Graceful Aging

I use to roll my eyes when someone would say, "I'm like a fine wine, I get better with age." But now as I'm creeping towards my 36th year, I am beginning to see things a little differently. Though there are many products on the market that claim to be the fountain of youth and plastic surgery advertisements smile at us on the subway during the morning commute, there are things that we can to do to preserve our youthful glow that don't involve going under the knife.

Get Your Beauty Sleep
You may have already noticed what one night of bad sleep can due to your face: bags under your eyes and sallow skin. However, chronic sleep deprivation (getting less than 6 hours of deep sleep per night) can also have long term consequences on your skin as you age. During deep sleep, growth hormone is released, which is crucial for normal tissue repair. This is important because during the day our bodies release more of the stress hormone cortisol and other inflammatory cells, which break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps our skin smooth and elastic. In fact, one study found that good sleepers had significantly lower intrinsic skin aging scores in comparison with poor quality sleepers. In addition, during sleep the body's hydration rebalances so lack of sleep can lead to dryer skin making wrinkles more visible.

Move it Before you Loose It
Skip the botox and the face lift, scientists are discovering that exercise doesn't just make your skin appear more youthful but actually reverses skin aging. This was first seen in rat studies where sedentary rats actually went gray or bald in comparison with their active counterparts. As we age our skin composition changes due to a slower turnover of collagen which is why it begins to wrinkle and sag. Exercise may actually improve this turnover. When the skin compositions of active and inactive men and women over the age of 40 were compared, the active participates had a composition of 20- and 30-year-olds even if they were older than 65! In a follow up study, the skin composition of seniors after following a moderate 3 month endurance program was shown to be that of 20-40 year olds.

If you Smoke, Stop!
If lung cancer and heart disease weren't reason enough, how about vanity as your new motivation to quit? Wrinkles occur sooner and deeper in smokers because nicotine causes the narrowing of the blood vessels in the outermost layers of our skin. This impairs the blood flow of oxygen and important nutrients. Also, many of the 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco damage collagen and elastin that cause the skin to lose elasticity and strength. The sagging and wrinkling of the skin is not unique to the face but also occurs in the inner arms, neck and breasts. Age spots, blotches of darker skin color on face and hands, have been shown to be more prevalent amongst smokers. These skin changes are not necessarily slow either as they can appear only after 10 years of smoking.

Eat an Anti-AGEs diet
AGEs (Advance Glycation End Products) are produced from the glycation reaction between a sugar and the amino group of proteins. These products have been mostly of concern because they can lead to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's but studies are now showing their impact on skin aging. AGEs alter collagen and elastin fibers making skin less flexible. They also decrease skin cell proliferation, induce oxidative stress and inflammation which worsen skin aging. So where do they come from? AGEs are the natural byproduct during chronic blood sugar elevation as is the case with diabetes but they are also found in some of the foods we eat. Cooking foods at high temperatures particularly broiling, grilling, frying and roasting can greatly increase AGEs. The good news is eating foods high in antioxidants such as vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E and alpha-lipoic acid helps to counteract glycination. Other strong AGEs inhibitors are green tea and blueberries. Specifically blueberries were shown to improve skin firmness and wrinkles in diabetic patients in just 12 weeks. If cutting out your grilled steak is out of the question, marinating meats for a minimum of 1 hour in acid liquids such as lemon juice or vinegars has shown to cut AGEs levels in half.