Eating too much sugar certainly isn’t wise for your waistline, but did you know that overindulging in dessert can add years to your face? And even if you do strenuous cardio workouts each week, you’ll be missing out on potential anti-aging body benefits if your schedule doesn’t include yoga, weight training, and rest.
"Good nutrition is a fundamental building block of healthy skin," explains Leslie Baumann, MD, a Miami Beach dermatologist. The natural ingredients in whole foods such as romaine lettuce and strawberries help increase cell turnover, and boost production of collagen fibers to help keep skin smooth and firm. Conversely, foods with little-to-no nutritional benefits, like sugar-packed doughnuts, can actually damage the collagen and elastin that keep skin firm and youthful. These aging effects start at about age 35 and increase rapidly after that, according to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
Even if your diet is wholesome, you could be making exercise mistakes that age you as well. For example, if you only do cardio at the expense of other types of exercise, like yoga and strength-training, you could be missing out on skin-protective benefits.
Find out if you're making one of these 8 common aging diet and exercise mistakes, and get smart prevention strategies that can keep you slim and youthful for years to come.
1. You Overdo Dessert
The breakdown of sugars, called glycation, damages the collagen that keeps skin smooth and firm. To prevent this natural process from careening out of control, Naila Malik, MD, a derm in Southlake, TX, sticks to low-glycemic carbs like whole grains; they're naturally low in sugar, and the body processes them slowly to limit the loss of collagen. If you want to sweeten up your tea or oatmeal without making your skin look older, try all-natural stevia. It's an easily digested herbal sweetener that doesn't trigger glycation, according to board-certified dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD, an adjunct professor of medicine at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine.
2. You Spin Away Stress
Taking your work angst out on the Spinning bike or treadmill might make you feel better for a little while, but incorporating yoga into your fitness routine regularly may help you look younger and prevent breakouts while whittling away stress. Sounds like a winning workout to us! "Yoga moves like Child's Pose, Downward-Facing Dog, and Sun Salutations improve circulation—the boost of oxygen is what gives skin that lovely yoga glow," says Hema Sundaram, MD, a Washington, DC–area dermatologist. New research finds regular yoga practice may reduce the inflammation and stress that speed skin aging. If you need another reason to om away your stress: High levels of tension can spike hormone production that leads to breakouts or aggravates conditions like psoriasis. "Controlling stress keeps your skin calm," says Annie Chiu, MD, a derm in LA.
3. You Always Choose Coffee Over Tea
Research suggests that green and black tea contain protective compounds—like EGCG and theaflavins—that help prevent skin cancers and the breakdown of collagen, the cause of wrinkles.
4. You Pretend to Be Allergic to Dumbbells
Following a regular strength-training routine that creates better, more supportive muscle tone will help you firm sagging skin from the neck down. "I am religious about strength-training, and I always tell patients to do it more as they get older," says Patricia Farris, MD, a dermatologist in Metairie, LA. "It's like adding volume to the face with fillers, except on your body," says Dr. Farris.
5. Your Meat and Dairy Aren't Organic
"Hormones in traditionally produced dairy, poultry, and meat may contribute to acne," says Katie Rodan, MD, a dermatologist in the San Francisco Bay area. She says that her patients who eat those less frequently—or at least choose grain-fed beef and poultry and organic dairy—often notice their skin looks better.
6. You Don't Give Your Body a Break
When your exercise routine is so intense that you're tired all the time but can't sleep at night, you're setting yourself up for overuse injuries—not to mention dark circles and bags under your eyes from those sleepless nights. These symptoms could be a sign of overexhaustion, says Ryan Halvorson, personal trainer, IDEA Health and Fitness Association expert, and author. Other clues that you're working out too much include extreme muscle soreness that persists for several days, unintended weight loss, an increased resting heart rate, interruptions in your menstrual cycle, or decreased appetite. "Plan your rest as well as you plan exercise," says Polly de Mille, RN, a registered clinical exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. "If there is no balance between breakdown and recovery, then the muscle is in a state of chronic inflammation and what may start as a simple case of soreness after a hard workout can turn into an actual overuse injury."
7. You Drastically Cut Fat, Carbs, or Calories
When your diet isn't balanced, your skin, hair, and nails will suffer. Cutting calories can deprive your body of certain nutrients that promote healthy cell division, cell regeneration, and overall skin tone and texture, explains David E. Bank, MD, FAAD, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, NY. "The skin also requires essential fatty acids—which the body can't produce on its own—to maintain hydration. A diet that's too low in fat could cause dry skin, hair loss, and brittle nails." Other key youth-boosting nutrients include vitamins A, C, and E. Being deficient in A can cause acne, dry hair, dry skin, and broken fingernails. Get your daily vitamin A fix by eating five baby carrots each day. A lack of vitamin C can affect collagen synthesis (the "glue" that binds our ligaments, bones, blood vessels, and skin), impair wound healing, and make you more likely to bruise. Incorporate vitamin C–rich foods in the form of citrus fruits, brussels sprouts, peppers, and leafy greens. Low levels of vitamin E can result in easy bruising and cause chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis to flare up. Get more vitamin E in your diet by eating almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, spinach, and fortified cereals.
8. You're Missing Alkaline-Rich Foods
Kimberly Snyder, a Los Angeles nutritionist and author of The Beauty Detox Solution ($9.77; amazon.com), says she sees a big improvement in her clients' skin and hair when they eat more alkaline-forming foods, such as parsley, almonds, kale, pears, lemons, and apples. "If your body is too acidic, which can happen when your diet is unbalanced, it leaches the alkaline minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, that allow us to have strong, healthy bones, teeth, and hair," Snyder explains.