When most of us think of our physical appearance we believe that physical things contribute to them. Sun damage, smoking, and aging are all physical causes of aging. That being said, there are other causes of aging that are directly related to living a life with mindfulness, intent and purpose. These include the levels of stress we expose ourselves to, happiness, diet, and exercise.
First off what does mindfulness, intent and purpose exactly mean? This involves living a life thinking about our life decisions on a moment to moment basis along with long term goals. It involves being aware of what makes us happy. When I mean “us” I don’t mean in general as humans but as an individual. What makes you tick? What brings you happiness? It also means tailoring your actions in life towards those goals. Does your work fufill you? Are you doing what you like to do at work or after? In your personal relationships are you satisfied and having fulfillment? Are you pursuing activities that give you happiness?
For example, I had a patient who came in for a cosmetic consult. Tim, was working as a corporate attorney. He worked 14-16 hours a day, often on the weekends. He had the physical objects he always wanted when he went to law school (big house, vacation home, multiple cars) but he did not feel “fulfilled”. He felt he was in the hamster wheel of chasing physical objects where he was working only for the purpose of gaining a bigger house, cars and objects. It was apparent in his appearance. For a 45 year old man, he had the physical appearance of a 60 year old. The many years of working many hours, eating fast food, putting off exercise and stress of meeting deadlines had taken a toll on his health and physical appearance. During our consultation we spoke about aging and its causes. He felt his eyes need a rejuvenation. After discussing what I could do to help his eyelids from a structural standpoint we touched on the causes of aging. After his surgery, he looked much better but told me that our conversation had touched a nerve with him. A year later he returned for a checkup and he informed me that he had switched from corporate law to teaching law at a local university. Yes, the income was less but his new job offered him much more fulfillment, gave him time to exercise and eat right and reduced his stress levels tremendously. His skin looked younger. He looked more alert and well rested. Most importantly, he was living a life with better intent, purpose and mindfulness to give him more life fulfillment.
Stress ages us by increasing catecholamines. These flight or fight hormones are great when running from a bear or a street fight. A lifetime of running from bears or street fights will age the hell out of you. If our lives have increased stress from work, personal relationships, free time or any combination that will definitely increase your aging. Skin cells will break down faster. Arteries will clog faster. Hair will be lost. Stress is a huge contributing factor for these changes.
Diet is critical to slow down aging. We all know that foods such as sodas, fast food and sugars age us. The studies have revealed that over and over. A healthy diet is critical to slowing down the aging process. Mindful and purposeful eating is critical to establishing good habits for a healthy diet. Do you think about what are you eating? When we sit at the TV and consume a bag of potato chips without realizing it, it is not mindful eating. Neither is consuming a two liter coke while driving. My colleague Scott Perryman MD, a bariatric surgeon in Napa, CA is a huge advocate for mindful eating for his patients. It is critical to think about what you are putting in your body to slow down the aging process.
Bad habits such as excessive drinking or smoking also contribute to aging. Ceasing these habits is the start to a mindful healthier life. We all know that using them as cures for stress only increases the cycle of mindless actions.
Exercise is a good habit that is critical for the anti-aging process. We now know the effects on the body and mind that exercise does. It brings blood flow to skin, increases growth hormone, testosterone in men, estrogen in women reduces stresss and aids mental health. The latter two are critical to maintaining a mindful existence.
What is the first step to a mindful existence and thus a more youthful life and appearance? It is simple. Being aware that mindfulness, purpose and intent are critical for human happiness and evaluating where that fits in ones life. It is the first step outside living a life on the go towards happiness. It makes us pause, look at ourselves and say “Is this what I want?”. Realizing that there is a different path than what we are doing is the first critical step to changing things if need be. Also, after self reflection, it is possible that one is living a mindful life and needs a little help to reduce signs of aging. When that occurs, I am there to help you as well with everything in my toolbox.