We’re all probably aware that things like smoking and obesity shorten our lifespan, but we may not be aware of the many other seemingly harmless habits that are secretly aging us every day. Here are eight to watch out for:
1. Wearing a ‘Worrywart’ Badge
We can’t escape stress, but we can try to rein in our tendency to worry. Worrying not only make us unhappy, anxious, and mentally exhausted, (not to mention the extra ice cream and comfort foods it entices us to ingest), but it actually ages the body. The constant release of cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline literally wear us out by lowering the immune system, raising blood pressure, and interfering with sleep, memory and mood.
What you can do: Try to put worries in perspective by looking at the big picture. Take a few deep breaths when anxiety rears its ugly head. Do something physical; take a walk or do a few yoga poses. Meditation really does help, as does setting aside a regular ‘worry time.’ The key is not to let worry be a constant companion.
2. Being a Sunscreen Slacker
Sure, you remember to put on sunscreen when heading to the beach, but what about driving to work, walking the dog, or doing errands. Repeated daily exposure to the sun can actually cause significant premature aging. Researchers in Australia recently found in a study of 900 participants that those who consistently applied sunscreen daily had smoother, more resilient and younger-looking skin. So not only does skipping the daily sunscreen raise the risk of skin cancer, it also weakens skin cells and can surprisingly make us more prone to bruising and skin injury.
What you can do: Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 15, preferably 30. Use a nickel-size dollop for the face and an amount equivalent to a shot glass to cover all exposed areas of the body every day. Once it becomes a habit, it will only take a few minutes and can save you years of prematurely leathery skin.
3. Having a ‘Sweet Spot’ for Sugar
We know sugar can pack on the pounds, but health experts now believe that sugar is secretly aging us. Sugar damages our skin by drying out the collagen and elastin that are naturally present, resulting in dull, dry, sagging and wrinkle-prone skin. This process, known as glycation, also causes dark circles and puffiness, both of which are not only unattractive, but make us look and feel older. These effects begin at about age 35 and rapidly increase after that, according to a study published in the “British Journal of Dermatology.”
What you can do: Let’s face it, sugar is tough to eliminate completely, but trying to minimize consumption will pay off in a big way. Aim for no more than 10% of daily calories derived from sugar and watch out for those hidden sugars! Read labels and try to limit sweet treats to a few times per week.
4. You Think Exercise is Only for Weight Loss
Whether you need to lose weight or not, exercise literally helps turn back our body clock. Regular and consistent exercise—even something as simple as a daily 30-minute walk—can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, improve memory and concentration, increase muscle tone, and best of all, significantly reduce chronic stress. As a bonus, regular exercise will help the pounds stay off and protect our muscle mass and bone density.
What you can do: Go for a daily walk with a friend or Fido, take up a physical hobby or join a group sport or class. Get an exercise buddy or find an event to compete in. Anything that will motivate and make exercise more fun will help keep you active.
5. You Hold a Grudge
Holding on to a grudge or anger is not only damaging to your mental health, but can age you physically as well. If you can let things go, you may be adding years to your life. Studies have shown a link between forgiveness and physical health. A study published in the “Journal of Behavioral Medicine” showed that a lack of forgiveness lowered sleep quality, increased stress-causing hormones, raised blood pressure and elevated blood sugar, resulting in weight gain and an increased likelihood of needing medication. In short, learn how to let go, and you may live longer.
What you can do: Recognize that holding on to anger and resentment hurt you more than the other person. Forgiveness does not mean that you need to be a victim or give trust where it’s not warranted. Learn to let things go and you may indeed live longer … not to mention happier. And that’s the best revenge anyway!
6. You’re Too Busy for Your Friends
When you were younger, your friends probably figured prominently in your calendar, but as we acquire more responsibility, demanding jobs, partners, parenting and household duties the time for friends slips away. But making time for friends isn’t a luxury. Studies have shown that sustaining friendships are better predictors of longevity than even family. Strong friendships can help alleviate depression and deal with mental stress, as well as reduce our risk of many chronic conditions, all of which age us prematurely.
What can you do: Carve regular friend time in your schedule, even if it’s just once a week. Do it digitally if you have to. While in-person is best, communicating via email or Facebook counts too. Reach out to old and new friends and put effort into cultivating long-term relationships that nurture and support.
7. You Love the Remote
A “British Journal of Sports Medicine” study of 11,000 adults discovered that every hour in front of the TV shortens your life expectancy by 22 minutes, even more for the remote addicts among us, those who average more than six hours a day live on average five years less than non-TV watchers. It’s not so much about the TV watching, as it is the inactivity. And while you might not be able to change a sedentary job, you can control how much couch time you get.
What you can do: The simplest strategy is simply to watch less TV! But there are some tricks you might want to try. Watch TV while walking on the treadmill or exercising, buy one of those portable stepper machines and work off those chips while you’re at it. Or try getting up to walk around during every commercial break.
8. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Had Sex!
Yes, sex feels good, but it’s also fantastically healthy. Research shows that an active sex life can help strengthen your immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce pain, relieve depression and the “Journal of the American Medical Association” now reports sex may even lower your risk for certain types of cancer. During sex, the body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and other immune and mood-boosting substances that not only make you healthier and happier, but can actually make you look years younger.
What you can do: Things like getting more sleep and exercising can increase sex drive and energy. Also, you might try reading erotic or romantic material, getting a quick massage or dressing the part to get in the mood. For the practical minded…schedule it. Swap out that favorite TV show for some extra ‘love time.’ Your body…and your partner will thank you.
Featured photo credit: delta creme donuts – lucianvenutian via flickr.com