15 daily habits that might be ageing you prematurely

Stop some of these moves, and you might slow down the hands of time.

Bingeing on your favourite shows
Calling all House of Cards fans – your love for TV marathons may chip away at your brain. According to a study published in a 2016 issue of Neurology, a lack of physical activity during middle age has been linked to a smaller mind later in life. “We found a direct correlation in our study between poor fitness and brain volume decades later, which indicates accelerated brain ageing,” said study author Nicole Spartano, PhD, with Boston University School of Medicine in Boston. Similar research recently published in JAMA Psychiatry discovered that large amounts of television viewing and low physical activity in early adulthood were associated with a decline in cognitive function during midlife. Check out 22 more bad habits that are making you old before your time.

Depriving yourself of sleep
Beauty sleep is a real thing, according to science. Physician-scientists at University Hospitals Case Medical Center gathered 60 women between the ages of 30 and 49; half of the volunteers fell into the “poor quality sleep” category. The ladies who snagged less slumber showed increased signs of skin ageing, including fine lines, uneven pigmentation, slackening of skin, and reduced elasticity. “Our study is the first to conclusively demonstrate that inadequate sleep is correlated with reduced skin health and accelerated skin ageing,” said lead study investigator Elma Baron, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Follow these tips on how to sleep better every night. 

Being too inactive day and night
In Australia’s largest ongoing study of healthy ageing, researchers analysed the lifestyle behaviours of more than 230,000 participants. They concluded that sleeping too much (more than nine hours per night), sitting too much (more than seven hours a day) and not working out enough (less than 150 minutes a week) can quadruple someone’s risk of dying prematurely. “Our study shows that we should really be taking these behaviours together as seriously as we do other risk factors such as levels of drinking and unhealthy eating patterns,” said lead author Dr. Melody Ding, senior research fellow at the School of Public Health from the University of Sydney. Head here for some great ideas on how to fit fitness into your life. 

Thinking ‘old’ thoughts
“The number one thing that can age someone – and the studies support this – is feeling old,” says Robi Ludwig, PsyD, author of Your Best Age is Now. “When we feel younger, we’re more hopeful, we have more productive workouts and we’re more in touch with the possibilities life has to offer, which makes us more optimistic.” In fact, a 2016 study in Health Psychology concluded that people who feel older than their actual age are more than likely to be hospitalised. “The younger we can feel, the better it is for us,” adds Ludwig.

Blowing off meditation
Quieting the mind has major anti-ageing benefits. Study experts from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found that people who meditate had a larger volume of grey matter in the brain – the area responsible for memory, emotions, seeing, hearing, speech, impulse control and decision making. Previous work from the same researchers indicated that those who meditate have stronger connections between the brain regions and show less brain deterioration. Here are 51 everyday habits that reduce your risk of dementia.  

Sleeping on your back or belly
Snoozing on your side – also known as the lateral position – seems to be associated with a lower risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A group of international scientists observed that when rats snoozed on their side, a pathway that removes waste chemicals from the brain worked more efficiently. Build-up of these wastes can contribute to poor neurological health; more research is needed to see how these findings translate to human brain health. Learn how to match the right mattress to your sleeping style here. 

Not giving yoga a try
Saying “om” may keep you younger longer. Study authors from Jadavpur University in India found that practicing yoga can boost the production of two hormones related to youth and longevity: GH (growth hormone, which produces new tissues for skin and muscles) and DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate, which is linked to the immune system and heart health). While these substances naturally decline with each passing birthday, the researchers discovered that volunteers who practiced regular yoga (six days per week) for 12 weeks either maintained or increased their levels. Namaste, indeed. Try these soothing yoga poses aimed at helping you sleep. 

Believing that “it’s all downhill from here”
“Assuming that your best years are over is a very dangerous idea – and one that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if you let it,” says Ludwig. “You will seek out reasons that it’s true in order to make yourself right.” We’ve been conditioned by a youth-obsessed society to believe that people of a certain age are no longer interesting or relevant. “But these are old, outmoded ideas,” adds Ludwig. “The challenge is on us to rebel against these myths.”

You crank up the heat in your home
There’s no better feeling than sitting by the crackling blaze on the hearth during the winter time. But heating your home, via a fireplace or thermostat, can actually suck the moisture out of the air. “This can lead to dry, inflamed skin, which over time has ageing effects,” James C. Marotta, MD, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon and skincare expert told health.com. A humidifier can help keep your home at a comfortable 40 percent to 60 percent humidity in the fight against dry air and itchy, flaky skin. Even the old home remedy of placing a wet towel over a radiator or a bowl of cold water in the room can restore some of the room’s lost moisture. Head here for 5 tips for conquering eczema this winter. 

You slouch at your desk
Bad posture can give you early on-set aches and pains that many people don’t suffer from until their old age. Everything from slumping in front of your keyboard at work to texting can gradually misalign your body, strain and tighten your muscles, and even cause lower back, neck, or hip pain. “The spine has a well-balanced S-shaped curvature in order to stabilise and support us,” Jeremy Smith, MD, orthopaedic spine surgeon at Hoag Orthopaedic Institute in California told health.com. “Poor posture or slouching deviates the spine from this normal alignment, and as a result, the muscles, disks, and bones become abnormally stressed.” Always check for proper posture periodically throughout the day by ensuring that your ears, shoulders, and hips form a straight line in a seated position. Here are 5 easy ways to improve your posture. 

You hold grudges
All that pent-up bitterness and frustration could deduct years from your life! “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” Karen Swartz, M.D., director of clinical and educational programs at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center said in a statement. In fact, one study found that people who only forgive when others apologise first or promise not to do the transgression again are more likely to die earlier than people who are less likely to forgive under such conditions. Plus, holding onto a grudge can also increase your blood pressure and heart rate and even lead to feelings of depression. In the words of Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, “let it go.”  Your mind and body will thank you!

You love to barbecue
Barbecues are a way of life in many Western societies, but the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says that grilled meats may increase your risk for cancer. Any meat cooked over an open flame at high temperatures exceeding 148 degrees or cooked for long periods of time is exposed to cancer-causing chemicals known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Apparently, these compounds have been found to change your DNA, which may raise your cancer risk. The NCI recommends avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame, cooking meat in a microwave prior to grilling to reduce the exposure time, or continuously turning the meat over a high heat source to reduce HCA and PAH formation.

You always blast the volume on your headphones
If you take your headphones off and hear a ringing or buzzing in your ears, your music is too loud. Even if your hearing quickly returns to normal, you may be doing lasting damage to your ears, says M. Charles Liberman, PhD, director of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Massachusetts Eye and Ear told TIME. Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). For example, an MP3 player at maximum volume can reach 105 decibels or noise from heavy city traffic is 85 decibels. The problem with noise-induced hearing loss is that it’s typically gradual and you may not notice it until it’s too late when it’s more pronounced. The NIDCD suggests avoiding noises that are too loud, too close, or last too long. Head here to find out more in our guide to avoiding hearing loss. 

You don’t manage your stress well
Stress can make you sick – literally. A 2012 study suggests that work-related stress could ruin your DNA. Researchers found that Finnish people with the most job-related stress had the shortest telomeres, DNA sections that when shortened can cause cells to die or become damaged. “We know that the telomeres [wear down] over time, but possibly anxiety and stress may expedite that,” Vivian Diller, PhD, a psychologist in New York City told HuffPost. “That is the closest we’ve gotten to understanding the relationship between stress and how our body may age faster.” Stress can also suppress your immune system, ruin your sleep, increase your blood pressure, and make your brain feel all fuzzy, which essentially ages you both inside and out. That’s why it’s best to hit the gym, do yoga, or read a book to decompress and calm your mind from all the daily hustle and bustle. Head here to find out how to teach yourself to meditate and relieve stress.  

You never say no to dessert
Your junk food habits may age your body quicker if you’re grabbing for that pint of ice cream every night. Sugar molecules love to latch onto proteins and fats, which turn into AGEs (advanced glycation end products) during the glycation process. These AGEs can damage collagen and elastin, the two proteins in your skin that make it smooth, taut, and plump. Researchers have even found that these diet-derived AGEs could contribute to vascular tightening, liver disease, and possibly Alzheimer’s. “For most people with normal levels of glucose, the glycation process is something that happens gradually over the course of a lifetime,” Greg Hillebrand, PhD, a biochemist at Proctor & Gamble told elle.com. “It’s really not a big deal, but diet and lifestyle choices can affect how quickly the effects can be seen on the skin.” Steer clear of white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and simple carbs, like pasta, to slow down the glycation process and maintain your youthful glow inside and out.

This article first appeared on Reader's Digest.