Beauty is not skin-deep

The use of anti-ageing cosmetics is popular,but leading a stress-free life may be better than going for a facelift.

Written by New York Times | Published: October 5, 2013 3:07 am

Jane E Brody

At a party I recently attended,a woman in her 60s proudly announced that her periodic facial treatments “have made me look 10 years younger.” A man of similar vintage said he was considering “facial tucks” to raise his sagging jowls.

Some days it seems everyone I meet is afraid of getting old — or at least of looking as old as they are. Occasionally,I see women who have had so many face lifts that they can barely move their lips when they talk,let alone smile.

Business is booming in the anti-ageing market. Plastic surgeons who specialise in lifts,tucks and fillers barely noticed the recent recession. Cosmetics with anti-ageing properties fly off the shelf,and new concoctions appear almost weekly.

I admit to supporting the multibillion-dollar skin care industry with my long use of night creams,as well as a slew of daytime facial and body lotions that purport to “smooth out” ageing skin while protecting it with sunscreen. I also colour my hair,which in its natural state is now about 80 per cent gray.

But I draw the line at injectable fillers and muscle relaxants,face lifts and tummy tucks. I’ll do everything I can to stay out of an operating room. My anti-ageing measures,if and when needed,will be limited to cataract removal,a hearing aid and glasses for driving.

In one study,a team at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland analysed the facial photographs of 186 pairs of identical twins,determining which sibling looked older and why. Factors that contributed to looking older included smoking,sun exposure,stress,and depression (or the use of antidepressants),the researchers reported. Other studies have linked depression to higher levels of inflammatory markers and oxidative stress,which can accelerate ageing.

The team also found that among those under age 40,a woman with a heavier body looked older than her leaner twin,but in subjects older than 40,a higher body mass index was associated with a more youthful appearance. Fat fills out wrinkles and makes the face — and presumably other parts of the body — look younger. But there’s a limit to its benefits: obesity is associated with more rapid biological ageing.

A pilot study published online by The Lancet Oncology last month underscored the benefits of limiting stress. Dr Dean Ornish and colleagues at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California,San Francisco,tested the effects of lifestyle changes on the length of telomeres.

Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes on the ends of chromosomes that are considered biological markers of ageing. Shortened telomeres are thought to underlie many of the adverse health effects of ageing,and perhaps even to contribute to looking older than one’s years.

Ten men were asked to make changes that included adopting a whole-foods plant-based diet,moderate exercise,stress management techniques (like yoga and meditation),and seeking greater intimacy and social support. After five years,changes in the length of their telomeres were compared with those among 25 men who were not asked to make such changes.

In the men who made lifestyle changes,telomere length increased by an average of 10 percent; the more changes the men made,the greater the increase in length. But telomere length decreased in the control group by an average of 3 per cent.

Still,youthfulness is not just a question of biology. People are perceived to be younger than their years if they smile and laugh a lot (be proud of those laugh lines!) and are generally cheerful and upbeat,the kind of people who smile at strangers and wish them a good day.

To my mind,it is far better to act young than to look young. Of course,it helps to be physically fit. Too often,those who spend liberally to counter the superficial signs of age neglect their bodies below the neck and become physically old before their time. Muscle tissue inevitably declines with age,but much can be done to minimize and even reverse a loss of strength

Try using free weights or resistance machines. If these don’t appeal,lift cans of soup (better for lifting than consuming) and continue to do chores that require strength,like carrying groceries.

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