10 (Not So) Harmless Habits That Age You

It's time to kick those bad habits and feel younger. Sleep and sunscreen are just some of the solutions.

December 19, 2017
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Are you anxious to grow older?

I’ll admit, I am…at least a little. With age comes experience, and with more experience, I sense I am becoming wiser. I’m better equipped to handle situations and adhere to my convictions, and I enjoy life more often than not.

But even though I look forward to each birthday and the age it brings, I don’t necessarily want to look older. In fact, as each year passes, I’d like to look younger, fresher, and healthier. It’s my goal to somewhat maintain the look of my current age, at least.

You too? Well, some habits you and I have might be doing us a disservice—things like late weekend nights and ignoring that Brussels sprout recipe we keep saying we’ll give a try. They may seem harmless, but a few not so great habits over time really add up…and add years to our face, figure, heart, and more.

If staying young is on your agenda, perhaps it’s time to identify and eliminate habits that age you. Aging is inevitable, but no one should be unnecessarily rushing to the finish line.

What can benefit all of us the most is to take a step back, simplify, and listen to our body.

In my efforts to analyze habits that age us, I have the opportunity to connect with Stephanie Riley, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer with a certification in fitness nutrition. She is not only a coach of sorts, but an athlete who has participated in over 20 marathons and other competitions, like bodybuilding and Ironman distance triathlons.

“… all of us can learn from our own experiences and the ability to be brutally honest about where we succeed and where we can continue to grow,” Riley shares on the topic of habits. “I believe a lot of people can become disenchanted, frustrated, or confused by constantly following all the ‘noise’ that is out there on the market, never knowing who to listen to and who to ‘follow.'”

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“What can benefit all of us the most is to take a step back, simplify, and listen to our body. It really, truly does not have to be that hard to make small changes that can and will create profound improvements in our lives.”

So, what habits should we begin resolving? Pick a few from below.

Allowing Too Much Screen Time

“The more strict I am with my screen time, the more my quality of life improves,” Gemma, a mom of three, says. “Setting strict limits on both social media and TV makes me more productive, less stressed, and I get to bed at a decent hour!”

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Both stress and not enough sleep greatly impact overall wellness. If TV time and that iPad hanging out by your bed are producing worry and keeping you from rest, it’s time to say goodbye!

Not Drinking Enough Water

“Let’s face it, most of us have a hard time getting our water in,” Riley says. “It’s hard to remember when we get busy with work, family, and everything else on our plate. However, drink water. Period. Initially, it’s hard. You will have to run to the restroom constantly at first. Give it time, stay the course, and that initial running to the bathroom will slow down.”

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“Your body needs it, uses it, and functions exponentially better with it. Give it a try for a month. Drink 64 to 100 ounces of water a day for a month. I guarantee you will not know how you functioned without it.”

Of course, be sure to spread your water consumption out over the day, and don’t overdo it if you don’t feel thirsty.

Postponing Checkups

My husband’s employer actually incentivizes their team in this regard—to the tune of $100! They know annual wellness appointments are that important.

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Why? It’s simple. Checking in with your doctor allows them to address concerns and catch potential issues before they’re a life-altering problem. Blood work and screenings keep you healthy, alive, and flourishing. So, if you haven’t been to your doctor in the last year, call them. Today.

Under-Hydrating Your Skin

M’Lissa Fleming, an independent consultant with anti-aging skincare brand Rodan + Fields, can’t emphasize enough how important using moisturizer is: “The human skin is the body’s largest organ. Keeping your skin hydrated and moisturized helps avoid many skin problems such as blemishes and wrinkles.”

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“Moisturizer with SPF is the best way to multi-task keeping your skin healthy,” Fleming adds. “If your skin is not hydrated and becomes dry and cracked, you’ve lost protection and your skin becomes … vulnerable to outside elements.”

So, don’t forget it! When you appropriately moisturize, you’ll prevent those lines and wrinkles, and no doubt you’ll look younger.

Not Keeping a Bed Time

Our bodies benefit from a regular sleep schedule, which means Saturday night should look very similar to Tuesday night. “Your body is either trying to survive or flourishing,” says Riley.

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“How can it flourish when its exhausted? Quit asking your body to do more when you give to it less. Sleep! It’s okay!”

Avoiding Counseling

“I don’t know how its become a perception that counseling, coaching, or therapy is a negative or that it somehow shows weakness,” says Riley. “My husband and I have had a life coach for 20 years.”

We don’t have all the answers. Nor should we have all the answers.

“I have had marathon coaches, triathlete coaches, and medical doctors at training clinics to help my athletic performance,” she says. “So how is a coach in life any different?”

“Would a person then say ‘Oh, she has a coach, she must be terrible in the sport,’ or ‘She sure doesn’t know what she’s doing,’ or ‘Boy, she must really not know how to do it on her own.’ No one would say that. How is a counselor any different?”

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Besides being a safe space for exploring one’s feelings, counseling also offers scientifically-proven benefits. According to a study from the University of California-Los Angeles, verbally expressing feelings calms negative feelings. Additionally, research in Psychiatry 2007 says that social support, like the kind a life coach or therapist provides, is a key part of maintaining one’s mental and physical wellbeing.

“Finding a counselor who you connect with and who can listen to your life’s experience with not only professional training on the human condition but also their own life experiences is a tool that everyone could use,” Riley says. “We don’t have all the answers. Nor should we have all the answers. I highly recommend a counselor for all of us … .”

Amen to that! Counselor up!

Letting Stress Rule

“Stress will always be an element in our lives. But we can control it, or it can control us,” says Riley.

In most of our lives, I’d venture to say that taming stress is a minute by minute task. But gaining control of those minutes really adds up—according to Psychology Today, emotional distress can speed up aging on a cellular level. No thanks!

Forgetting Outdoor Exercise

We all know that outdoor exercise feels amazing once you’ve actually completed it, but it often gets left out of busy routines in favor of the ever-convenient treadmill. In the video below, certified health and life coach Sabrina Renee shares the benefits she gets from taking her exercise outside:

Falling For Fad Diets

Fad diets come in many shapes and sizes. Some only include raw food, others needlessly cut gluten, others include only liquids to “cleanse” your system, and a few even include things that aren’t food in the first place.

As an athlete, Riley knows food. Her training has led her to delve deep into nutrition. When it comes to fad diets, she shakes her head.

“I cringe at people trying to make a buck on misconceptions, false advertising, and ‘studies’ that are bogus to get buy-ins on their products,” she says. “Quite simply, there is no one size fits all. I recommend stepping off the hamster wheel and remind yourself that all this food thing doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t.”

“Many people are looking for that new special thing out there, that ‘new’ ideology that has all the answers, that ‘ah-ha’ revelation. When we try to follow all the minutia out there, all it does is create this odd, fearful relationship with food, confusion and anxiety.”

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“Allow yourself to enjoy good food, be aware of what you are eating, allow treats in moderation, and get your fruits and vegetables in on a regular basis. That’s it. Chop, cook, and eat at home. Make it a priority.”

Not Nourishing Your Body

Food is complex, and our choices are vast. But bottom line, nutrition is crucial to fueling our bodies and keeping them in their prime. “Many people I see are extremely undernourished,” says Riley.

… with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.

Some women in particular, she says, have been undernourished “for so long that they have issues with hormones and are malnourished in many vitamins and minerals … We are depriving our body of what it desperately needs. Make it a habit to get in the nutrients one needs through proper food choices.”

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MyPlate, the successor to the classic Food Pyramid, is a good place to start for those unsure about their nutritional needs. The MyPlate site even offers daily checklists for healthy eating and optimum nutritional intake. The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute also provides an easy-to-read roadmap for maintaining a healthy weight and meeting nutritional goals.

Nutrition calculators, like MyFitnessPal and MyPlate Calorie Counter, are easy ways to keep track of and manage your nutritional intake.

How many of these not so harmless habits are part of your life?

They say it takes at least 21 days to break a bad habit. Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of The Power of Habit wrote, “Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

You can reshape your habits. Reading this article alone means you have initiative. So, set some goals, make it happen, and remember Duhigg’s Golden Rule of Habit Change, “You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

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