As hot as the anti-aging market is right now, we all know that aging is inevitable. And yet, it's entirely possible to do it well.
When it comes to aging, the goal isn't necessarily just to live longer, but to extend your years of healthy life.
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"The scientific term is 'healthspan,' which represents the time period of life in which a person is free of debilitating disease," Stephen Anton, PhD, of the Institute on Aging in the Department of Aging & Geriatric Research at University of Florida Health, tells LIVESTRONG.com. This is a mix of health, happiness and good quality of life.
While there is a genetic component to aging, how you live matters, too.
"It's pretty clear that there are certain habits that can shorten our lifespan," Dr. Anton says. We can then presume that avoiding these habits may help you may live longer — and better.
Here are six things that age you:
Mistake 1: Sitting Around a Lot
Being sedentary is a risk factor for a host of diseases. But in the past, there was the thought that if you exercised during the day, it didn't matter if you were parked on your duff for the rest of it.
"It's becoming clear that this is not the case. Even if you do exercise, what you do in the remaining 16 hours when awake also has an influence on your health," Dr. Anton says.
Fix it: Breaking up periods of sitting with activity is a good idea, so stand up or walk around for a few minutes each hour, he says.
Conversely then, the most important factor in aging well is exercise, Carolyn Kaloostian, MD, MPH, geriatric medicine specialist with Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, tells LIVESTRONG.com. A regular walking routine is what you need. "This helps maintain resiliency. Resiliency is what keeps us from aging," she says.
Mistake 2: Dining Out Too Much
We Americans generally eat too much sodium (3,400 mg per day, on average, when the recommended limit is 2,300 mg), and about a quarter of it comes from restaurant food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fix it: "Reducing sodium content in meals is key. This is particularly true for preventing chronic diseases like hypertension and heart disease," Dr. Kaloostian says.
She recommends making more of your meals at home to avoid the hidden sodium that's packed into restaurant and take-out fare.
Mistake 3: Skimping on Vegetables
Veggies might not be the sexiest thing — and you've heard it time and time again to eat more — but skipping them does a disservice to your health.
"The foundation of your health is the food [you eat]," Kimberly Gomer, RD, LDN, director of nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "I've been at Pritikin for nine years. After changing people's diets, the first thing that happens is that they look like the fountain of youth," she says.
Fix it: Plant-based diets rich in veggies provide ample fiber — a heart-healthy, insulin-regulating, anti-cancer nutrient — and protective anti-inflammatory vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. And if you're filling up on veggies, you're also not eating the types of processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat that drive disease-causing inflammation.
Mistake 4: Staying Up Late and Eating Late
"Sleep restores the mind and body by allowing cells to repair and rejuvenate," Dr. Anton says. "It is vital for health on par with a healthy diet and physical activity. These are the big three for aging," he says.
Fix it: In truth, everyone needs a different amount of sleep, but the general recommendation is to get at least seven hours of shut-eye each night. The key is that you should wake up feeling rested.
Not everyone has the luxury of choosing the hours they work, but if you have control of your schedule, you'll also want to sleep when it's dark and wake up when it's light, a pattern that's health-promoting, Dr. Anton says. (Yes, this sounds basic, but we all know that a solid sleep routine doesn't always happen in practice.)
Lastly, avoid eating high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar foods or drinking a lot of alcohol too close to bedtime.
"Those behaviors disrupt sleep and impair the body's ability to go through important cellular quality control processes," Dr. Anton says. That process is when cells remove waste in the form of toxins or damaged cells so that they can repair and rejuvenate to function in a healthier manner.
Allow at least a couple hours between eating and going to sleep, he says.
Mistake 5: Drinking a Lot of Alcohol
Overall, the pandemic hasn't been good for our drinking habits, and many people report increasing their alcohol consumption. But it's a good idea to scale back.
"Chronic, excessive alcohol consumption has significant impacts on aging well. It impacts nutrition with deficiencies in thiamine (vitamin B1) and other nutrients for brain and heart health," Dr. Kaloostian says.
What's more, excessive alcohol also bathes your liver and bone marrow in toxins that damage your organs and immune system, she says.
Fix it: While the current recommendation from the CDC is that people assigned male at birth should limit themselves to two drinks per day and people assigned female at birth should stick to no more than one, there's increasing evidence that there are health-protective benefits of consuming just half of that.
Mistake 6: Smoking
Similarly, smoking is a habit you'll want to scale back in order to avoid premature aging and health problems as you grow older.
For one, the nicotine in a cigarette contains toxins that break down collagen in your skin, which can lead to early development of wrinkles and sagging skin, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Nicotine toxins likewise decrease skin elasticity.
Smoking can also damage your lungs — in fact, people who smoke are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from it than people who do not smoke, according to the CDC. Even smoking an occasional cigarette increases your risk for lung cancer.
Fix it: If you don't currently smoke, skip cigarettes altogether. If you do smoke, cut the habit as soon as you can: According to the CDC, quitting smoking — no matter your age — can decrease your risk for lung cancer.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Sodium and Food Sources”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”
- Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: “Part D. Chapter 11: Alcoholic Beverages”
- Cleveland Clinic: "Signs of Premature Aging"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.