7 Signs You're Aging Faster Than You Should & What To Do About It
We believe looking and feeling your best for longer is a worthy endeavor—whether that means aiming for plump, glowing skin or youthful energy. The problem: The combination of increasingly demanding jobs, crappy sleep schedules, easy-to-access processed junk foods, and the fact that we are literally always connected via email or social media means we have the potential to age ourselves faster than ever before. Maybe you see it show up in sallow, dull skin; or maybe you just start to feel off.
So, how do you know whether modern life is prematurely hitting fast-forward on cellular aging? Here are some of the top signs you are aging faster than you have to be:
You have dry, dull, or irritated skin.
One of the first things that people think of when they think of "premature aging" is usually the skin. For good reason: If your skin is dry, irritated, sallow, and generally lacking vibrancy, it's trying to tell you something. After all, the skin is an outer reflection of our body's inner health. Chronic stress, poor sleep habits, a less than stellar diet full of processed foods, exposure to pollutants, and too much sun can all generate free radicals, causing oxidative stress that prematurely ages your skin cells1. Not only that, but our skin starts to dehydrate as we get older, leading to a compromised skin barrier.
Consider adding a phytoceramide supplement. Phytoceramides are plant-derived lipids that mimic the ceramides found in our skin, a key component of the skin's natural barrier function that locks in moisture and prevents damage2. As we age, we naturally stop producing as many ceramides, compromising the skin barrier—leading to dry skin, irritation, and wrinkles3. Phytoceramide supplementation can help support normal ceramide levels and keep signs of aging at bay.
You carry extra weight around your waist.
Many experts believe the whole body mass index (BMI) system is flawed, as it doesn't take into account the added weight of muscle compared to fat and a variety of other factors. That said, one thing people can agree on: Carrying extra fat around your waist (i.e., central abdominal fat) is not a good thing.
Compared to simply being overweight, carrying this type of abdominal fat has been associated with4 an increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes—all of which could lead to premature death. Women are at increased risk for greater abdominal fat after menopause when estrogen decreases and body fat shifts to the abdomen.
Aim to slowly increase your physical activity. Even just walking three days per week for about an hour has been shown to5 reduce belly fat. Or consider trying a form of intermittent fasting, which may help trigger weight loss and increase fat burn.
You're always exhausted.
Going through life in a constant state of fatigue and brain fog isn't normal—and more often than not, it's because we're not getting enough high-quality sleep. Lack of quality sleep is detrimental for a couple of reasons: Without enough sleep, we can't properly regulate blood sugar, and, according to Robert Rountree, M.D., blood sugar regulation is at the core of the aging process. Additionally, when we don't sleep, our brain isn't able to properly detox via a waste-removal process called glymphatic drainage, which may increase the risk for neurodegenerative diseases.
Chronic exhaustion could also be a sign that you're not adequately supporting your mitochondria—the energy-producing powerhouses of your cells. "As we age, we should be replacing old, dying-off mitochondria with new ones," Kim Crawford, M.D., told mbg. "This process is called mitochondrial biogenesis, and it's crucial for vibrant aging. If we're sick or growing older and have mitochondrial apoptosis (die-off) without biogenesis, we have increasingly lower energy levels and will develop medical problems."
First and foremost, aim for a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Then, to promote mitochondrial health, consider a nicotinamide riboside (NR) supplement. NR helps support normal levels of a coenzyme in your body called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which experts say increases the activity of SIRT16, inducing the formation of new mitochondria. Levels of NAD+ naturally decline with age, so supplementing may be a key way to combat internal and external aging.
Your eyes are always red and irritated.
Bloodshot, irritated eyes could be a sign you're not getting enough sleep, you're spending too much time in front of a screen, or—more concerningly—that your overall system is inflamed. In fact, some experts believe7 that red eyes that don't respond to common remedies are an indicator of chronic inflammation and may be related to conditions like arthritis or thyroid dysfunction. Inflammation is also a driver of nearly every chronic disease.
It's also the skin around your eyes that can show premature aging. Since the skin in this area is thin and delicate, it starts to show signs of aging faster (that's why things like crow's feet and puffy eyelids tend to be common skin care complaints). Keeping the skin hydrated—from the inside out, and outside in—is the best way to keep the area looking healthy.
In addition to getting checked out by your doctor, be sure to add plenty of anti-inflammatory foods. Amy Shah, M.D., recommends six to nine servings of green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables; plenty of omega-3-rich seeds, nuts, and oils; and other superfoods including garlic, ginger, turmeric, and blueberries.
You sit basically all day long.
You've heard that sitting is the new smoking, right? Well, it might not be quite that bad, but it is still pretty toxic to your health. "Spending more than just six hours a day on your backside drives up blood pressure and places you at a greater risk for diabetes, obesity, depression, and some types of cancer," Jordan Metzl, M.D., told mbg. "People who already have chronic illnesses see an increase in their symptoms." Not to mention, the position of sitting causes your hip flexors to become super tight, which can up your risk of injury.
It also might show up in an unexpected place: your complexion. Research shows that a lack of exercise can further exacerbate oxidative stress8—leading to premature aging and loss of vibrancy. And on the flip side, even just moderate weekly physical activity can help fight free radical damage in skin cells.
Instead of cramming in one workout before or after work, try incorporating more movement throughout your day. This could mean taking the stairs at work, going on a short walk outside or around the office whenever you have to make a phone call, or setting a timer and doing five squats every hour. It's the little things done regularly that will have the biggest positive impact.
You're forgetful or can't concentrate.
Some memory loss and forgetfulness can be a natural sign of aging, but when you're still relatively young, these issues are likely an indicator that you're not taking care of yourself in some key way. Excessive stress, lack of sleep, and a poor diet lacking certain nutrients could all be to blame—and all of these things can negatively affect your body and speed up the aging process.
Prioritize sleep, and take steps to counter stress such as regular exercise, deep breathing, and meditation. Additionally, make sure you're eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, as certain deficiencies (like vitamin B12 deficiency if you're vegan) can impair memory. Eating more omega-3s from fatty fish may also help preserve memory and thinking skills as you age.
Your digestion is always off.
Digestive issues such as frequent constipation or diarrhea, cramps, and bloating are a red flag that your gut health is suffering for some reason, whether that's due to an unknown food intolerance or a poor diet high in processed foods and lacking fiber-rich foods. This is bad news, as poor gut health is often associated with chronic inflammation (especially if you've developed leaky gut, when the gut barrier is compromised and toxins from the intestines enter the bloodstream), which, as you probably know by now, drives the aging process.
A leaky gut can even show up in your skin: It's called the gut-skin axis, and research shows that the connection is strong9. When our digestion is off, it can trigger inflammatory skin conditions, including premature aging.
According to medical microbiologist Douglas Toal, Ph.D., one of the best ways to combat this type of age-accelerating inflammation is by supporting your gut with plenty of fiber-rich vegetables and fruits (particularly those high in prebiotic fiber), as well as probiotic-rich fermented foods. Fiber is food for good gut bacteria and contributes to the formation of anti-inflammatory compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which can help heal leaky gut.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).