9 habits that accelerate aging, according to science

9 habits that accelerate aging, according to science

There’s no escaping aging, and we shouldn’t feel pressured to look like we’ve escaped it either. But looking much older or younger than your biological age isn’t just down to genetics.

Lifestyle can really make a difference in how old you feel and look. Dr. Noel Young, clinical innovations associate at home blood testing company Thriva (thriva.co), says: “While our life expectancy may be increasing, our lifespan, the time we spend in good health, is still much lower than expected.

” Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, which in most cases stem from lifestyle, are very common and are associated with faster aging.”

Young notes that “these conditions are linked to shorter telomeres” (structures that cap the end of our chromosomes and protect them from damage), but adds: “The good news is that adopting certain lifestyle changes can help prevent chronic diseases and the faster aging that accompanies them”.

These are the 11 lifestyle choices that can make you age faster.

1. Drink too much

A new study from the University of Oxford has found new evidence that alcohol accelerates biological aging by damaging DNA. The experts examined data from almost 250,000 people and found that those who drank more than 17 units of alcohol per week had shorter telomeres.

Study leader Dr Anya Topiwala explains: “Shortened telomeres (more advanced biological aging) increase the risks of later diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease. Obviously we can’t change our genetics, but we can potentially change our lifestyle by reducing alcohol intake, increasing exercise, and quitting smoking, if we want to reduce the risk of faster biological aging.

2. The sunlight

Several studies have shown that sunlight can age skin: A 2013 French study found that UV exposure was responsible for 80 percent of visible signs of facial aging.

3. Spending a lot of time sitting

We are becoming more and more sedentary and as we get older it is more difficult to build muscle. Young says that we lose about 1% of our muscle mass each year starting at age 35, putting us at risk for osteoporosis, frailty, and falls with injuries, such as hip fractures, as we age.

“So stay active in your day-to-day,” he says. “Try things like walking 4,000 to 6,000 steps a day or taking the stairs. Do some form of regular exercise that you enjoy, such as swimming, yoga, or playing sports. Even simple changes, like using a standing desk, can help keep your legs and muscles strong.”

4. Smoking

Smoking is thought to affect the production of collagen, the protein that keeps skin healthy and elastic. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, which is why the skin begins to sag and wrinkle. Smoking can accelerate this process, causing premature aging.

A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta found four factors that can help prevent nearly 80 percent of chronic diseases often associated with aging. The research indicated that these are: never smoking, having a body mass index of less than 30, performing 3.5 hours a week or more of physical activity and following a healthy diet with a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, wholemeal bread and low meat consumption.

5. A poor diet

High-fiber foods like vegetables, beans, grains and fruits are linked to longer telomeres and a better lifespan, explains Young, who says these foods are packed with nutrients like vitamins C and E and beta-carotene as well as other antioxidants. The fiber they contain is also an important nutrient that helps regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, and maintain a healthy gut biome.

“It’s also important to include healthy fat sources like fish, avocados, and nuts,” she says. “These foods are highly important in eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet, which may be why they are particularly beneficial for health.”

Some foods are linked to poorer health outcomes and shorter telomeres. These include foods like red and processed meats and sugary drinks. “It’s best to limit them as much as possible,” Young emphasizes.

6. Being too stressed

Long-term stress is associated with shorter telomeres, and Young says it’s a good idea to actively try to manage stress. “You can start by noticing what triggers your stress by keeping a journal, and relaxation therapies like deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, and exercise like yoga can also help. If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, it is important to talk to your GP and seek appropriate help.”

8. Skipping vitamins

Vitamin D is an important nutrient to help reduce the effects of aging, says Young, as low levels are linked to shorter lifespans. “It is recommended to be taken as a supplement in the UK during the winter months (October-March) as it is quite difficult to obtain from food sources. Sunlight is a good source in the summer, but aim for reasonable levels (and, of course, wear sunscreen).

According to an Italian study from 2022, taking an omega-3 supplement can increase telomere length. Young suggests that anti-inflammatory compounds have other beneficial effects, such as helping to control blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, which is beneficial for heart health.

9. Lack of sleep

Shorter telomeres are associated with not getting enough sleep, says Young, who notes that sleep deprivation also increases the chance of unhealthy behaviors like not exercising and eating sugary and fatty foods, increasing disease risk.

“It’s important to get seven to nine hours of good quality sleep a day,” he emphasizes. “Pay attention to your bedtime routine and environment, avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch and screens, and exercise an hour or two before bed. And make sure, as much as possible, that your sleeping environment is dark, quiet, and cool.”