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5 Things That Make You Age Faster (and What to Do About It)

by JJ Virgin on June 20, 2024

Aging is a privilege—and aging powerfully is a choice. While you can’t literally turn back the clock, there’s a lot you can do to extend your healthspan so you can look and feel vibrant and youthful throughout your life. By taking charge of elements like your diet, physical activity, stress, and other habits, you can rewrite the script on aging. 

The following habits are proven to make you age faster on the inside and out. Avoiding or addressing these five saboteurs will allow you to enjoy more years of your life in good health.

1. Lack of Sleep

The consequences of not getting enough sleep extend beyond needing an extra cup of coffee to make it through the day. Sleep is when your body repairs itself, regenerates cells, and synthesizes protein, among its many benefits.1 A chronic lack of sleep impairs these crucial processes that happen overnight and ages you faster in many ways, including: 

  • Muscle and bone health: After 30, adults lose 3-8% of their muscle mass every decade.2 Likewise, your risk of bone loss or osteoporosis increases in midlife.3 During deep sleep (when most restorative and regenerative processes occur), your body releases growth hormone, which keeps your cells healthy to reproduce and regenerate. Poor sleep disrupts this process, affecting bone and muscle strength.4 
  • Brain health: Sleep deprivation accelerates aging, impairs cognitive functions, hinders decision-making and problem-solving abilities, and reduces overall brain health.5
  • Mood: Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you cranky, it also increases your risk of mood disorders like depression and anxiety by disrupting neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in your brain.6
  • Immune health: Lack of sleep weakens the immune system, making you more prone to infections and illnesses.7
  • Inflammation: Sleep deprivation elevates inflammatory markers, contributing to chronic inflammation, accelerating aging, and increasing your risk of age-related diseases.8
  • Metabolism: Poor sleep disrupts metabolic and appetite-regulating processes, making you gain weight and increasing your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.9
  • Skin health: Inadequate sleep reduces skin elasticity, leading to more visible signs of aging, like wrinkles.10 It also impairs blood circulation, contributing to dark circles, puffiness, and a dull complexion.11

Aim for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to combat sleep deprivation and promote healthy aging. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, create a sleep-friendly environment, limit screen time before bed, manage stimulant intake, practice relaxation techniques, and engage in regular physical activity to enhance sleep quality. Consider a synergistic, melatonin-containing sleep supplement if you have trouble falling and staying asleep. 

2. Chronic Stress

Stress has a paradoxical effect on your body. In small doses, it can be a catalyst for growth and resilience. However, when stress lingers for too long, it becomes a silent antagonist, accelerating the aging process through the release of cortisol, your body’s stress hormone.12-13

This hormone, when chronically elevated, wreaks havoc on your cellular health. It shortens telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of your chromosomes. These telomeres are like the biological clocks of cells, and when they shorten, the risk of age-related diseases increases, and aging accelerates.14

Stress also triggers or worsens inflammation, which not only causes collagen breakdown within your skin and leads to premature aging signs like wrinkles,15 but also weakens the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections and illnesses.16 

The solution for chronic stress is to find practices that help you manage it. These may include meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), deep-breathing exercises, or other effective stress-management techniques to slow aging and promote overall well-being.

3. Long-Duration Cardio Exercise

Long-duration cardio exercises, such as distance running or cycling, have been associated with accelerated aging and a range of health concerns. Among the detrimental effects, prolonged cardio can prompt your body to break down muscle tissue for energy, resulting in muscle loss and diminished strength.17 This is especially true without proper nutrition to support this level of physical activity.

Activities like running can also put a lot of stress on your joints, potentially leading to problems like arthritis.18 Intense and prolonged cardio can also increase the production of free radicals, speeding up aging by causing oxidative stress that can damage cells, proteins, and DNA.19 This cumulative damage can lead to cellular dysfunction, inflammation, impaired repair processes, and heightened susceptibility to age-related ailments.20

One superior alternative is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves short bursts of intense activity followed by brief rest periods. Unlike long-duration cardio that can last an hour or more, a HIIT workout doesn’t need to take more than 30 minutes. Researchers praise HIIT for being efficient and providing similar or better physical benefits in less time.21

The most effective workout routine combines HIIT with resistance training. Lifting heavy things strengthens bones, joints, and muscles, which can weaken with age.22 Resistance training also reduces the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, promoting overall health and longevity.23 

My free Resistance Training Cheat Sheet provides everything you need for your fitness journey, including home gym essentials, an 8-week workout plan, and a progress tracker to track your sets, reps, and weights with each workout. 

4. Environmental Toxins

Many products you use daily, including anti-aging skin creams, could be aging you faster. Environmental toxins are everywhere—in your food, water, air, cosmetics, and household cleaners. 

Toxins can damage and cause changes or breaks in the structure of DNA, interfering with your cells’ ability to function correctly.24 They also keep chronic inflammation going, making cells age faster and increasing the risk of age-related diseases.25

Some common toxins to watch out for in personal-care products include:

  • Formaldehyde: A known carcinogen.
  • Mercury: Can damage your kidneys and nervous system.
  • Dibutyl and diethylhexyl phthalates: Can disrupt hormones and damage your reproductive system.
  • Isobutyl and isopropyl parabens: disrupt hormones and harm the reproductive system.26

You can’t entirely eliminate these and other toxins (they’re everywhere), but you can reduce exposure and support your body’s ability to manage them. Simple ways to do that include: 

  • Air quality: Use air purifiers indoors, especially in regions with high pollution levels, and stay indoors during peak pollution times, such as rush hour.
  • Water filtration: Install water filters to reduce contaminants like lead and arsenic in drinking water.
  • Natural and organic products: Opt for natural and organic personal care and household cleaning products to minimize exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for finding better-for-you products: take a look at their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and Guide to Healthy Cleaning for safer options. 
  • Dietary choices: Eat a diet rich in antioxidants from organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to neutralize oxidative stress and reduce toxin exposure. Avoid factory-farmed meat, which often carries residues of antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals that the animals consume. Antibiotics can disrupt gut microbiota balance, leading to inflammation, impaired immunity, and reduced nutrient absorption, which accelerates aging. The hormones in animal foods, on the other hand, can contribute to hormonal imbalances in your body, potentially leading to increased cancer risk and metabolic issues, all of which can speed up the aging process.
  • Sweat it out: HIIT and sauna sessions can induce sweating, promoting your body’s natural detoxification processes. Remember to drink plenty of water to support these processes effectively. 

5. Sugar

You’re likely aware that sugar isn’t doing you any favors in the health department, but it can also accelerate aging. 

Sugar triggers glycation, a damaging process where sugars bind to essential proteins responsible for many functions throughout the body, effectively disrupting their normal operation.27 Over time, glycation forms harmful molecules called advanced-glycation end products (AGEs).28 

AGEs damage collagen and elastin, the proteins that support healthy skin, and create or worsen wrinkles and sagging skin.29 Sugar also contributes to chronic inflammation, worsening conditions like acne and rosacea, making your skin look dull and aged.30

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men.31 When you consume too much sugar, your body’s cells can become less responsive to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. This condition, called insulin resistance, forces your pancreas to make more insulin to compensate. Eventually, this can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.32

Excessive sugar intake can also interfere with absorbing essential nutrients, including B vitamins and magnesium, which support healthy skin. These and other nutrient deficiencies leave your body malnourished and more susceptible to the signs of aging.33

I wrote the Sugar Impact Diet to show how various sugars affect the body differently so you can break free of your sugar addiction for good. By identifying and swapping high-sugar-impact foods for low-sugar-impact alternatives, you’ll lose weight, boost energy, and reclaim your health all by being aware of food’s sugar impact.* 

Age Powerfully With Optimal Protein Intake

Optimal protein is your ticket to combat aging effectively. Consuming 30+ grams of protein per meal reduces sugar cravings and nurtures skin health by providing essential building blocks for collagen production.34, 35 Protein regulates your appetite, helping you feel satisfied for longer periods and reducing the likelihood of overeating.36

Protein also supports bone density and muscle strength, helping you maintain mobility and vitality.37 By incorporating protein-rich foods into your diet, you can age powerfully and enjoy the benefits of a healthier, more resilient body.

Whether you want to increase your protein intake or refine your current plan, my free 7-Day Eat Protein First Challenge ensures optimal protein at every meal. I’ve included a protein calculator to help you determine how much protein you should get. Also included is a guide with tips, tricks, and a protein-first meal plan to help you successfully transition to a higher-protein diet and reap the benefits. 


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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.