Seven Habits That Slow the Aging Process
Aging is part of life – and with it comes wisdom and experience. Regardless, who wouldn't like to slow down the clock a bit? Turns out, your actions can either accelerate or put the brakes on many aspects of aging. Take the following steps now to help you age gracefully – inside and out.
1. Diet: Eat an Anti-inflammatory Diet
A diet high in inflammatory foods speeds up the aging process by affecting telomere length. Telomeres are structures found at the end of chromosomes and provide protection during cell division. The telomere acts like a clock – the shorter the telomere, the older the cell. An inflammatory diet prematurely shortens telomeres, which contributes to early aging.1
Foods that reduce inflammation2
- Fresh fruits, like strawberries, blueberries, and oranges
- Leafy green vegetables, like spinach and kale
- Olive oil
- Fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, like mackerel, salmon, and tuna
- Nuts, like almonds and walnuts
Foods that increase inflammation3
- Added sugar, particularly high-fructose corn syrup that is commonly found in beverages, pastries, and desserts
- Trans fats in fried food, processed snack foods, donuts, and margarine
- Processed meats, like bologna, sausage, bacon, salami, and beef jerky
- Refined carbohydrates, like white rice, white potatoes, many types of cereals, and breads and crackers made from white flour
- Excess amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in mayonnaise, many salad dressings, and vegetable oils, like corn, safflower, and soy
2. Physical Activity: Move Your Body
“Move your body and exercise more!” is a common catchphrase. And with good reason: too much time sitting (sedentary behavior) is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and an early death.4
- Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes. Set an alarm to remind yourself to stand or move
- Stand while talking on the phone, occasionally put your laptop on a counter, or periodically stand at your desk
- Stand and move your body during commercial breaks, half-time, or in-between shows
- Park farther away at the office or while running errands
- Choose the stairs over elevators and escalators
- Vacuum, wash windows, weed the garden, or sweep the sidewalk
Get your heartrate up and use your muscles
Aerobic activity is any activity that causes you to breathe harder than normal and your heart to beat faster.
- Aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.5
- Strength training by lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises improves bone health and reduces the risk of weak, thin bones (osteoporosis) – a significant factor in aging.5,6
3. Alcohol: Imbibe in Moderation
A recent study found that long-term, excessive drinking (alcoholism or alcohol use disorder) leads to accelerated aging and increases the risk of cognitive problems, like dementia.7 The health risks of high alcohol consumption also include high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, liver disease, depression, anxiety, cancer, and a weakened immune system.7,8
Limit alcohol intake to two drinks or less a day for men, and one drink or less a day for women. Examples of one alcoholic drink include:8
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content) or 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (40% alcohol content), like rum, whiskey, gin, or vodka
4. Sleep: ZZZ's Help You Stay Young
Sleep helps the body recharge and repair. Not getting enough sleep doesn't just mean feeling groggy the next day – it can have serious health consequences. Long-term insufficient sleep is associated with increased risk for depression, obesity, infections, heart disease, and an early death.9
Tips for better sleep10
- Establish a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. This helps your body clock stay in a consistent sleep-wake cycle and promotes restorative sleep.
- Wind down. Use the hour before bedtime to do relaxing activities and prepare for sleep. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright light from TV screens, computers, and phones.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine before bedtime. These interfere with the ability to fall asleep or get restorative sleep.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dim. This creates an optimal environment for good sleep.
5. Sunlight and Air Pollution: Protect Your Skin
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes premature aging of the skin (photoaging) and increases your risk of skin cancer.11,12 Although melanoma accounts for only one percent of skin cancers, it causes a large proportion of skin cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 106,000 new cases of melanoma cancers will be diagnosed in 2021.13
Tips for staying safe in the sun
- Limit your time in the sun. Avoid the sun during its peak from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. Choose a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
- Reapply often. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours after sweating or swimming.
- Don’t skip sun protection on cloudy days. UV rays can pass through clouds, and UV exposure happens all year long – even on cloudy days and during the winter.14
Blue light from cell phones, television, and computer screens can also damage skin cells and contribute to photoaging. To block blue light, look for a sunscreen that contains a blend of iron oxides, zinc oxide, or titanium oxide.15
Tips for protecting your skin from air pollution
Indoor and outdoor air pollution also impacts how quickly skin ages. Small particles of soot and traffic pollution (particulate matter) and gaseous compounds like nitrous oxide float in the air and cause hyperpigmentation of the skin. Cooking or burning unclean fuel increases wrinkles of the skin on the face and the backs of hands.16
Some antioxidants help protect your skin and reduce damage from environmental pollution. Nutrients like vitamins C and E can help: 16-18
- Fade hyperpigmentation spots
- Boost collagen
- Reduce wrinkles
- Protect your skin from future air pollution damage
To learn how to help your skin age well, read: How sunlight and pollution cause skin to age. (And what you can do about it.)
6. Stress: Relax for Better Health
Stress is a part of life. But constant, long-term stress can contribute to serious health issues that lead to an early death. Conditions linked to chronic stress include heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression, immune disorders, migraines, and heartburn, nausea and many other gut issues.19,20
Tips to manage stress
- Meditate. Meditation is remarkably effective for managing stress.21 Regular meditation increases the area of the brain that regulates emotions.21,22 Individuals who sit quietly in meditation for just one hour a week report they are more content and joyful.22
- Be social. An active social life is associated with a faster rebound from stress.23 It's also linked to a longer life and a greater sense of wellbeing.24,25 Focus on the individuals or activities that mean the most to you – family and friends, hobby or faith groups, or other organizations.
- Move your body. Exercise can flush stress chemicals out of the body.26 Just one exercise session that gets your heartrate up has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and lower anxiety on the day you do it.26,27
- Develop gratitude. Individuals who practice gratitude tend to have fewer symptoms of depression and more positive feelings overall.28 Researchers analyzed highly stressed health-care workers implementing measures that develop gratitude. After 12 weeks, the workers reported they were happier and more satisfied with their lives.29 Keep a gratitude journal and jot down things you're thankful for every day. This can help develop gratitude and make positive thinking come more naturally.23
7. Smoking: Quit or Don't Start
If you smoke, then you're probably aware that quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Afterall, smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, with smokers dying an average of 10 years sooner than nonsmokers.30
But quitting is challenging, and most smokers try several times before they succeed. This sampling of tried-and-true strategies might help you kick the habit.31
- Write down your reasons for quitting. Make a list of the reasons you want to quit smoking and refer to it often or add to it.
- Make a plan. Many smokers kick the habit by setting a quit-smoking date and then abruptly stopping on that date. If quitting abruptly hasn't worked for you, then try gradually cutting back. Evidence shows that using the prescription medication varenicline and sticking to a strict reduction schedule can improve quitting.
- Manage cravings. Consider nicotine replacement therapies and talk to your doctor about treatments that can lessen cravings, including lozenges, gum, skin patches, inhalers, or nasal sprays.
- Avoid triggers. Avoid places and situations that make you want to smoke.
- Find a counseling service. Individual or group counseling can help you develop skills to quit smoking. Combining counseling and medication is the most effective way to succeed with smoking cessation.
The lifestyle advice you've heard over and over does have a multitude of health benefits. From getting enough physical activity to limiting alcohol and stress, these habits reduce the risk of chronic disease and slow the aging process – helping you look and feel your best for years to come.
Information Provided by Thorne
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- Navarro-Ibarra M, Hernández J, Caire-Juvera G. Diet, physical activity, and telomere length in adults. Nutr Hosp 2019;36(6)1403-1417.
- Anti-inflammatory diet do's and don'ts. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/anti-inflammatory/anti-inflammatory-diet. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Eight food ingredients that can cause inflammation. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/foods-to-limit/8-food-ingredients-that-can-cause-inflammation. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Peterson D. Risks and benefits of exercise. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2018: To the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2018.
- Samarakoon S, Chandola H, Ravishankar B. Effect of dietary, social, and lifestyle determinants of accelerated aging and its common clinical presentation: A survey study. Ayu 2011;32(3)315-21.
- Sullivan E, Pfefferbaum A. Brain-behavior relations and effects of aging and common comorbidities in alcohol use disorder: A review. Neuropsychology 2019;33(6)760-780.
- Alcohol use and your health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- The benefits of slumber: Why you need a good night’s sleep. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2013/04/benefits-slumber. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Sleep deprivation and deficiency. National Health, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Aging changes in the skin. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004014.htm. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Chien A, Kang S. Photoaging. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Key statistics for melanoma skin cancer. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. [Accessed July 20, 2021]
- Sunlight. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/sunlight. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Bernstein E, Sarkas H, Boland P. Iron oxides in novel skin care formulations attenuate blue light for enhanced protection against skin damage. J Cosmet Dermatol 2021 Feb;20(2):532-537.
- Burke K. Mechanisms of aging and development – A new understanding of environmental damage to the skin and prevention with topical antioxidants. Mech Ageing Dev 2018;172:123-130.
- Antioxidants: In depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth. [Accessed August 4, 2021]
- Burke K. Photodamage of the skin: protection and reversal with topical antioxidants. J Cosmet Dermatol 2004;3(3):149-155.
- Stress effects on the body. American Phycological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, et al. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J 2017;16:1057-1072.
- Bauer B, Kermott C, Millman M. Mind-body medicine. In: Mayo Clinic: The Integrative Guide to Good Health. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House; 2017.
- Luders E, Toga A, Lepore N, Gaser C. The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. Neuroimage 2009;45:672-678.
- MacLeod S, Musich S, Hawkins K, et al. The impact of resilience among older adults. Geriatr Nurs 2016;37(4):266-272.
- Building your resilience. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience. [Accessed July 18, 2018.]
- Yang Y, Boen C, Gerken K, et al. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016;113(3):578-583.
- Seaward B. Physical exercise: Flushing out the stress hormones. In: Essentials of Managing Stress. 4th ed. Jones & Bartlett Publishers; 2017.
- Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf. [Accessed August 4, 2021]
- Duprey E, McKee L, O'Neal C, et al. Stressful life events and internalizing symptoms in emerging adults: The roles of mindfulness and gratitude. Ment Health Prev 2018;12:1.
- Berkland B, Werneburg B, Jenkins S, et al. A worksite wellness intervention: improving happiness, life satisfaction, and gratitude in health care workers. Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes 2017 Oct 31;1(3):203-210.
- Fast Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/index.htm. [Accessed July 18, 2021.]
- Mayo Clinic. Quit smoking: Strategies to help you quit. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking/in-depth/quit-smoking/art-20045452. [Accessed August 4, 2021]