All of us hope to age well. Many of us try to buy our way there, sinking significant amounts of our expendable income (and time) into anti-aging products, supplements, diets, and other regimens. The truth is, many of us doing things every day that age us less-than-optimally, and these patterns are easy to change. Read on to find out what science says about five causes of aging poorly, including the most common—and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.

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Please don’t freak out. You might want to sit down for this. Chronic stress can cause unhealthy aging and even shorten your life. That’s according to Harvard Medical School, which reports that protracted stress can shorten telomeres, the structures inside each cell that contain DNA. Telomeres start out long and grow shorter as they age; when they get too short, they die. Not only is this the literal process of aging, people with shorter telomeres are at greater risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

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Alcohol dehydrates the skin and causes inflammation, two main factors of skin aging. If you habitually drink to excess, studies suggest you can expect to see more fine lines, wrinkles, redness, and puffiness. To keep yourself looking young—and to reduce your risk of cancer or heart disease—drink in moderation. Experts say that means no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.

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If you don’t snooze, you risk losing your youthful glow. According to a study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, women who reported getting good quality sleep experienced 30% better “skin-barrier recovery” and “significantly lower intrinsic skin aging” than women who got poor sleep. Experts recommend getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. 

RELATED: Everyday Habits That Lead to Aging

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Excessively exposing your skin to the sun causes a process called photoaging—literally, aging caused by light. Over time, sun spots and liver spots, freckles, wrinkling and sagging can develop. To protect against photoaging, apply a daily moisturizer that contains sunscreen. Choose one that’s at least 30 SPF and protects against both UV-A and UV-B light.

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“Findings from research studies suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging,” says the American Academy of Dermatology. Not only can eating too much sugar prematurely age your body—it increases your chance of obesity and associated health problems like cardiovascular disease and diabetes—it can also directly age your skin. That’s why we’ve ranked it #1. 

When consumed in excess, sugar binds to collagen and elastin, two proteins in our skin that keep it looking firm and young. This creates advanced glycation end products (aptly acronymed AGEs), which damage collagen and elastin and actually prevent the body from repairing them. Now to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.

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