Every year, Americans pump tens of billions of dollars into the antiaging industry. From wrinkle creams and skin-perfecting lotions to enzyme face masks, eye de-puffers, and plastic surgery, the list of tricks and tools for magically preserving our youth goes on and on.
But what if, instead, we focused on improving the lifestyle habits that naturally influence our physiological aging (inside and out)? There is no cream, solution, or surgical procedure that will ever match the powerful and far-reaching benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Plus, it’s far less expensive and invasive.
Here are eight factors that can lead to premature aging — and what we can do to reverse their time-accelerating effects.
1. Not getting enough sleep.
Getting enough “beauty sleep” is more than just an expression: The amount and quality of the sleep you get influences the release of human growth hormone (HGH), a key factor in regulating the aging process. Focus on getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to support optimal hormone balance and to allow your body to fully recover from the day’s stresses. Sleep deprivation is a potent form of stress for your body, which can also negatively affect aging — see point No. 5 below.
Start by assessing where you are and work your way toward that seven- to eight-hour goal. To maximize normal hormone secretion, make sure your bedroom is dark and limit the use of blue light-emitting electronics at least two hours before bed.
Try for an earlier bedtime as well, as some of the most restorative effects of sleep happen in the first four to five hours, and be consistent with your sleep-wake times to support your circadian rhythm. If you can, also avoid sleeping face down to help prevent the pulling or stretching of skin.
2. Not drinking enough water.
Roughly four out of every five people in America are dehydrated. The trillions of cells in your body all need water in some capacity, and when they have less than optimal hydration, they don’t function as well as they should. Among its numerous benefits, adequate hydration can help maintain healthy moisture in our skin, making us less prone to wrinkles.
Figure out what your personal water needs are (aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces) and how many glasses or bottles you’ll need to meet that target. Try increasing your intake by one glass per day until you reach that goal.
3. Skipping strength training.
As we age, we naturally start to lose muscle tissue, and as we lose muscle, our skin becomes looser. A reduction in lean mass also affects our stature, not to mention our overall health and potential longevity.
Prioritize making strength training a consistent part of your fitness routine in order to maintain your muscle mass over time. Keep it simple with the basic movement patterns: push, pull, bend, twist, squat, and lunge. If you experience joint pain, try moving to a more stable surface. You can also slow down your movements to help build joint stability while still experiencing the full benefits of strength training.
If you’re new to strength training, commit to a session at least once per week. Gradually work your way up to strength training two to three days per week. Balance your training with individually appropriate cardio efforts and recovery time to ensure you aren’t doing too much in any one area. And remember: It’s never too late to start — basic bodyweight moves are great for beginners.
4. Consuming too much sugar.
Our diets have an enormous impact on the way we look and feel, with high sugar intake being a key dietary culprit in how we age on both the inside and outside. Elevated glucose (which occurs from eating too much sugar) not only negatively affects our energy, body composition, and hormone balance, but it also increases rates of glycation, which inhibits the regeneration of collagen and contributes to the subsequent wrinkling and sagging of our skin.
Focus on eating a clean diet at least 80 percent of the time. Choose foods that support your metabolism and complexion, including whole, natural foods like vegetables and fruits (which are high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants), high-quality animal protein, and essential fats from foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.
5. Leaving stress unmanaged.
Stress can age us quickly. I always use the example of American presidents: If you compare photos of them before they serve their term(s) to those taken after their term(s), you’ll notice a huge change occurs over those four to eight years. While we can’t always avoid stress, we can learn how to manage it better. By doing so, we can decrease the effect that the catabolic stress hormone, cortisol, can have on our bodies and our appearance.
Identify what helps you to de-stress the most and practice self-care on a daily basis. That could mean meditating, getting regular massages, or deep breathing — whatever works for you. Learn to effectively communicate with others and to accept when you can’t control given circumstances in your life or work. The more you can learn to proactively notice and respond to stressors, the better you’ll be at managing your stress levels.
6. Overlooking daily detoxification.
We are all overexposed to toxins every day through our environments, diets, cosmetics, household products, and more — they’re everywhere. Although we have internal organs and natural processes that support our body’s detoxification, our toxic loads often become so high that we routinely overtax these systems. Certain toxins can store in our tissues that also disrupt cell signaling and the health of the cell membrane.
You can support natural detoxification through a clean diet, lymphatic massage, and sauna time. It’s also important to make an effort to reduce your exposure to toxins often found in conventional food, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies. For more concentrated support, talk with a Life Time nutrition coach about our D.TOX program (as a bonus, it can also help kickstart weight loss and enhance your overall health).
Focus on consuming mostly whole foods that are known for their detox supportive qualities. You can also practice detox-supporting self-care, such as dry brushing before you take a shower or adding Epsom salt to your bath.
7. Being sedentary.
Movement is essential for maintaining and optimizing your body’s metabolic functioning. While that may mean getting in a great workout first thing every single morning for some people, for others it might simply mean moving as much as possible throughout the day.
When you sit for an extended period, your body starts to grow “fuzz” in between your muscles, making it harder for you to move out of that position. Think of how you feel when you first wake up or if you’ve ever been fresh out of a cast after an injury. The same principle holds for sedentary living. They say sitting is the new smoking for good reason.
Start tracking your steps to get a feel for how much you move each day. A pedometer can be a great tool to assist you with this. Ideally, you want to aim to get in 10,000 steps per day in addition to concerted exercise. If you find yourself far from that number now, break down your goal to make it more achievable and gradually increase your steps each week. Even short, planned walking breaks during your day can make a big difference.
8. Prioritizing products over prevention.
Instead of spending money on products that claim to offer external “fixes” — and that are often filled with toxins — know that effective anti-aging efforts begin internally. Outside of the lifestyle factors above, one other significant and cost-effective measure would be to assess your metabolism and hormone levels by getting comprehensive blood testing done. This can help you identify issues or imbalances so you can then direct your time and effort to focus on the areas in both your lifestyle and healthcare that could have the greatest effects on your overall health and well-being.
Knowing the state of your health is a great first step in preventing accelerated aging. I recommend getting routine blood work done at least once a year. A great test would look at all areas of your metabolism, including thyroid balance, glucose and insulin, inflammation, stress hormones, sex hormones, and detoxification measures.