High cholesterol, not enough sleep, and stress all put your future health at risk. Find out why, and how to counteract it
You skip a workout, miss your bedtime, eat a few bad meals, and think, “I might feel gross tomorrow, but it’s not that big of a deal.” And while we're inclined to agree, a few new studies remind us that our habits now can seriously affect our health later in life. The big ones are obvious: You know you'll pay for smoking, drinking, and spending too much time on the couch down the road. But these three seemingly harmless habits have a serious impact on how healthy you’ll be in old age.
Skimping on Sleep
Better sleep now may help your memory in old age, according to a new paper from Baylor University. Based on 50 years of sleep research, researchers found that younger and middle-aged people (basically all ages 18-60) who sleep soundly have better memory and learning abilities not only at that time, but also in their seventh, eighth, and ninth decades when sleep—and therefore memory—naturally suffer. "It's the difference between investing up front rather than trying to compensate later," said lead author Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor University's Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory. "We came across studies that showed that sleeping well in middle age predicted better mental functioning 28 years later." (Try these Science-Backed Strategies on How to Sleep Better.)
Not Keeping an Eye on Your Cholesterol
High cholesterol seems like a concern for over-the-hill and out-of-shape people. But even healthy adults can have high cholesterol levels, and worrisome numbers when you're as young as 35 can actually have long-term effects on your heart health, according to a new study in Circulation. In fact, every decade of high cholesterol increases your chance of heart disease by 39 percent. "It shows that what we're doing to our blood vessels in our 20s, 30s, and 40s is laying the foundation for disease that will present itself later in our lives,” said lead author Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, M.D., Ph.D. “If we wait until our 50s or 60s to think about cardiovascular disease prevention, the cat's already out of the bag." And that's especially concerning, considering the negative health effects were even stronger in otherwise-healthy people with high cholesterol. Navar-Boggan suggests having your levels checked no matter your age (and try these 6 Easy Ways to Lower Cholesterol).
Letting Your Stress Get Out of Control
Stress is shown to worsen or increase the risk of most conditions, including like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. It can actually age your DNA: Chronic stress and cortisol exposure decreases your body’s supply of the enzymes needed to keep telomeres—the protective casing at the end of a DNA strand—healthy. Diminished telomeres sets the aging process in motion and ups your risk for a handful of diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Stress at any age that harms your telomeres—starting with your mother’s cortisol levels while you’re in the womb. And it’s worse for women: Our brains age more prematurely than men’s, and it’s due in large part to stress, according to a study from UC Berkeley. How do you let go? Try these 8 Secrets Calm People Know.