by Dr. Shanthi Thomas
Why is it that some people look youthful even in their 70’s while some others look withered and shriveled by middle age? This question has vexed humanity for a long time. The answers are slowly emerging now. The span of one’s life is the result of a combination of genes, environment, social relationships, lifestyle choices and thought patterns. Let us look at some thought patterns and lifestyle choices that make people age fast.
We age when the cells in our body age. And the cells age when the ‘telomeres’- the caps at the end of chromosomes in our cells – get shorter with each cell division. This shortening of telomeres gradually leads to cell death. Scientists have found that several thought patterns affect telomeres in unhealthy ways, and one of those thought patters is cynical hostility. People with cynical hostility get very angry very fast, and frequently think that other people cannot be trusted. They tend to get more metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease and die at young ages.
Pessimism also has negative effects on telomeres. Pessimists generally tend to have shorter telomeres. In fact, there is a large body of evidence from research that pessimism is a risk factor for poor physical and mental health. When pessimists develop an illness, there is a very high chance for the illness to progress faster and even be fatal.
Rumination over a stressful event is another destructive thought pattern that makes you age fast. When you ruminate, the stress from an event stays with you long after the event is over. This leads to prolonged high blood pressure, higher levels of cortisol and elevated heart rate. Moreover, people who ruminate experience more anxiety and depression which are associated with faster aging.
If you have a tendency to be ‘physically present but mentally absent’, which means your mind tends to wander a lot, you might age fast. Research shows that people who report the highest tendency for mind-wandering have shorter telomeres than those who do not. When the mind is occupied with negative thoughts, you are more likely to be unhappy and have higher levels of resting stress hormones.
This one is a no-brainer. Fatty, carbohydrate-laden foods, processed food, red meats, white bread and margarine cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation leads to wrinkle formation and skin flare-ups. They also increase unhealthy levels of cholesterol, sodium and fat in your body, making you obese. This in turn leads to a host of more serious diseases.
A glass of wine now and then will not cause any harm, but regular drinking can age you very fast. Alcohol being a natural diuretic, the more you drink, the more dehydrated you get. Since our body relies on healthy fluids like water, insufficient hydration leads to premature aging.
Sleep deprivation speeds up the aging process. Reduced skin elasticity, under-eye puffiness and uneven pigmentation are all the result of poor sleep quality. The other markers of advanced age such as poor cognitive function, memory problems, delayed response, poor coordination and balance, are all exacerbated by sleep deprivation.
The ill-effects that smoking has on the body and the aging process are endless. It affects your physical appearance and shortens your life span. Smoking also activates the enzymes that break down the elasticity of your skin, and deprives your skin cells of oxygen, turning your skin into a grayish yellow colour. Smoking is an important ageing accelerator directly by triggering inflammatory responses, and indirectly by enabling the occurrence of several diseases such as lung cancer where smoking is a recognized risk factor.
Sunbathing is one of the quickest ways towards premature aging. Excessive exposure to UV rays gives a dry, leathery look to your skin. Added to this is the danger of skin cancer. According to research, 90% of skin aging is caused by the effects of the sun. This is caused by the deterioration of the proteins in our skin, which in turn leads to the loss of youthful appearance. UV radiation causes stem cells to die off, leading to the thinning and wrinkling of the skin.
A sedentary life is a sure way to faster aging. The risk of cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases increase manifold when you do not exercise. People who do not exercise have more injuries on an average from age-related falls, and their injuries are more dangerous, with potential life threatening complications.