Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a woman (and the rare age-conscious man) say they wouldn’t mind looking and feeling just a little bit younger — five years, ten years, sometimes even twenty years.
The search for eternal youth and the ethos that we all deserve to look 25 forever drives the $200 billion anti-aging market. And while it might seem that creams, peels and lasers are the only solution, there is a lot we can do to reverse the aging process from the inside out.
What’s aging us the most? Here is a rundown of six surprising things that are probably aging you right now.
Mobile addiction is now a medical condition in the scientific literature. “Digital dementia” has been described by top neurologists worldwide as the result of too much screen time. It turns out that looking at screens all day may disrupt normal communication between the two hemispheres of the brain, and be detrimental to the part of the brain responsible for seeing, hearing, memory, emotions, motor control and decision-making. If you’re 28, forgetting common words and can’t remember what happened yesterday, before you blame senility, take a few days away from screens and see how your brain processes the present moment. For some people, that’s enough of a wakeup call.
Occasional stress is a good thing, but chronic stress — that sense of living in a state of emergency from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep — is toxic to the body. Stress creates cortisol, an adrenal hormone. When cortisol is chronically high, it increases blood sugar, which leads to weight gain, impaired sleep and immune-system suppression, making it harder to fight off infection and making the body slower to heal.
Alcohol, if consumed too frequently, is aging. Between dehydration, the liver-damaging effects of acetaldehyde (the toxin alcohol is broken down into) and the negative impact alcohol has on quality sleep — alcohol is a REM sleep-cycle inhibitor, which means it impedes deep, restorative sleep — it’s no wonder most people look and feel fresher without booze. Add to that the electric-green, sugary mixes most bar margaritas are concocted from, which contain anywhere from 12 to 25 grams of sugar, and the margarita wins for highest aging-impact drink.
You may turn to these for a burst of youthful energy, but energy drinks are essentially caffeinated water plus sugar — two things that will definitely age you faster. Studies show that common energy drinks, regardless of any added nutrients, have the same stimulating effect on the brain as a cup of caffeinated water, except unlike a coffee which you sip, an energy drink is packed with sweetners and designed to be guzzled. This can spike your blood sugar and lead to weight gain, pre-diabetes, insomnia and, for some, anxiety and mood disorders. Sugar has actually been shown to directly damage cellular proteins, which advances the aging process.
Lack of sleep
We all have that friend who claims to feel great after six hours of sleep a night, but before you feel jealous, know that chronic sleep deprivation isn’t doing them any favors when it comes to aging. The adage that you need your beauty sleep is, in fact, true. Sleep is when your brain and body take out the metabolic trash from their work during the day and literally detoxify, clearing out dead cells and proteins. Sleep restores moisture to the skin and lack of sleep prohibits this. Dry skin looks older and duller. Lack of sleep also impairs working memory and focus, and tends to drive one to sugar and caffeine (which we already know is a vicious cycle of aging).
You’ll probably want to sit down to hear this news. (But don’t stay that way for too long.) By age 75, we have lost half of the lean muscle mass we had at 25, meaning our metabolisms are slower, we’re more prone to bone breakage and we literally don’t have the get up and go we use to. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, this loss of muscle mass is accelerated. This is almost entirely avoidable! I recommend weight training two to three times per week for everyone, no matter their age, to keep up lean muscle. It’s the best way to stay spry.
There are plenty of simple anti-aging habits you can implement today, and that you don’t need a doctor (or a prescription, or a cream) for: Cut out added sugar and energy drinks; get at least seven hours of sleep per night; learn a relaxation practice like meditation to reduce cortisol; move, stretch and sweat for at least one hour per day; give your body a break from alcohol at least three days per week; and cut back on screen time. These practices are good for every aspect of your health, but particularly if you’re motivated by that elusive fountain of youth.
Parsley Health is a modern primary care practice in NY, LA and San Francisco that combines nutrition, prevention and wellness with cutting-edge medicine from top doctors. Dr. Berzin went to medical school at Columbia University and later trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.