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Avoiding these life-shortening factors can improve your chances at longevity.

by Bernice Varona


What if you can delay the effects of aging by changing your lifestyle—instead of investing in expensive creams and surgical procedures? Studies point to the fact that our choices in life have influence over our susceptibility to diseases and premature aging. In fact, genetic makeup accounts only for 25 to 35 percent of our longevity potential—the rest is influenced by our habits and lifestyle choices. Here’s a list of things to avoid.

Stress is everywhere—in the midst of a traffic jam, disagreements with coworkers and loved ones, or when beating deadlines. When not managed properly, it can build up over time and cause disease or premature aging.

To cope with stress, set aside some time each day for meditation or prayer, and complement this with physical activity or exercise. Intimate relationships with friends, loved ones, and even with pets can help. Jim Martinez, a photographer, claims that his dachshund helps him through stressful days: “When Mozo greets me after a long day at work, I feel happy and revived. Spending time playing with my dog helps me relax.” The people you surround yourself with highly influence your longevity. Health-conscious friends with positive attitudes can give you a better chance of living longer.

Unhealthy exposure to sunlight can affect your health. We need the sun to make vitamin D, but a deficiency or an excess of it can be detrimental to our health. The “sunshine vitamin” is different from the others, because it can influence your entire body. Vitamin D receptors have been found in almost every type of human cell. Studies have shown that you can decrease the risk of cancer and other diseases by more than half by simply optimizing your vitamin D levels. Just remember not to overdo it—it takes half the time to make the necessary vitamin D from sunlight as it takes for your skin to turn pink.

Obesity and premature aging have shared a correlative history observed by doctors and scientists for years. Advanced studies even demonstrated that what you weigh can determine the age of your cells at a molecular level. Obese people are faced with 30 to 50 percent more health predicaments compared to heavy drinkers and smokers, who also face a bleak future.

A U.K. study found out how obesity influences aging: Telomeres, or the ends of chromosomes, act as a countdown clock for the number of cellular generations our cells can take, and are used by researchers to study the causes of aging. The investigation found that participants who were obese had an additional 8.8 years of aging compared to leaner counterparts.

Obesity also contributes to other factors that cause aging, such as depression and stress due to low self-esteem.

An unhealthy diet not only causes aging, but also contributes to obesity, stress, malnutrition and disease. It’s best to eat as many unprocessed, whole foods as possible, since processed foods have higher levels of chemicals, sugar and salt. Excess sugar can lead to diabetes, as insulin levels decrease or become less effective. Fruits and vegetables also offer a wide array of nutrients and antioxidants, both of which can fight aging in different ways. Anthocyanins, which give blueberries their dark blue color, fight cancer cell growth. Beta-carotene can help optimize immune function. It is also important to add in good sources of protein and healthy fats. People who eat a balanced and nutritious diet consistently have the lowest rates of chronic disease, and are generally leaner and fitter.

Inactivity and the loss of muscle mass can accelerate the aging process. It also contributes to other factors such as obesity and stress. Age-related changes in your muscles can be counteracted through exercise. Tina Medrano-Phipps, M.D., from Newark’s Department of Health and Human Services in New Jersey, says that exercising keeps your body working at its optimal capacity, and will help you feel vigorous and energetic. “You can incorporate physical activity in your daily routine by walking, biking, and even by doing household activities like cleaning,” she adds.

Exposure to toxins such as smoking can shorten your life expectancy by an average of eight to 12 years. Aside from this, smoking causes chronic problems such as cardiopulmonary diseases, hypertension, stroke, emphysema and more. It can also decrease your mental abilities, and contribute to memory deficiency and a lower reasoning power. Smoking also makes you look older, causing wrinkles, nicotine-stained teeth and fingers, hair loss and thinning. “In the Philippines, smoking kills an estimate of 87,600 Filipinos every year,” states Manuel Jorge, M.D., an associate professor and pulmonary specialist at the U.P. College of Medicine.

Substance abuse, like alcoholism and drug addiction, also leads to disease and the shortening of your life span. Pollution and other environmental hazards can also cause you to age faster; living in a polluted urban area can cause you to lose years. Toxins may be found at home, too: some household cleaners, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, and other home-care products may contain substances that could be detrimental to your health. Check your food, too—certain fish, for example, may harbor heavy metals, making them unsafe for regular ingestion in the long run.

Did you know that dehydration, sleep deprivation and gum disease can also contribute to faster aging? Read more about this in the September issue of HealthToday, out now in major bookstores and newsstands.

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