10 habits that are aging you prematurely

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published April 15, 2019

Key Takeaways

Quests for youth date back millennia. Alexander the Great was fabled to have found a healing “river of paradise” in the fourth century BC. During the Middle Ages, people believed that the mythical king Prester John ruled over a kingdom that was home to not only a fountain of youth, but also a river of gold. And the indigenous Taíno of the Caribbean spread word of a magic fountain and rejuvenating river that lay north of Cuba. Such tales led people to speculate that when Ponce de León set out for Florida, he was looking for the fountain of youth. He was, however, more likely looking for riches and political influence.

Although most people no longer believe in elixirs of youth, science is informing us that certain behaviors can have premature aging effects on our bodies and minds. The real fountain of youth may, therefore, lie—in part—in curbing some of these lifestyle choices.

  1. Watching too much television

We live in the golden age of television, and binge watching has never been better. But there are limits on the amount of Netflix or Hulu that your health can bear.

In an article published in JAMA Psychiatry, Hoang and colleagues found that watching ≥ 3 hours a day of television combined with low levels of physical activity in early adulthood were correlated with reduced executive function and processing speed in middle age. The authors suggested that curbing these behaviors might prevent cognitive aging.

  1. Having poor sleep habits

Early morning routines followed by burning the midnight oil can take its toll on your skin. Poor sleep was linked to premature skin aging, according to a study supported by Estée Lauder and conducted by researchers at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center. Poor sleepers demonstrated more signs of skin aging and slower recovery from environmental stressors, including disruption of the skin barrier or ultraviolet radiation. Poor sleepers also had impaired insight into their own skin and facial appearance.

  1. Making unhealthy choices

In a high-powered cohort study, Australian researchers found that smoking, physical inactivity, high alcohol intake, poor diet, prolonged sitting, and unhealthy (short or long) sleep duration worked synergistically to increase risk for all-cause mortality.

“This analysis investigated four established and two novel risk factors, namely, prolonged sitting and unhealthy sleep duration, which may be added to behavioral indices or risk combinations to quantify health risk,” concluded the researchers. “The prevalent combinations of risk factors suggest new strategic targeting for chronic disease prevention.”

  1. Not feeling your age

For those who believe that age is just a number, this study is for you. People who felt older than they actually were had increased rates of hospitalizations, according to a study published in Health Psychology. This effect held up after controlling for age, sex, race, education, and to a lesser extent, disease burden and depression.

  1. Holding grudges

With respect to your lifespan, it’s probably a good idea to let grudges go. The conditional forgiveness of others—as opposed to unconditional forgiveness—is associated with higher mortality, according to research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. The researchers concluded that “the mortality risk of conditional forgiveness may be conferred by its influences on physical health.”

  1. Barbecuing

However delicious, barbecuing might burn away years of your life. Chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when muscle meat—including beef, pork, fish, or poultry—are cooked using high-temperature methods, such as barbecuing or frying. HCAs and PAHs are mutagenic and may, therefore, increase cancer risk.

In various epidemiologic studies, investigators have examined the relationship between meat consumption and cooking methods using detailed surveys. Some have found that well-done, fried, or barbecued meats are linked to the highest risks of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. Other researchers, however, have failed to show these links.

And, while we’re on the topic of barbecuing, let’s add that in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) judged the consumption of red meat to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on data from the epidemiologic studies and compelling evidence from mechanistic studies.

  1. Eating sugary foods

Here’s another reason to pass on sugary snacks. Highly processed, sugar-added foods contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs). In animal models, accumulation of AGEs in various tissues has been associated with peripheral insulin resistance and alterations in lipid metabolism. Furthermore, on a cellular level, AGEs interfere with lipid synthesis, inflammation, antioxidant defenses, and mitochondrial metabolism. Via impact on different signaling patterns, AGEs may also contribute to liver, skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, and brain damage, as well as metabolic disease.

“Indeed, the most recent reports on the effects of high sugar consumption and diet-derived AGEs on human health reviewed here suggest the need to limit the dietary sources of AGEs, including added sugars, to prevent the development of metabolic diseases and related comorbidities,” wrote the authors of a review published in Nutrients.

  1. Not meditating

If you wish to counteract the effects of aging on the brain, you may want to start thinking about meditation. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that meditation might help preserve gray matter in the brain, which contains neurons. This preservation could protect against mental illness and neurodegenerative diseases.

  1. Not detoxing

Cognition relies on the central nervous system (CNS) to maintain high rates of energy production at all times. A healthy internal electrochemical environment is necessary for cognitive longevity. During oxidative stress, the CNS is exposed to reactive oxygen species, which deregulate the supply of oxygen to the CNS. Reactive oxygen species also result in mitochondrial decay. The combined effects of oxidative stress and mitochondrial decay lead to a process similar to cognitive aging.

In a literature review published in Nutrition, Michael J. Glade, PhD, recommended dietary supplementation with antioxidants and other neuroprotective nutrients as a means of neuroprotection. “Maintenance of redox balance within the [CNS] can forestall cognitive decline and promote cognitive longevity,” he wrote.

  1. Over-working

Work-related exhaustion may be associated with shorter leukocyte telomere length, according to the results of a Finnish study published in PLOS ONE. In turn, shortened telomeres can accelerate aging and reduce longevity. If you’re feeling overworked, maybe it’s time to cut back some.

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