When it comes to aging healthfully and beautiful, it’s all about controlling the controllables. Review this quick list of the most aging habits. I’ll bet you find at least one habit that hits close to home. For me, that’s habits #6, 8 listed below. In fairness, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you are or would classified as “an active person” when you work out a few times per week. But working out 4 or 5 times per week and spend the remainder of your time sitting or reclining, you do NOT qualify as an active person. I was not active. Even now, I usually vacillate somewhere between sedentary and lightly active. I don’t have an active job or do heavy labor like a construction worker or an environmental services worker.
Bad Habits that Are Aging You
1. You’re a Couch Potato – Sure, sometimes you can’t make it to the gym. But if you find excuses to avoid exercise on a regular basis, you’re sure to add years to your RealAge. “Burning less than 500 calories a day through some sort of exercise makes your risk for death from any cause extraordinarily high,” says Keith Roach, MD, Sharecare’s chief medical officer. Getting little to no exercise directly increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other health problems. The good news: You’re never too old or out of shape to start exercising. One way to get started: Walk 10 minutes a day and gradually build up to 10,000 steps.
2. You Overdo Happy Hour – According to Dr. Roach, there is an association between moderate alcohol consumption and decreased risk of heart disease. But downing more than two drinks daily (for men; more than one drink for women) puts pressure on your vital organs and can cause health problems like liver disease, high blood pressure and weight gain. Binge drinking (more than four or five drinks at a time) is even worse. If you don’t drink, there’s no need to start. “You’re not giving things up by not being a drinker,” says Roach. “And you’re avoiding problems of excess alcohol, which are much greater than the potential benefits.”
3. You Eat Like You’re Still in College – If burgers, pizza and ice cream are a regular part of your diet, you’re headed for major agers like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. That’s because saturated and trans fats raise LDL cholesterol – the “bad” kind that builds up in arteries, blocking blood flow, damaging blood vessels and causing inflammation. Do your heart a favor by chowing down on more lean protein (like chicken or fish), fruits and veggies. MyPlate recommends that most people get four to five cups of fruits and veggies a day. And don’t forget the whole grains. A diet rich in whole grains can help you avoid diabetes, heart disease and gum disease – not to mention belly fat.
4. You Light Up – We probably don’t have to tell you that smoking cigarettes is one of the worst things you can do for your health. “Smoking has a detrimental effect on almost every cell in the body,” says Mehmet Oz, MD. Smoking increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as lung, blood, bladder, esophageal, kidney, mouth, throat, stomach and uterine cancer. The good news: The health benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate. Within just 20 minutes after quitting the American Cancer Society says your heart rate and blood pressure drop. As more time goes by you also lower your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
5. You Stress Over Everything – We all get stressed out from time to time. But if your stress level is through the roof on a regular basis, — whether from work, family problems or financial troubles — you can bet your health will take a serious hit. Memory loss, high blood pressure, weight gain and a weakened immune system are just some of the ways your body responds to high, chronic stress. Your skin suffers, too. Stress causes free radicals to run wild, breaking down collagen and creating wrinkles. The solution: Find ways to stress less. Regular exercise and relaxing with yoga or meditation can help. But if you find it’s not enough, you may want to consult with a professional counselor.
6. You Sit More than You Stand – Long hours with your butt planted on a chair at work and later on the couch at home can add up to big health problems. Research has linked prolonged sitting to cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Spending time on your bum also negatively affects your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and appetite hormone leptin, all of which are biomarkers for obesity and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, moderate exercise to counteract the effects of sitting all day long doesn’t work. Even if you spend an hour a day exercising, spending just five to six hours a day sitting with few to no breaks may be as bad as smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.
7. You’re UN-happily Married – Wedded bliss can keep you happy and healthy, including lowering your risk of heart disease, cancer and high blood pressure. “It likely has to do with less stress, from the emotional support of a partner to sharing affection and intimacy,” says Roach. But a marriage on the rocks can send stress levels sky high. Who suffers most? A study reported in the journal Health Psychology found that women in unsatisfying marriages have higher blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI. Plus, they suffer more from depression, anxiety and anger.
8. You Mainly See Your Friends Online – You may have a lot of Facebook friends, but if you don’t have close friends or family to connect with in real life, your RealAge will suffer. Not having people to turn to in times of trouble has been associated with poor health. “The worst thing is to feel alone with no one to talk to,” says Roach. On the other hand, a strong social network nurtured by face time with family and friends has been shown to boost your mood, improve your ability to cope with adversity and can strengthen your immune system. If your circle of friends is lacking, consider ways to forge new connections, whether it’s volunteering in your community, joining a book club or teaming up with a group of walkers.
9. You Skimp on Sleep – Are you a chronic sleep skipper? If you get less than six to nine hours a night, your body will let you know it’s not a happy camper. For starters, it throws off your appetite-regulating hormones in ways that make you eat more and gain weight. It’s also been linked to heart disease and stroke. Too little sleep doesn’t do your noggin any favors, either. General brain fog means you’re more forgetful, less alert and apt to make poor decisions.
10. You Neglect Your Smile – Brushing and flossing may not be your favorite activities, but showing your teeth regular love is a RealAge must! Neglecting your pearly whites can lead to gum disease and tooth loss, factors that can lead to inflammation. “Chemicals, bacteria and inflammation in your mouth can predispose you to developing heart disease,” says Roach. Good oral care (brushing and flossing daily and getting regular dental checkups) can boost health – and keep your smile bright.