9 common mistakes that age you

Halt the aging process by avoiding these pitfalls.
Copyright © 2014 Weider Publications, LLC, a subsidiary of American Media, Inc. All rights reserved. // Copyright © 2014 Weider Publications, LLC, a subsidiary of American Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Eating sweets

The average American eats 150 pounds of sugar each year—18 percent of our calories. You know the health implications of this, from obesity to Type 2 diabetes, but it can also be as much of a wrinkle-causing culprit as sun exposure and smoking. That’s because a process called glycation causes sugars to attach to proteins in collagen and elastin, which can make skin look older. The aging effects of excess sugar consumption become visible around age 35 and accelerate rapidly after that.

Youth boosters: Limit your sugar intake to 6 1⁄4 teaspoons (or 25 grams) a day. Fiber slows sugar absorption, so opt for whole foods like an orange over its juices (OJ has the same sugar content as soda). When a sugar craving hits, it’s often because you’re thirsty, so try having a glass of water or seltzer instead of something sweet. If that doesn’t help, have a piece of dark chocolate or fresh berries.

More: How to do a sugar detox

1 of 10 A woman eating ice cream (Silke Woweries/Corbis)

Working too hard

Research has found that a bad job—whether it’s a career you don’t enjoy or working long hours—can increase the risk of heart disease and speed up cell aging, as well as minimize the time you spend getting exercise, healthy meals and sleep. Long-term chronic stress—a common problem for the overworked—also impairs brain function.

Youth boosters: If you can’t change your stressors outright (think: a difficult boss, travel schedule or workload), draw up a list of things that make you happy—a pet’s wet kisses or your favorite tea—and add them into your day. Complaining about your job can make stress worse, so resist the urge to gripe, and replace complaints with thoughts of gratitude.

More: 4 steps to career satisfaction

2 of 10 A woman stressed at work (Compassionate Eye Foundation/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

Eating inflammatory foods

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) form when sugars and fats react with a protein, causing a structure to change irreversibly, and then attach to many things in the body and cause damage. While we can create AGEs in our body after eating sugar, we can also straight-up consume these AGEs via foods that are processed and/or heated. Browning, caramelizing, grilling, roasting, broiling and frying create AGEs. Highly processed and canned foods heated during processing, as well as high-fat dairy products like cheese, are also culprits. AGEs can increase inflammation and oxidation that cause aging and age-related diseases affecting the heart, brain, bones and joints, kidneys, insulin resistance, anemia and skin.

Youth boosters: Your best bets to reduce the consumption of AGEs are to eat raw when possible, eat foods in their whole form and cook them with a water-based method (like steaming, poaching or boiling) or marinate in an acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) before cooking. Eating a variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods can also help reduce the inflammation and oxidation that AGEs cause, so go for berries, sweet potatoes and leafy greens.

More: 7 inflammatory foods to avoid

3 of 10 A woman eating a cheeseburger (Dean Belcher/Getty Images)

Skipping resistance training

Women lose approximately 5 percent of their muscle mass every decade after the age of 30. Resistance training is the only thing that reverses this and it may even increase muscle growth to previous levels or above them. Strength training is also great for bone density and increasing energy and strength. It keeps the metabolism running, helps with balance and stamina and is good for the heart. More muscle tone also means less saggy skin.

Youth boosters: Aim for 20 minutes of resistance training three times a week, using weights or bands for curls, presses, rows, squats and lunges—or your own body weight for push-ups, chair dips, squats, lunges and planks. Pair this training with 30 minutes of cardio five days a week.

More: 5 total body strength moves

4 of 10 A woman lifting weights (Antonio_Diaz/Getty Images)

Skimping on sleep

Getting regular sleep isn’t a luxury—it’s a medical need. Lack of sleep releases cortisol, which can age us internally and externally. Consistency is key, too: A 2011 study found that changes in how much or how little test subjects slept over a five-year period in late middle age were associated with an accelerated cognitive decline equivalent to four to seven years of aging.

Youth boosters: Getting a solid 7 1⁄2 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night lets you cycle through several REM patterns; it’s in this stage of sleep that the body is able to repair itself, and is important for healing, memory, skin elasticity, normal cortisol levels and metabolism. To encourage sleep, keep your room at 65 degrees, and maintain the same sleep and wake hours. Valerian tea or tart cherry juice, which help to stimulate melatonin production, are also great natural sleep aids. If tension or restless legs keep you up at night, take 1 to 2 teaspoons of magnesium citrate powder mixed with water or juice to relax those muscles.

More: 8 natural sleep remedies

5 of 10 A woman turning off her alarm clock (Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

Forsaking fat

Women typically cut fats from their diet as they age, because they’re trying to cut calories. But good, healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids help to keep skin supple, boost brain health, keep the heart strong, fight diabetes and can increase lifespan. Cutting omega-3s increases cellular inflammation that accelerates the aging process, and eventually leads to organ dysfunction and loss of function. It also makes your skin look more irritated, less radiant and older.

Youth boosters: Consume more extra virgin olive oil, almonds, avocados and fatty fish like wild salmon but avoid vegetable oils rich in omega-6s (corn, soy, sunflower, safflower) and limit saturated fats found in butter and cheese. We need 2 1⁄2 grams of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids per day, which you can get with a tablespoon of cod liver oil or via a purified fish oil supplement.

More: 5 foods that prevent wrinkles

6 of 10 A plate of salmon (Nicole S. Young/Getty Images)

Bad posture

People typically lose about 1 centimeter of stature every 10 years after age 40. Rounding of the upper back, lower back pain and a forward head position are the most typical age-related posture concerns. Sitting, standing and bending incorrectly don’t just add years to your appearance but take a physical toll, too. When we sit or stand with our bones misaligned, our muscles work overtime and it weakens our joints. Good posture helps you look healthy, stay strong and flexible, eliminate or avoid pain, increase energy, be more relaxed and maintain mobility.

Youth boosters: When seated, sit on your sitz bones (the bony part of your butt that you feel when you sit on a firm surface). When standing, draw your chin in to look at your ankles, let your weight move back into your heels, take each shoulder back and down, and back your head up without lifting your chin too high—and for bending, bow from your hip joints, not your waist.

More: 9 ways to improve your posture

7 of 10 A woman slouching in a chair (Paolo Curto/Getty Images)

Skipping sex

"Getting busy" contributes to greater happiness, a stronger immune system, good circulation and caloric burn and can even help you live up to eight years longer, according to one study. Some researchers say sex also boosts the production of human growth hormone, which improves muscle tone and makes you look younger and more fit. Chemicals released during sex reduce stress and improve energy, well-being and mood.

Youth boosters: The average American couple has sex twice a week, but it’s most important that both partners are reasonably satisfied with the frequency. Scheduling sex can help trigger your desire, as can fantasizing for 10 minutes a day on your own or trying something new like sexy lingerie or a new position to keep things interesting. To “wake up” your pelvic area and stave off a low libido, try three sets of 10 Kegel exercises every day for four weeks.

More: 9 ways to fuel your sex drive

8 of 10 A woman worried in bed (Getty Images)

Forgetting the sunblock

Of course, the most serious result of too much sun is skin cancer, but it also causes wrinkles, sun spots, broken capillaries and a dry, dull complexion—and it’s not just from baking on the beach. Eighty percent of sun exposure comes from cumulative everyday outings, whether walking or driving (UVA light travels through car windows). Additional sources include reflected light from sand, water and snow; mirrored rooms with large windows; high altitudes; and the ultraviolet radiation responsible for the UV index on a cloudy day.

Youth boosters: Apply a daily moisturizer containing an SPF 30 or higher (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide ingredients are chemical-free) to all exposed areas. Wear protective clothing, including a hat, too, and limit your exposure—even on cloudy days. Shield your eyes and surrounding skin with sunglasses that have UV protection of 400 or higher.

More: How to choose the best sunscreen

This article about anti-aging originally appeared on NaturalHealthMag.com.

9 of 10 A woman sunbathing (Björn Andrén/Matton Collection/Corbis)