Ever wonder if your healthy habits will really pay off? Ever think that a lot of what we hear from the press and media, moreover science, is just a lot of hoopla? Ever look in the mirror and wonder if you weren’t healthy, if you would look any different? As we get older, we become hypersensitive to our aging process…questioning our lifestyle, our environment and even our gene pool. Which of these factors are really aging us, or if we are healthy, keeping us young? Today, my doubts were extinguished.
Walking home, I met two women in their late 40s who are identical twins. Although they technically looked alike, one twin looked significantly older…I’d guesstimate about 10 years older. I came to find out that the older looking twin smoked. Huh. Remarkably similar genes…similar environment (they live minutes away from one another)…but very different lifestyles.
These twins were living proof…this was as close as you could get to seeing the impact of lifestyle on the aging process. Intrigued, I did some research to find out if there were any studies done to document this phenomenon. Surely enough, there have been.
In a study called Factors Contributing to the Facial Aging of Identical Twins, a team of doctors from the Department of Plastic Surgery at Case Western Reserve University studied the effects of lifestyle and environment on the facial aging process of 186 sets of twins. Although the study looked at multiple factors in lifestyle and environment, smoking and sun exposure were extremely significant to the aging process. Specifically, here are the results:
- Smoking: For those pairs of twins where one twin smoked and one didn’t, the minimum perceived age difference among the twins were 5 years. For every ten years of smoking, the twin who smoked looked approximately 2 ½ years older in appearance. Why is this so? Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict, resulting in decreased blood flow to skin. Further, it depletes the body of Vitamin C, which is key for keeping skin plump and moist. This in turn causes capillaries to become permanently damaged, increased dryness and skin dehydration due to a diuretic effect, a grayish complexion and lastly, an increase in wrinkles, including crows feet.
- Sun Exposure: Increased sun exposure was associated with an older appearance, especially as the twins got older. Those twins with outdoor hobbies such as golf and tennis had a perceived older appearance, while those who used skin protection (sunscreen) led to a younger appearance. Why is this so? High amounts of sun exposure breaks down skin’s structural tissues (collagen and elastin). As a result, skin looks mottled, freckles become more permanent, and skin becomes dried out, leathery, wrinkled and saggy.
Ok, great. So now we have living proof of these bad boys and their effects on your skin. But guess what, there are other lifestyle choices that can affect the aging process. Here are eight more enemies of your skin:
- Alcohol: Alcohol dilates small blood vessels, increasing blood flow near the skin’s surface. This can cause the skin to look wrinkled, red and flushed. What you can do: Try to limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage per day.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can cause water loss from your body and skin, resulting in a lack of plumpness. What you can do: Make sure you drink plenty of water and limit intake to 300 mg a day.
- Extreme Weather: Exposure to cold winds and low temperatures or extreme dry heat can dehydrate your skin, leading to wrinkles and roughness. What you can do: Use a good moisturizer and a humidifier if you are in an especially dry climate.
- Eating Disorders: Depriving your body of important nutrients, vitamins and minerals required for proper cell turnover and growth can cause skin to become dry and thin. Further, hair and nails can become brittle and thin. What you can do: Make sure you are eating enough calories so that your metabolism stays high and your body is properly nourished.
- Lack of Sleep: Not enough sleep deprives your body of needed rest and doesn’t allow skin to regenerate. You’ll look and feel tired, develop dark circles and bags under your eyes and your skin will become saggy. What you can do: Get at least 7 1/2 hours of sleep a night, if not more.
- Stress: Stress and worry cause frowning, and over time muscles in the face actually conform to that movement, developing lines and wrinkles. What you can do: Monitor your stress levels throughout the day and find healthy ways to release the stress you feel through breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Refined Sugars and Low-Protein in Your Diet: Refined sugar and carbohydrates can disturb collagen production, resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin. Further, spikes in your insulin levels can cause excess amounts of secreted oils, resulting in acne and breakouts. What you can do: Focus on whole grains, fruits and vegetables for your carbohydrates and a minimum of 20% of your calories from lean proteins.
- Saturated Fats or VERY Low-Fat Diets: Saturated fats (butter, cream and high-fat dairy) can cause skin to age and become more wrinkled. However, not having enough healthy fats can harm the oil barrier of your skin, which protects from fluid loss and infection. Too little fat can result in Eczema, Dermatitis (inflammation of skin) and Acne. What you can do: Make sure you eat a well balanced diet that incorporates healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates.
As we get older, our lifestyle choices become even more important…especially when it comes to the aging process and looking and feeling our best. Have you witnessed anything like the twin phenomenon? Have you made a lifestyle change that has helped you to ‘reverse’ or slow the signs of aging?