Are you aging faster than your years? If you don't like what you see in the mirror, it may be time to evaluate some of your daily routines. The foods you eat and even the way you sleep can add years to your face and may shorten your lifespan. Here, experts discuss the most common age-accelerating habits and ways to reverse the process.
If your to-do list never seems to get any shorter, the stress from your hectic life may be taxing your body. "People think multitasking is good, but you don't actually get anything done-you just create more stress," said Dr. Raymond Casciari, chief medical officer of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. Several studies show that chronic stress triggers the release of free radicals, the unstable molecules that damage cells and are responsible for aging. Instead of trying to do it all, Casciari suggests concentrating on one task at a time and only moving on once you finish it.
You rarely pass up dessert
Aside from adding excess pounds to your body, your sweet tooth may also be adding years to your face. "Internally, sugar molecules attach themselves to protein fibers in each of our cells," said Dr. Susan Stuart, a San Diego, Calif. board-certified dermatologist. This damaging process, known as glycation, can result in a loss of radiance, dark circles under the eyes, loss of tone, puffiness, an increase in fine lines and wrinkles and a loss of facial contours and increased pore size. Pass on the sugary treats if you want to preserve your youthful glow.
You get by on fewer than five hours sleep a night
Skimping on sleep not only results in dark bags under the eyes-it has also been linked to a shorter lifespan, said Casciari, who founded a sleep laboratory at St. Joseph's Hospital. "Sleeping within the seven-hour range is optimal," he said. Get to bed earlier if you have the symptoms of sleep deprivation, which include a lack of daytime energy, mental sluggishness, attention problems, or weight gain, Casciari said.
You love a good TV marathon
Binge-watching the latest season of House of Cards is one thing; regularly gluing yourself to the TV is another. In a British Journal of Sports Medicine study of about 11,000 Australians ages 25 and older, researchers found that for every hour of television watched, adults cut their life expectancy by 22 minutes. What's more, people who spent an average of six hours a day watching TV lived five years less than their non-viewing counterparts.
"This effect is more about sitting and being inactive than the TV watching," Casciari said. "When you sit for more than 30 minutes your body begins to deposit sugar into your cells, which makes it much more likely you'll be overweight as well." Whether you're watching TV or at your desk, get up every 30 minutes to walk around, he said.
You spend most of the day sitting
The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle are well-documented: People who spend most of their days parked in a chair are at increased risk for kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, not to mention obesity.
Naturally, exercising regularly helps to prevent these health issues and keeps you living longer, according to a study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Study participants who exercised 150 minutes or more a week lived 10 to 13 years longer than the inactive bunch.
You don't use eye cream
Even a no-fuss skincare routine needs to include a good eye cream to keep aging wrinkles at bay. Skin around the eyes is thinner than the skin on the rest of your face and shows age faster, Stuart said. Keeping the eye area moisturized can take years off your face.
"Eye creams that are most effective contain Retin A, a form of vitamin A," said Stuart. Other important factors include emollients and moisturizers that trap moisture, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C. "These promote formation of collagen and elastin to tighten the skin and reduce fine lines around the eyes," Stuart said.
You use sunscreen, but only on vacation
Running errands, driving, and walking back and forth to the mailbox may do more damage to your skin than spending a day at the beach if you do it sans sunblock, said Dr. Sarah L. Taylor, associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
"The number-one cause of nearly every sign of premature aging on the human face is ultraviolet exposure," Taylor said. "UV light is present even when it's cloudy or raining." Protect your skin by wearing sunblock any time you go outdoors. Taylor recommends an SPF between 30 and 50 for daily use.
You wear too much makeup
Metallic blue eye shadow aside, excess makeup can age you in less obvious ways, too, said Stuart. "Wearing excessive amounts of makeup, especially oil based products, can clog your skin pores and cause outbreaks." In addition, overusing skin products with fragrances, irritating chemicals, and alcohol agents may dry out the skin by removing its natural oils, which causes premature lines and wrinkles. Consult with your dermatologist for guidance.
You sleep with your face in the pillow
Sleeping on your stomach or on your side with your face smashed into the pillow can create wrinkles and accelerate aging. "The connective tissue and collagen in your face becomes weaker and less supportive with age," said Dr. James C. Marotta, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon and skincare expert. "So when you sleep on the same side of your face night after night, your skin won't smooth out or spring back as quickly as it did when you were young." Those crease lines from your pillow can become permanent. Sleep on your back or invest in a satin pillowcase to keep skin smooth.
You keep your home toasty warm
When it's a snowy mess outside, it's tempting to crank up the heat indoors. But whether you light up the fireplace or turn up the thermostat, both suck moisture out of the air, Marotta said. "This can lead to dry, inflamed skin, which over time has aging effects." Investing in a humidifier helps counteract the dry air (40 to 60% humidity is optimal) and can free your skin from itching, scratching, and flaking. Alternatively, Marotta recommends placing a wet towel over a radiator or a bowl of cold water in the room as a way to add back some of the lost moisture.
You sip drinks through a straw
Drinking dark-colored beverages through a straw can prevent stains on your teeth, but just as squinting can eventually cause wrinkles to form around your eyes, pursing your lips can also bring about premature wrinkles around the mouth. "This also occurs when smoking cigarettes," said Dr. Janet Prystowsky, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. Pour your bottled beverages into a drinking glass to avoid puckering up.
You cut out all fat from your diet
Some fat is necessary for maintaining a youthful feeling and appearance, said Franci Cohen, a certified nutritionist and exercise physiologist from Brooklyn, NY. "Heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel) and certain nuts (such as walnuts and flax seeds) keep skin supple and plump, thereby preventing wrinkles, and they boost both heart and brain health as well," she said. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends including fish in your meals at least twice a week.
Slumping in front of a keyboard for hours on end can cause your spine to form an unattractive and potentially harmful hunched posture over time, said Dr. Jeremy Smith, orthopedic spine surgeon at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, Calif.
"The spine has a well-balanced S-shaped curvature in order to stabilize and support us," Smith said. "Poor posture or slouching deviates the spine from this normal alignment, and as a result, the muscles, disks and bones become abnormally stressed." Pain and fatigue often follow, and possibly spinal degeneration and a permanent deformity. Practice good posture by checking it throughout the day: ear, shoulder, and hip should form a straight line when seated.