When it comes to getting older, all of us would like to turn back the clock (or at least hit snooze for a bit). Increasingly, actual science has found there are things we do every day that age us prematurely—and conversely, there are things we can do to keep ourselves looking and feeling younger, and extend our years of optimal health.
1 Stressing Out
These days, researchers are sounding the alarm about just how destructive constant stress is to our bodies: It increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses.
What’s more, stress can actually age us on the cellular level. Harvard Medical School reports that chronic stress seems to shorten telomeres, the structures inside each of our cells that house DNA. Telomeres start out long and get shorter; when they get too short, a cell eventually dies.
2 Eating red meat frequently
A study published in BMJ found that consuming more red meat is associated with an increased risk of dying from eight common diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, or for any cause at all.
In analyzing health data from 537,000 adults aged 50 to 71, researchers found that people who consumed the most red meat had a 26 percent higher chance of dying than those who ate the least.
Certain ingredients in red meat—like nitrates and heme iron—may be to blame. But people who ate the most white meat, including poultry and fish, were 25 percent less likely to die than people who consumed the least.
3 Drinking too much alcohol
Once consumed, alcohol dehydrates and inflames the skin, which can cause facial flushing, swelling and broken capillaries, all of which make you look older than you are. In a 2019 multinational study of more than 3,200 women, researchers found that those who drank more than eight drinks a week had more “upper facial lines, under-eye puffiness, oral commissures, midface volume loss, and blood vessels” than women who drank moderately or abstained.
4 Eating too much sugar
When we eat sugar, it reacts with protein in the body, a process called glycation. Specifically, sugar binds to collagen and elastin, the two compounds in skin that keeps it looking plump and youthful, producing advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.
That causes damage in the form of sagging and wrinkles. Cutting back on sugar-sweetened and processed foods is an all-around good idea—it can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes, helping ensure you’ll stay youthful inside and out.