Age old news
First, the not-so-surprising: Eating junk, being a couch potato, smoking and stress can all shorten your life span and make you look older, too. There's also a hefty amount of luck involved when it comes to aging. "You have to pick the right parents," as Marie Bernard, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, puts it. "It isn't the majority necessarily, but some of one's fate is based upon the longevity of prior generations." Now, for the lesser known factors that influence how fast -- and how well -- you age.
As if your dog fur allergy isn't pesky enough ("Sorry kids, no puppies!"), pet and some otherallergies like hay fever can make you look older, says Jessica Krant, a dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. "The chronic inflammation of the delicate membranes of the eye lead to swelling and itching, which leads to darkening of the skin," she says. The good news? Allergy-induced wrinkles and dark spots may be more treatable than age-related blemishes, she says.
2. Your bed
Sleep too little and put yourself at risk for a host of health problems, but sleep too much (more than eight or nine hours nightly) and you might shorten your life, studies suggest. That bed can also crimp or even prohibit recovery from injury in old age, says John Rush, president of the age management medicine company Cenegenics, noting that 70 percent of older Americans who fracture their hips die within one year. "Why?" he asks. "Because they don't move."
3. Your skinny jeans
You already know that being overweight or obese is a surefire way to up your chances of croaking too soon, but did you know being too skinny has its risks, too? "If you are [an older person who's] very, very thin with little fat tissue ... you don't have the reserves to be able to fight off that illness in a way that people who have a little more weight on them are able to," Bernard says.
Your brain, that is. "Remaining mentally active is probably key to reducing that trajectory of daily activity decline even with healthy aging," says Gregory G. Brown, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California--San Diego School of Medicine. Anything that keeps your thinking, judgment and planning abilities active -- be it learning new recipes or joining an exercise class -- can help, he says.
5. Your headphones
Old people, poor hearing -- according to stereotypes, the two go hand in hand. But hearing loss is not entirely inevitable if you limit your headphone use to about one hour a day and keep the volume low enough that the people around you can't hear it, Bernard says. "Once you have lost your ability to really hear well and interact with your environment ... it really does isolate you," she says.
Speaking of isolation, it -- as well as feelings of loneliness -- seems to contribute to a shorter life span and is associated with a poorer quality of life as we age, Bernard says. While some people are content with just a few close friends, they can face particular challenges if everyone in their network is around the same age, she adds. "As people become ill or die, then you are very likely to run into problems with isolation or loneliness," she says.
7. Processed carbs
"If it comes in a bag or a box, don't eat it," Rush tells his patients. That's because processed foods, and particularly white carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and cereal, raise blood sugar and insulin, and in effect, contribute to inflammation -- a cause of diseases ranging from obesity to arthritis. Eating a whole foods diet, he says, helps maintain a lower insulin level and staves off that inflammatory process. As a result, he says, "you age better and more slowly."