This just in: Those ingrained habits you've had forever can make you feel and look old before your time. But don't sweat it--Cosmo's found seven ways to stop the clock.
* At this stage of the game, you're probably more concerned with catching the season premiere of Sex and the City than with growing old. But if you think you're too young to worry about aging, think again. Your daily decisions could shave years off your life and sabotage your girlish good looks. Sound crazy? According to a recent University of Chicago study, a seemingly harmless habit such as skimping on sleep can bring your metabolism to a screeching halt (which leaves you with the energy level of a grandma). And that's just for starters. Now for the good news: You can turn back the hands of time. Here, signs you're aging at an accelerated rate--and how to launch a counterattack.
AGING ALERT 1
You Get Killer Hangovers
If you can't bound out of bed the morning after tying one on, you may want to put the brakes on your partying. "During your 20s, the ability to spring back from drinking decreases," says Sheila Blume, M.D., "and hangovers are a sign you need to cut back."
According to many studies, imbibing too much alcohol can increase the level of free radicals (oxygen molecules that "rust" your insides). The result: "a body that's as much as three years older than its chronological age," says Michael Roizen, M.D., author of RealAge: Are You As Young As You Can Be? (HarperCollins, 1999). In addition to wreaking havoc on your health, drinking too often will cause your complexion to turn red and puffy. Not pretty.
Cloak stopper: Limit your intake to seven drinks or fewer a week. But don't become a teetotaler--studies show a glass of wine a day may actually protect you from heart disease. If you do overindulge, pop some vitamin C--its antioxidant properties will combat free radicals.
AGING ALERT 2
You Still Wear SPF 8--and Only in the Summer
Even if your face isn't sporting freckles and tiny lines, that doesn't mean the sun hasn't left its mark. According to Arthur J. Sober, M.D., associate chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, photo-aging (the process that causes crow's-feet and other wrinkles) starts in your teens but doesn't show up until your 20s. "What you do now can go a long way toward minimizing--or even reversing--the damage," he says.
Spot check: Compare your arms to your butt, which probably hasn't seen the light of day since you were in diapers. If the skin on your arms is more than a few shades darker or varies greatly in texture or dryness from your butt, you need to scale back on the sun worshipping.
Clock stopper: Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30) that shields you from UVA and UVB rays and contains microfine zinc oxide or titanium dioxide--all year round. To undo the damage, apply skin products containing glycolic acid or vitamin C.
AGING ALERT 3
You Haven't Kissed Your Cigs Good-bye
Since you probably already know that smoking causes lung cancer, consider it from a vanity vantage point. "Smoking decreases blood flow to your skin and causes wrinkles and yellowing," says Marsha Gordon, M.D., vice chairman of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. In fact, after sunbathing, smoking is the second-worst thing you can do to your skin. Plus, the puckering movement you make each time you take a drag causes fine lines to sprout around your lips.
Clock stopper: Kick butt. And ask your dermatologist about getting a prescription for a product containing tretinoin--like Retin-A--which increases the blood supply to the skin. Wrinkle-reversing products containing retinol or alpha-hydroxy acids are available over the counter.
AGING ALERT 4
You're an Angry Mama
You're gridlocked in traffic, stuck in the slooowest grocery-checkout line, waiting for your guy, who's late--again. If those scenarios send you off the deep end, stop and think: There's a reason they call those unsightly furrows in your forehead frown lines. When you're angry, you unconsciously contort your face, causing permanent creases to crop up.
Getting steamed also signals your body to pump adrenaline, which taxes your whole system by speeding up your heart rate and raising your blood pressure. "People who anger easily are at an increased risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure," says Virginia Williams, Ph.D., coauthor of Anger Kills (HarperPaperbacks, 1998). But stewing isn't the answer either--that can lead to chronic headaches, even cancer, says Sandra Thomas, Ph.D., an anger researcher at the University of Tennessee.
Clock stopper: Instead of going ballistic, blow off minor irritants by taking a few deep breaths, walking around the block, or thinking about something pleasant, like lying on the beach (slathered in SPF, of course). But if you feel truly wronged, don't bottle it up. Express yourself, then let it go.
AGING ALERT 5
You Yo-Yo Diet
If your size-6 summer wardrobe swells to a 10 in the winter, you're setting yourself up for some serious health problems. Aside from being incredibly frustrating, weight fluctuations can contribute, to high blood pressure, heart disease, breast cancer, and increased stress--even when the range is as small as five pounds. So what really matters is not how much weight is lost and gained but how often the scale swings up and down. Also, after years of constant shrinking and stretching, your skin loses its elasticity, leaving you with a double chin, stretch marks, and saggy breasts.
Clock stopper: The best way to lose weight--and keep it off?. "Do it slowly," says Debra Waterhouse, author of Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell (Warner Books, 1999). Shoot for shedding a pound a week and focus more on exercise than restricting your diet. In the long run, calorie-cutting doesn't work, because it makes you feel deprived and increases the chance that you'll binge.
Do at least 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week, because "for the first 30 minutes, you're burning glycogen and not fat," Waterhouse explains, and train with weights twice a week. By increasing your lean-muscle mass, you'll burn calories more efficiently, even at rest. Besides, there's nothing more alluring than shapely arms, thighs, and buttocks, and pumping iron is the fastest way to carve those sexy curves.
AGING ALERT 6
Your Toothbrush Has Turned Pink
If your gums bleed when you brush, your pearly whites are in peril. Bleeding gums are a sign of gingivitis--inflammation caused by a buildup of bacteria-in rested plaque (which also causes that yellowish tinge). "Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease, which can lead to tooth loss and has been linked to heart disease and stroke," says Steven Offen-bacher, D.D.S., Ph.D., director of the Center for Oral and Systemic Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Shockingly, one study done at Emery University found that people with gum disease have a mortality rate up to 46 percent higher than those with healthy mouths.
If that's not enough to convince you to brush after every meal and floss daily, hear this: Bacteria is the biggest culprit behind ghastly breath. And since you live with that offensive odor, often you're the last to realize it. Ick.
Clock stopper: Brash your teeth and your tongue at least three times a day to get rid of bacteria. If you can't brash after eating, wash your mouth out with water. And floss every day--it's the single most important thing you can do to prevent gum disease--hate it or not.
AGING ALERT 7
You're o Stressmonger
Back-to-back meetings, deadlines, and social obligations can have you pulling your hair out--literally. "Stress can aggravate all sorts of problems, from hair loss and acne to constipation and diarrhea," says Georgia Witkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. It can also trigger bouts of dandruff, psoriasis, eczema, and hives, making you look as frazzled as you feel. And that's just what's on the outside. Stress also weakens arteries, raises blood pressure, and impairs the immune system--making you more susceptible to viral infection.
Clock stopper: Have a chucklefest. "Laughing reduces stress and physical tension," says Witkin. And studies show it also boosts your immune system--even if you're forcing yourself to crack up.
Another fun way to ward off stress: Teach your guy to give you a massage. It feels great, and it may just shift your immune system into high gear, according to studies conducted at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Finally, get busy in bed on a steady basis. "Regular, enjoyable sex is relaxing," says Dr. Roizen. "It also contributes to strong, supportive personal relationships, which are an important factor in stress reduction." It might even save your life. One study found that people who had more than two orgasms a week actually lived longer. Doctor's orders!
how old are you really?
Your chronological age can differ from your physiological one. Take this test to see if your body is beating the clock.
Complete the questions, choosing the answer that comes closest to what you do, and give yourself the appropriate scoring for each answer. Then add or subtract the total from your chronological age.
I've smoked cigarettes:
 Never (-3)
 None for three years (-1.5)
 Currently (+2.5)
I get some physical exercise:
 An hour a day every day for more than three years (-1).
 20 minutes a day every day or 45 minutes a day, three times a week (-.5).
 30 minutes a day, three times a week (no change)
 About a half hour once a week (+.5).
 None (+1.5)
I do strength-building exercises (such as weightlifting or isometrics) for:
 More than 30 minutes a week (-1).
 10 to 20 minutes a week (no change).
 Less than five minutes a week (+1).
I eat the following number of servings of fruit a day:
 Four or more (-1)
 One to three (no change)
 None (-1)
I eat the following number of servings of vegetables a day:
 Five or more (-1)
 One to four (no change)
 None (+1)
I eat breakfast:
 Every day (-1),
 Three to five times a week (no change).
 Very rarely (+1).
On average, I sleep:
 Less than 6.5 hours per day (+1).
 Between 6.5 and 7.5 hours per day (-1).
 Between 7.5 and 8.5 hours per day (no change).
 More than 8.5 hours per day (+1.5).
 I'm not in a mutually monogamous relationship (+2).
 Occasionally I have more than three drinks in one evening (+1.5).
__ Your Chronological Age
__ Your Real Age
Thanks to accessmylibrary
Created for Cosmopolitan by Michael Roizen, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and author of RealAge: Are You As Young As You Can Be?