dependent women showed a 4.6-fold higher death rate compared with the general population; alcoholic-dependent men have a nearly twofold higher risk of dying earlier than the average male. Excess alcohol can lead to heart failure and high blood pressure as well as cirrhosis of the liver and weight gain. The American Heart Association recommends that men limit themselves to one to two drinks a day, and one drink a day for women (one drink is a 12-ounce beer or four ounces of wine).

8) Maintain your weight: Stay young by attaining a healthy body weight and sticking to it. Losing and regaining weight ages you by increasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to a 2012 study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. In the study, 80 overweight and obese women followed a five-month diet, losing an average of 25 pounds (11.3 kilograms). They regained an average of 32 percent of the lost weight within the following year. The women who regained weight had increased levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, total cholesterol, insulin levels and measurements of insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes The levels after weight regain were worse than before the women dieted. Dietary counseling and a maintenance program can help.

9) Sleeping with your face smashed into the pillow can make you look years older in a couple of ways. “Persistently pressing your face into a pillow causes trauma to the skin,” says dermatologist Gross. Over time, this trauma, aggravated by the friction of a cotton pillowcase, can create permanent creases as collagen breaks down. The skin’s ability to regenerate itself is also compromised by the impaired circulation to the part of the face pressed into the pillow, says Gross. Sleep on your back to stay younger-looking, or use a satin pillowcase to minimize the friction.

10) Relax: When did you last take a vacation or simply relax? Men living moderate- to high-stress lifestyles for a number of years have a 50 percent higher mortality rate, according to a 2011 study from the Journal of Aging Research. The study involved approximately 1,000 healthy men and studied them for an 18-year period. Experiencing more than two major life events a year was enough to increase mortality risk. Chronic stress is linked to many diseases, including cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, so taking steps to de-stress can help reduce your risk. The Mayo Clinic recommends using the “four A’s” to relax: avoid the source of stress, alter your reaction to it, accept things as they are or adapt by changing your expectations.

11) Say no to junk food: Living on junk food and fast food dumps unhealthy levels of sodium, fat and cholesterol into your system, which boosts the aging process and increases the likelihood of obesity. “With weight gain comes a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” says Amy Goodson, a board-certified specialist in sport dietetics and the Dallas Cowboys sports dietitian. Avoiding processed foods and eating more whole foods reduces the amount of added sugar and fat in your diet and decreases these risks. “Whole, unprocessed foods are also high in fiber, which promotes low cholesterol,” says Goodson. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna), walnuts and flaxseed also help decrease inflammation in the body and promote healthy skin and reduce the development of wrinkles.

12) Drink Water Increasing the amount of water you drink each day may be the key to younger-looking skin. Water is essential to maintaining skin moisture and helps deliver essential nutrients to the skin, says nutritionist Goodson. “Water helps your skin cells rejuvenate faster. On the reverse, loss of hydration in the skin can cause dryness, tightness, flakiness and tends to make you look older,” she says. Dry skin has less resilience and is more prone to wrinkling, which can make you look older. In addition to drinking water, Goodson recommends eating foods high in water content, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant, which are more than 90 percent water.

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