You may be convinced that your skincare routine, water consumption, and daily Prevagen pills are fighting off the cruel hands of time. However, there are a handful of lifestyle choices and mindsets that expedite the aging process in ways you might not even realize.
These are the 4 things you didn’t know you were doing that age you, below.
1. Being a caregiver
Whether it’s traditional caregiving, such as helping an elderly parent recover from surgery, or being the primary caretaker for your kids, caring for anyone can make someone age beyond their years. According to the data, this can cause stress that ages one beyond one’s years; in fact, 45% of caregivers helping spouses or parents report extremely high levels of stress, which leads to them ultimately neglecting their own needs.
Middle-aged caregivers especially, a study from California Health indicates, are most likely to make unhealthier choices. “Caregivers between the ages of 45 and 64 are more likely to be obese, more likely to binge drink, and more likely to smoke,” leading to higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Another researcher from TED Ideas takes this notion a step further and suggests that the stress for middle-aged and older women who find themselves in the role of family caregiver can degrade at their very DNA, causing one to age faster, and die sooner. “Daily stress responses” were measured in healthy adult female family caregivers, and “the more the women ruminate after a stressful event, the lower the telomerase in their aging CD8 cells (the crucial immune cells that send out proinflammatory signals when they are damaged).”
The researchers attribute this to rumination being linked with higher depression and anxiety, which degrade telomeres, which are the specialized protein sequences at the ends of your chromosomes that naturally shorten with age.
2. Retiring in the wrong ways
You may have heard rumors that retirement can cause your brain to wither. But in fact, it’s only the wrong kind of retirement that can cause one to prematurely develop signs of aging such as dementia, slowed cognition, or general mental decline. If you don’t retire at all, eventually, you might actually shorten your lifespan.
A fascinating study from 2011 showed that women who worked in full-time stressful environments for longer periods of time had shorter telomeres than those who hadn’t been working as long. The more stressed-out population also had higher levels of epinephrine in their systems, which is also known as adrenaline – a degrading hormone that can ultimately damage your body if not exerted in smaller, more manageable doses.
This proves that retirement is important for one’s health and longevity. But how does one tread the line between the overtaxing workplace and the too-lax retirement lifestyle?
In the Aging and Mental Health Journal’s 2021 study on retirement, it was found that an active retirement filled with a reasonable amount of activities is what keeps the brain sharp and active. The research finds that “people reporting more social activity engagement at baseline reported fewer depressive symptoms.” An increase in social activities was also a determinant of less depressive symptoms, and people who were more socially and physically active, engaging in an equitable balance of both mentally stimulating events and leisure time, also reported less depression.
3. Denying the issues
Denial comes in many forms – denial of wrongdoing, denial of culpability, or denial of impending trouble. But the form of denial that ages you the most is denial about your health, such as avoiding doctors, thinking that you can play the same sports as you could when you were younger, or shrugging off important procedures because of a high price point.
Avoiding doctors might be the biggest issue on a national level, especially among older populations. The Journal of General Internal Medicine, in a study examining the aversion of geriatric patients to doctor’s visits, noted that the biggest issue was that “over one-third of participants reported unfavorable evaluations of seeking medical care.” This could be anything from an incompetent physician to a disorganized doctor’s office or grumpy hospital staff.
24% of people also reported that the high cost of care was an issue, but only 8% of that subset cited a lack of insurance. Given that data, it’s safe to say that many could be rationalizing their lack of treatment-seeking, and rather than stating their fear about a doctor finding something serious, they’d rather bemoan the price of the office visit. But with hospital payment plans and out-of-network benefits, is there really a price too high for saving your own life, or are you just avoiding the idea that you might be getting older?
4. A bitter mentality
We all know someone who identifies as a curmudgeon, a pessimist, or even a devil’s advocate – in fact, it might even be you. But if you think it makes you seem smarter or more esoteric to act like the seething little cartoon version of Ed Asner from the movie “Up,” your bitter attitude might be killing you as fast as it’s killing your social life.
The same study on telomeres from TED Ideas covers how cynical people can suffer shortened life spans as a result of their huffy attitudes to the same degree of intensity as depressed or anxious people. “Scientists have learned that cynical hostility appears to be unhealthy for telomeres,” which is defined as both extreme rage and paranoia that others are acting in ways that intentionally harm you.
In this study, men who fell into the category of “most hostile” were 30% more likely to have a combination of shorter telomeres, and high telomerase, which is “an enzyme in cells that helps keep telomeres in good shape.” And as we know, the shorter the telomeres, the closer one is to an untimely end.
The bad habits that age you could also be coming from the bitterness of those around you, not just from yourself. There’s research that indicates adults adapt and change to the social environment they find themselves in, causing a usually happy person who’s surrounded by unhappy people to become a grouch. But there’s also evidence suggesting that even if you don’t pick up the bad habits of others, having negative social experiences with them can also cause devastating physical effects that turn a healthy person into a prematurely aged one.
Summarizing a UCLA study, Insider reports that healthy adults who reported negative social encounters on a consistent basis had higher levels of “proinflammatory proteins,” which have an enormous effect on the aging process. Higher pro-inflammatory proteins can spur on everything from “frailty” to “cognitive decline, and cardiological, neurological, and vascular events.”