Aging is one of those annoying things that we can’t do anything about. Or is it? There’s mounting evidence that our diets and lifestyles dramatically affect the pace at which we age. It seems far-fetched – after all, people of a certain age group tend to look similar, give or take a couple of years. But evidence from animals and people would seem to suggest otherwise.

Take mice, for instance. Normal mice live to between two and two and a half years. But if you restrict how many calories they eat, they wind up living up to forty percent longer. Humans seem to have dramatic differences in lifespan too. People living in Western countries with bad diets live to an average age of about 77, with medical care. Fewer than one in ten thousand make it to age 100. But in some places, the number of people reaching age 100 is a far higher proportion of the population. There are Italian towns, for instance, where that number is closer to one in three.

It all suggests that aging isn’t as fixed as was once thought. What’s more, lifestyle appears to be the key. In other words, we actually have a bit of control over the pace at which we age. That’s exciting.

The problem is that our lifestyles aren’t exactly what you would call healthy. Most of us are stressed out of our brains, grabbing food and sleep wherever we can. Then we wind up looking older before our time. Here we’re going to take a look at some of the worst habits that can affect aging. Let’s dive in.

You Smoke

smoke-1001664_1280

We all know that smoking causes diseases like lung cancer and heart disease. But could it affect the rate at which you age too?

The answer is yes. Cigarettes smoke contains dangerous chemicals. When these chemicals get into your bloodstream, they prevent oxygen from being delivered to your skin. When skin is chronically deprived of oxygen, it starts to go pale and eventually yellow. Cigarette smoke then starts to attack the collagen under the skin that keeps in firm and bouncy. Once it breaks down the collagen, the skin suddenly becomes wrinkled and saggy.

But it’s not just the physical appearance of skin that changes. Researchers have also found that it speeds up aging dramatically. A study published back in 2007 by the Journal of Dermatological Science discovered smoking leads to cell damage. Specifically, smoking damaged the areas of the cell responsible for cell-repair. Smoking actually undermined the body’s ability to deal with the stresses of daily life. As a result, skin looked older before its time.

Another study investigated the effects of smoking on skin aging in twins. The study in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that smokers looked five years old than non-smokers.

You Drink To Excess

For a while, drinking the odd glass of wine has been associated with better health and longer life. Red wine has been put forward as the so-called solution to the French Paradox. Researchers believe that chemicals in red wine help protect the body against the fatty, cheesy diet of the French.

But as time goes on, the damaging effects of alcohol are becoming all the more apparent. The French paradox doesn’t appear to be a paradox at all. The French live longer, not because of their wine, but because they eat more vegetables than most European countries.

Alcohol causes aging for a number of reasons. The first is that, like smoking, it starves the body of the nutrients it needs. Alcohol stops the body from absorbing vitamins A and C. These vitamins are required for maintaining glowing, supple skin. It’s believed that alcohol may be partially responsible for outbreaks of rosacea.

A study in Cancer Causes and Control found in 2014 that cancer also dramatically increases the prevalence of melanoma in the skin. Those who drank the most white wine and spirits saw that highest rates of cancer.

The American Heart Association recommends that men should limit themselves to one or two drinks per day and women to just one. You can get info from Clearbrook Treatment Centers on how to cut down further.

Excess Exposure To The Sun

We’ve known for a long time now that excessive exposure to the sun can lead to certain types of cancer. UV rays penetrate the surface of the cell and damage DNA directly, often knocking genes out of place. It’s not surprising, therefore, that sun exposure also accelerates the aging process. Sun exposure leads to weakened skin and subcutaneous blood vessels. It also contributes to making the skin more leathery and destroys its elasticity.

An astonishing study published by in 2013 by a clinical journal estimated that 80 percent of facial aging was thanks to sun exposure.

The recommendation right now is to use SPF 30 sunscreen at a minimum. People with fair skin should also wear a hat outside during the middle of the day. If you want a tan, don’t go to the sunbeds. Instead, use a rub on self-tanner.

You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

4281342672_fdb8f5aa79_b

Just a single night of inadequate sleep can leave you bleary-eyed and look more tired than normal. But it’s not a one-off bad night that is the problem. It’s not getting quality sleep night after night.

Sleep deprivation has a number of different, but equally devastating effects on your body. The first is that a lack of sleep leads to an increase in a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that is released when we are in danger or when we do intense exercise. It’s the body’s way of making sure that we are alert and ready to deal with danger. In small quantities, the hormone is harmless – and possibly beneficial. But in larger amounts, it can be dangerous. When cortisol levels are chronically high, inflammation in the body increases. And this can show through our skin. Second, collagen forms when we are asleep. If we don’t get deep sleep, collagen doesn’t form, and our skin loses its suppleness.

The University Hospitals Case Medical Center wanted to find out what the effect of a lack of sleep was on skin aging. They found several effects. The first was that people who didn’t sleep well had much more prominent signs of skin aging. It also found that their skin was less able to recover after exposure to “environmental stressors.” In other words, people who don’t sleep well experience more skin damage at the hands of UV rays and cigarette smoke.

The advice right now is to get between seven and nine hours of sleep to avoid skin prematurely aging.

You Have An Uncontrollable Sweet Tooth

Our taste buds are taught from an early age to love sugar. Our mother’s milk is naturally sweet. And then when we move onto solid foods, we’re fed a diet of processed junk and sugar. It’s not ideal.

The problem is that once we’ve gotten a sweet tooth, it can be almost impossible to kick. As a result, we grow up and continue with the same habits that were formed when we were children.

Sugary diets are really bad for our collective waistlines, as well as bad for the aging of our skin. The reason sugar is bad for our skin is down to a process called glycation. Our skin is kept young by protein-containing substances, like collagen and elastin. The sugar that we eat attaches itself to proteins in the skin. And, as a result, it damages all the protein-containing substances we need to stay youthful. The result? Rough skin that looks older than its years.

A study published in the online journal PLoS Genetics showed how eating too much sugar can lead to age-related diseases. These diseases include obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks.

A study in 2014 found that drinking sugary drinks, including sodas, specifically increase the rate at which people age.

Removing sugar from your diet completely can be difficult. But now top health experts are recommending that people eat no more than six teaspoons worth of the stuff each day.

If you have a sweet tooth and love chocolate, try making the switch to dark chocolate.

You Hate Yourself And The Rest Of Humanity

At first blush, it seems strange to think that our thoughts can control the way that we look. But when you think about it in a little more detail, it starts to make a lot more sense. Our brains aren’t separated from our bodies. They’re an intimate part of them. And what we think can affect processes elsewhere in the body. When we feel stressed, for instance, our blood pressure rises. When we feel nervous, we might sweat more and so on.

Stress is the most important emotion that science has investigated so far. In 2005 the Journal of Behavioural Medicine published a study on the matter. It showed that people who forgave others experienced less stress. The researcher argued that those who experienced less stress would also age slower since stress and aging are related. Stress, they pointed out, can also lead to health problems that themselves can cause aging.