If there’s one inevitable fact in life, it’s that we all get older.
Each birthday, we add another number to our age—this is chronological aging. But when you take into consideration how we live—including diet, sun exposure, exercise, stress, and sleep—we’re not all aging at the same speed. This explains why some 30-year-olds can’t walk a block without dry heaving, while a 60-year-old might run a marathon. This is physiological aging.
“Your physiological age, or ‘real age,’ can reveal a great deal about your general health and the rate at which you are aging. It measures the real biological state of a person by taking lifestyle factors into account,” explains board-certified dermatologist Julie Russak, MD, FAAD, founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic and Russak+ Aesthetic Center. “Through exercise and good nutrition, for example, you can actually be physiologically younger than the average person of your chronological age.”
This concept is so widespread you can even run a simple Google search and find quizzes that will tell you how old your body actually is. But aside from those quizzes—which, let’s be real, are probably just ballpark estimates—is there any other reliable measure that gauges your physiological age?
Aging, The Unavoidable
First, let’s confront the obvious. We all get older no matter how healthy we are, which means certain changes are inevitable.
As we age, we see a lot of natural changes, including skin getting more lax and loose and a redistribution of fat, whether it’s more or less of it, says plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon, MD, co-host of The Doctors. “We can’t stop the process of aging, and over the course of years, we are going to have sagging, wrinkles, brown spots, aches, and pains.”
With that said, if you notice these signs over the course of a short period of time, it might be a sign that you could use a lifestyle shift, whether it’s a healthier diet or increase in exercise.
The 7 Early Signs of Aging
Your skin (and any other part of your body you can see with the naked eye) is the “mirror” that reflects the health of the inside. Simply noticing any changes with your naked eye is an effective way to tell if your physiological age is higher than your chronological age.
Before we start, it’s worth noting that for many of these signs of expedited physiological aging, there’s one major culprit: the sun, says Russak.
“UV rays are the primary cause of wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and sun spots, reduced skin elasticity, the degradation of skin texture, and other visible signs of biological aging.”
Now, let’s explore some of the early signs of aging:
1. Dry or Dehydrated Skin
Dry skin means you’re low on oil, while dehydrated skin is caused by the loss of water. Signs of dry/dehydrated skin include flaking, itching, redness, and more pronounced wrinkles.
“Sun damage, the natural slowing of cell renewal with age, and ineffective skincare will cause skin to get more dehydrated as you age,” Russak tells HealthyWay.
“Live like a coastal European!” advises Russak. “Walk more, eat fresh and local foods, and eat it slower. Prioritize rest and balance, and rid your lifestyle of the obvious age accelerators such as tanning beds, sun exposure, period. [Adopt] a consistent skincare regimen that includes retinol, antioxidants, vitamin C, and a collagen supplement.”
Known as a “fountain of youth” of sorts, collagen supplements are particularly popular these days. The idea behind collagen supplements is simple: Replenish the collagen your body naturally produces to keep your skin taut, uplifted, and plump.
Since collagen production decreases with age, purveyors say taking a collagen supplement will keep your body looking youthful. There has been some promising research, such as this double-blind placebo-controlled study that found that women who took collagen regularly for two months saw a 20 percent reduction in wrinkles. Note, though, that not all experts are convinced they work, especially for those who already maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet.
2. Dull Skin
As we age, our cell turnover rate slows down. The top layer of the skin becomes dull, and we lose our glow. “Dull skin is one of the first signs of aging, as cell turnover renewal decreases significantly,” explains Russak.
Russak suggests incorporating glycolic acid, a chemical derived from sugarcane that helps dissolve the “glue” that bonds dead skin cells together.
She also recommends a supplement with ceramides (natural lipids found in skin that help keep it moisturized) and hyaluronic acid (another substance in skin that retains a thousand times its own weight in water) to help hydrate the skin from within.
“Also, look for salicylic acid to exfoliate the dead top layer of the skin to prevent it from looking dull.”
3. Puffy and/or Red Eyes
The skin in your eye area is thin to begin with, and as you age, the skin thins even more. This can can make issues like dark circles or puffiness even more apparent.
The biggest cause of tired eyes? The sun, for one. But there’s more, says Russak.
“… the loss of the body’s ‘lubricators’ with age, such as the water component in our eyes, also cause dryness and redness. As skin thins with age, it is more vulnerable to external stressors, such as pollutants, allergies, and hormonal fluctuations which end up showing up in puffiness.”
Take care of the eyes just as you would exposed skin by wearing sunglasses that offer high UV protection, suggests Russak.
4. Sagging Skin
This is caused by the loss of collagen and elastin in skin, two of the complex proteins responsible for skin structure and elasticity, says Ordon.
“Starting in our 20s and 30s, our body’s natural production of these proteins begins to decrease, which as a result, causes skin to appear saggy, loose, wrinkly.”
This occurs both on your face and body, which is why you see areas of skin that appear more loose or wrinkled than others.
Ordon’s solution is quite holistic: “Good diet, exercise, sleep, maintaining a stable weight, and probably most importantly, avoiding damage from the sun.”
If you’re looking for a product to help smooth out your skin, find a topical skincare solution that contains phytonutrients—chemicals in plants that help protect them from fungi, insects, and other threats—to support healthy collagen and elastin, which will help maintain your skin’s natural elasticity.
You also want to focus on foods with vitamin A: “We want the collagen being made to be reproduced exactly as it should be, and vitamin A plays a role in that,” Libby Mills, a registered dietitian nutritionist, told RD.com.
5. Yellow Teeth
In the absence of cosmetic dental procedures, teeth become yellow as you get older and wiser.
Why? According to a review published in the British Dental Journal, the enamel (i.e., the top coating) gradually thins over time due to both simple wear and tear and external factors, like eating acidic foods. As the enamel weakens, it reveals the layer underneath, the dentin. Some people innately possess more yellow or brown dentin, while others are blessed with lighter dentin.
“The natural laying down of secondary dentin affects the light-transmitting properties of teeth, resulting in a gradual darkening of teeth with age,” the review states.
According to an article in The New York Times, it’s possible to slow down the yellowing of teeth by managing “excessive consumption of sugars, acids, and alcohol; bulimia; teeth grinding; and acid reflux disease.”
You should also avoid teeth contact with foods that easily stain teeth, like tea and coffee. If you do drink these beverages, brushing afterward should help remove the color.
6. Sore Feet
The older you are, the longer your feet have been hitting the pavement. According to Harvard Health, as you age, the muscle tissues in your feet get thinner, making them seem less cushioned, and swelling is more common (blood can more easily pool in veins). Think about all the pressure and weight that’s been on them over the course of decades!
You can’t avoid walking, but you can control what you put on your feet! Whenever you can, wear shoes that are more comfortable and healthy for feet. Jocelyn Curry, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, writes on Piedmont Healthcare’s website, that the most ache-inducing shoes include high heels, pointed-toe shoes, flip flops and ballet flats. The best shoes to wear? Sneakers.
7. Apple-shaped body
Some people tend to carry more fat around the waist and belly. “It is a genetic predisposition, and unfortunately, we can’t pick our parents,” says Ordon. “For [those who carry mid-section fat], it is a continual struggle to deal with fat deposits in the abdomen, both intra-abdominal and subcutaneous.”
Even if you’re not inherently apple-shaped, metabolic and hormonal changes can become factors as you age, typically starting from middle age. For women, abdominal fat might become more prominent post-menopause, when estrogen declines and body fat migrates over to the stomach.
The apple shape is also closely related to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol—for both underweight and overweight women, per this study conducted at Yale University.
Focus on exercise that specifically targets your abdominal fat and your core, Ordon advises. If you believe your apple shape is caused by chronic stress, explore stress-management techniques that you’ll actually stick with. (In other words, just because your coworker swears by yoga doesn’t mean you’ll commit to that every day.)
Looking for a simple start that requires zero driving and cost? Download a meditation app and dedicate just five to ten minutes to it daily. Studies have shown meditation (even through apps) can be effective in diminishing anxiety and stress.
Whether you want to address your burgeoning crow’s feet or the increased pain in your actual feet after a summer hike, there are always easy and accessible solutions to help your body age gracefully. With these tips above, perhaps you’ll feel younger than ever as you blow out those candles on your next birthday!