Aging happens as a result of numerous processes in the body, primarily from how our cells regenerate and how much inflammation we have. These are key things we can control including diet, sleep, and lifestyle habits.
Here’s what you can do to naturally slow premature aging, as well as one majorly overlooked factor in maintaining your youth: cortisol.
Premature Aging is About More Than Skin
Companies try to convince you to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on anti-aging skincare creams, anti-wrinkle products, and specialized cosmetics designed to make us look younger.
While the skin’s moisture level can impact its appearance (dry skin is more likely to appear wrinkled with fine lines faster than skin that is moisturized), skin health goes far below the surface of the skin.
Stress is pervasive in our society, and even when we think we are handling it well, if we’re chronically stressed, our body’s hormone levels know it.
Our skin does respond to the environment we live in, and when we live in a dry climate, we don’t moisturize, or we wear cosmetic products that have harsh ingredients, these factors can certainly age the appearance of our skin. However, if you follow a meticulous skincare routine and you still feel like your skin is aging faster than it should, you might need something more than what you’re putting on topically.
How Stress is Tied to Premature Aging
Perhaps the most overlooked way to prevent premature aging is addressing an even less tangible issue: stress. This isn’t as easy to address as using skin creams or changing your diet, but it can have a more wide-reaching impact on not only how our cells function, but also overall health. (3) Aging naturally happens and will, of course, involve a natural breakdown. But stress in and of itself can speed the aging process and influence how the immune system works. (4)
Stress is pervasive in our society, and even when we think we are handling it well, if we’re chronically stressed, our body’s hormone levels know it. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and designed to help the body handle stress.
This hormone helps us function in the midst of stressful situations, but is meant for immediate, life-threatening situations. When cortisol is continuously produced and remains high for long periods of time, we start to experience negative effects. These effects can include insomnia, weight gain, low mood, metabolic shifts that can trigger type 2 diabetes, and signs of premature aging. (5, 6, 7)
Unfortunately, decreasing cortisol production is not a simple switch that can be flipped. Hormones in the body exist in a complicated song-and-dance with each other. If you’ve had long-term cortisol issues, chances are you’re experiencing thyroid hormone problems, reproductive hormone issues (like too much estrogen), and/or leptin problems (the hormone that regulates appetite). (8, 9, 10) Ultimately, to promote hormonal health in your body, cortisol needs to be in balance.
So How Do You Lower Your Cortisol Levels?
Research shows that yoga can improve stress markers in the body. (11) Taking 10 minutes to practice a simple yoga routine can gently ease your body into the day. Unwinding at the end of the day before heading to bed can also help lower your cortisol levels. Restorative yoga, in particular, is great at helping your body naturally lower stress.
If yoga isn’t for you, or you’re already doing it and find that it’s not enough, acupuncture is proven to lower the effects of stress in the body. (12) Deep breathing can also be a useful technique to calm the brain down when in a stressful situation. When we exist in a tense lifestyle, we tend to stop breathing deeply and take short, shallow breaths. Learning to belly breathe can active the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the cortisol-driven fight-or-flight reaction. (13) Deep breathing exercises are a great way to calm your system if you’re having a hard day at work and need a few moments to reset. Try these 5 minute exercises to boost your energy and release tension.
Working with a licensed mental health professional, even if only for a short time, can teach you coping techniques. Working with a therapist allows you to discuss your problems in an objective and safe environment, which often, is a huge help. Humans need to be heard and recognized, and being able to tackle your issues with someone else can be invaluable. Therapy can be utilized as a way to periodically check in on your mental wellness — similar to how you would regularly go to the gym to keep your body in shape. A therapist can help you navigate your feelings, nurture positive behaviors, and manage stress in a healthy way.