Chain smoking, binge drinking, and living off of deep-fried everything are some of the more obvious habits that wreck your body and shorten your lifespan. So if you do none of the above, you're in the clear, right?
Not exactly. Giving in to those major vices isn't the only thing that's going to take years off your life -- the truth is, some of the small things we do (or deal with) every day are just as much to blame.
You don't take stress seriously
"Stress is the greatest ager," says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the RealAge books. Problem is, whether we're talking about small stressors (that to-do list that keeps getting longer) or big ones (major life events, death, breakups, that kind of thing), avoiding stress altogether is about as easy as skipping out on your taxes.
Not to bum you out even more, but it all has a major impact on how quickly you age. A single major life event that occurs in one year, for example, could make you eight years "older," and that number doubles when you're dealing with two events in a year, explains Roizen. The good news: you can stop stress from turning you into a senior citizen in a matter of months -- just try these expert-approved stress-management tips.
You keep a terrible sleep schedule
By now you probably know that an "I’ll sleep when I die" mentality screws with a bunch of different aspects of your life -- and that includes how fast you age. Further proving that this busy, sleep-sapping world just isn't fair, science suggests that the less you snooze, the faster your brain ages.
But before you demand regular nap breaks at work (though plenty of companies fully support that), know this: sleeping too much might accelerate aging, too. Counterintuitive? Seems like it, but it’s true, and could equal about four to seven years of actual aging. Dr. Roizen also points out that, in some cases, sleeping more than usual might be a sign of depression, a disorder that's been linked to fast-tracked cellular aging. “Or maybe, when you sleep that much, you don't have a normal activity period in the rest of your life," he says. Either way, you might want to take a Goldilocks approach to sleeping.
You never say no to cookies
Apart from being legit addictive (and bad for you in about a billion other ways), sugar's also sabotaging your skin by causing wrinkles, and damaging collagen and elastin -- the stuff that keeps your skin looking youthful.
There's more! Nothing serves quite so well as the tried-and-true eye test, and people with high blood sugar levels just look older than people with low blood sugar levels. And there's more bummer news, particularly for soda lovers: sipping on sugar-sweetened sodas may make your white blood cells age faster, compromising your immunity.
You ditch your crew on the regular
To paraphrase The Beatles, you look younger with a little help from your friends -- people in their 70s with the most good friendships outlive those with the fewest. So going through those awkward stages of making adult friends is worth it, especially considering that friendships are as important as diet and exercise.
Plus, generally being social can delay cognitive decline, and it may help fight the major ager mentioned above: stress. "Social interactions affect rate of aging in that they change your perceived or actual stress levels," says Dr. Roizen. So if you haven't, get out there at lunch, introduce yourself, smile a lot -- remember, you attract more flies with honey, not vinegar, just like your mother said! -- and reap the benefits of new friends who, thanks to YOUR friendship, will die within hours of you, thus sparing you the loneliness of later life.
You binge-watch House of Cards (and every other show)
That Netflix addiction of yours? Not doing you any favors. A couple years ago, Australian scientists discovered that every hour of screentime knocks your life expectancy down by 20 minutes. Eh, what's the big deal, a few hours of life in exchange for the pleasure of consuming an entire series in one sitting?
Well, it's really easy to rack up a whole bunch of TV hours (think about a rainy weekend), and, to make matters worse, the more TV you take in, the greater your risk for diseases like diabetes and cancer.
You treat your skin like crap
Hate to break it to you, golden gods and goddesses, but "sun is the enemy of the skin," according to Dr. Alison Moore, a professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics and psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Though your body needs some sun exposure (as in 10-15 minutes’ worth, three times a week) to produce that bone-healthy vitamin D, catching rays on the regular leads to wrinkles, brown spots, and skin cancer. All of which will, obviously, make you look old.
Wearing sunscreen does slow sun-related skin aging, so feel free to pour that stuff on. You might also want to get in the habit of moisturizing; it’ll trap water in your skin, plumping it up so that it at least looks younger. Hey, sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it.
You're popping too many pills
No, not the criminal kind -- though it's a pretty safe bet that hard drugs don’t exactly keep you young. It's actually vitamins and minerals that could be problematic when it comes to aging. Sure, some may prevent age-related diseases, but as Dr. Roizen notes, "With almost all vitamins and supplements, when you have too much of them, you can get sick."
Case in point: even a "large amount" of vitamin D slashes your risk of many diseases, but too much of it is linked to a higher risk of dying from heart problems. Too many supplements may also increase your cancer risk, though when taken in the right dosage, they can be good for you.
You don't have much of a gym game
Sweating it out is good for the body and the brain, as it can help control stress, keep your weight in check, and maintain muscle mass, says Dr. Moore. All good things!
Working out routinely is also linked to lower markers of inflammation (which can be a result of aging), and experts believe that sitting on your butt can lead to "quicker degradation of physiological functions" and a "greater risk of premature death." In case you’re still not convinced you should lace up your kicks, consider this: just 15 minutes of daily exercise may tack on three years to your life.
... or you work out too hard
"Going overboard on anything is going to negatively impact your health," says Dr. Moore. "And that’s true for exercise, too." Dr. Roizen agrees: "If you do more than two hours of cardio in a row, you're increasing the rate of aging."
So find that sweet spot (the CDC recommends a couple different combos), and remember that experts suggest including harder and easier workouts in your routine and to factor in recovery time.
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Alexandra Duron is a freelance writer for Thrillist and is a soon-to-be recovering sugar and Netflix addict. Really, she promises.