What if I told you that there were certain things in life that make you physically age faster? And to be clear, I’m not simply talking about those few experiences that make you feel older. I’m talking about things that make you age physically faster at a cellular level.
It’s pretty shocking, I know.
And, if you’re anything like me, now you have to know what those things are and how you can avoid them as much as humanly possible – because really, who doesn’t want a few extra days on this earth?
So, what are they?
No worries! I’ll let you in on them right now!
Environmental Factors that Affect Aging
There are six main environmental factors that make you age faster. These are:
- Cigarette smoke/secondhand smoke
- Air pollution
- Plastic pollutants
- Heavy metals
- Bacteria and viruses
Let’s look at each of these factors, and how they speed up aging, in a bit more detail!
Cigarette Smoke and Aging
Let’s face it, we all know that cigarette smoke is bad for us. But did you know that it can literally make you age faster?
Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 different chemicals, many of which your body can’t filter out once they enter your nasal cavity, throat, or lungs. These chemicals pass through the cell membranes in your airways and enter the bloodstream.
Now, this is where things start to get nasty.
These chemicals cause harmful oxidative damage (which is thought to be responsible for almost the entire aging process) to essentially every single cell they come in contact with. This reduces the cells’ ability to function and replicate normally. Horrendously, these same chemicals can also negatively affect the body’s ability to fight oxidative damage, exacerbating the problem even further!
Through this combination of factors, smoking can accelerate skin aging, speed up normal age-related declines in bone health and cardiovascular function, reduce fertility and increase cell mutations (which can contribute to the early onset of cancer).
In short, avoid cigarette smoke at all costs if you want to keep your cells (and yourself) young and vibrant.
Air Pollution and Aging
Since the inception of the industrial age we have seen air pollution skyrocket exponentially.
Exposure to this pollution, especially long-term, has been shown to cause cardiovascular dysfunction, impaired cognition, increased risk of cancer, and even an increased chance of developing metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.
To summarize it briefly, air pollution = not good.
To make aging matters worse, air pollution can have direct effects on the length of your cells’ telomeres.
Telomeres are tiny little caps that sit on the end of the DNA within every single one of your cells and protect it from damage. (They basically act exactly like the little plastic caps on the end of your shoelaces!) If they weren’t there, the DNA would become frayed and damaged, limiting the cells ability to function effectively.
A reduction in telomere length (which limits their ability to protect your cellular DNA) is thought to be one of the key drivers for aging. This is because it results in both a loss of cell function and normal cell replication.
By accelerating the normal deterioration of your telomeres over time, air pollution can speed up the aging process!
Radiation and Aging
Little do most of us realize, we are actually exposed to a powerful form of radiation every single day in the form of UV light, which comes in hot, directly from the sun. Combine this with the high degree of radiation you see during an X-ray (broken bones anyone?) and the small amounts of radiation you receive from the sky during air travel, and, over the duration of your lifetime, you are likely going to be exposed to a fairly large amount of radiation.
Now, this radiation has seriously negative effects on the body at a cellular level through the creation of harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are a specific type of compound that act as powerful mutagens. They are able to directly and nastily damage the DNA in your body’s cells.
While we have written about this in more detail in this article, the thing to know here is that exposure to ROSs result in cellular mutations, which accelerate the aging process by reducing cell replication and function. Taking this into consideration, overexposure of radiation and exposure to lots of extra ROS can accelerate the aging process in a big way.
Now, it’s important to note that, while you can’t always avoid exposure to radiation (sometimes X-rays are genuinely essential), there is a key thing you can do to limit radiation’s impact day to day – wear sunscreen! By blocking the harmful UV rays from the sun, sunscreen offers the most effective way to limit daily radiation exposure.
Plastic Pollutants and Aging
Plastics have become so incredibly ingrained in modern life, it’s hard to fathom how we ever lived without them. They make up the toys and lunchboxes our children take to school. They make the containers we eat and drink out of. Hell, they even make the keyboard that I’m typing on at this very moment.
They are everywhere!
Obviously, plastics have benefits (otherwise we wouldn’t use them so much!). They are cheap to make, easy to work with, durable, and so very convenient. But it’s also important to note that they do have a serious downside. And that is phthalates.
Phthalates are a group of man-made chemicals that are found in most of the plastics you use every day. And, unfortunately, these compounds can easily leech out of plastic products and enter your body.
This is a serious problem because, once in your body, these compounds can negatively affect your endocrine and reproductive health, inhibit DNA replication and increase ROS production. And, in doing so, they can speed up aging!
So, what can you do about it?
Avoid using plastics food containers and water bottles. And make sure to read the labels of all your cosmetic products very closely. You would be amazed at how many of them contain these nasty phthalates!
Heavy Metals and Aging
Much like the above point, we are exposed to heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium) each and every day. These compounds are used heavily in industrial applications. They are also found in things like cosmetic products, some seafood, and even rice! As a result, human exposure has risen rapidly over the last few decades.
Much like phthalates, these heavy metals have been shown to cause a huge increase in ROS production within the body, which can result in a rapid increase in oxidative stress. Through this interaction, exposure to heavy metals can speed up aging quite dramatically.
With this in mind, you should be very selective when choosing your produce and home improvement products. Make sure that they are free of heavy-metal-containing compounds.
Bacteria, Viruses, and Aging
Over the course of your lifetime, you will come into contact with thousands of different types of bacteria and viruses. These living organisms are found in the food you eat, the water you drink, and the air you breathe.
Now while some of these little critters are completely harmless, many also represent a threat to the human body. When one of these threatening bugs enter your body, they are treated like the invaders they are and are greeted with a rapid and powerful inflammatory response, driven with the sole purpose of removing them from existence.
Now, inflammation has been shown to wreak absolute havoc with the body, increasing ROS production, damaging your cells, and shortening telomeres – ultimately making you age faster as a result.
Through this nasty interaction, exposure to harmful microbes can inadvertently and negatively affect the rate at which you age – which is obviously not a good thing!
With this in mind, the keys to minimizing the effects of these harmful microbes is to keep your immunizations up to date, prepare your food carefully, and treat any insect bites and wounds as well as possible. Basically, just do your best to avoid any chance of infection!
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Take Home Message
There are many environmental factors that can cause us to age faster. In fact, we can’t avoid them completely (it’s literally impossible). As a result, your best bet is to make smart lifestyle choices to avoid them where possible.
This may mean wearing sunscreen, avoiding plastic containers, skipping certain brands of rice, changing your food preparation practices, getting regular immunizations, treating wounds and bites with care, and changing your cosmetic and home improvement projects products to brands that are phthalate and metal free.
They don’t have to be big changes, but they will make a big difference in how you age!