Are you in your 20s and 30s and yet feel like you’ve got the aches and pains of a 50-year-old? You’re not alone: From neck and back pain to high blood pressure, more and more young women are combating health problems typically associated with older women. Along with stress and poor diet choices, our modern-day lifestyle is aging us and messing with our health.
Here are seven culprits to curb stat, along with old-school methods that will get your mind and body back on track:
1You’re becoming a slouch—literally.
Slouching over and staring down at our tech devices all day and most of the night is wrecking our posture. Researchers looked at the mobile phone habits of 56 young adults who text on a daily basis. Half of the subjects reported problems with their neck, arms or hands. Those who complained of aches and pains more often tended to text while hunched over. In another study, preliminary research on college students suggested that the more they texted, the more pain they experienced in their neck and shoulders.
Clearly, our tech addiction is becoming a real pain in the neck. “Text neck” is an overuse injury that involves the head, neck and shoulders and is brought on by looking downward at handheld devices such as cell phones, laptops and tablets, which puts excessive strain on the spine. “When you hold your body in an abnormal position, it can increase stress on the muscles, cause fatigue, muscle spasms and even stress headaches,” explains Chris Cornett, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon and spine specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation. “With every degree of motion to the front or side that you move your head, the stress on your neck is magnified beyond just the weight of the head.”
Old-school solution: Check out vintage photos of women in charm school—notice their perfect posture and books on their heads? Being mindful of your posture doesn’t just add to your daintiness: It reduces aches and pains, helps you breathe easier, increases your confidence and makes you look younger. The key to good posture while sitting at your desk: Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Keep knees bent at right angles, make sure your rear touches the back of your chair, and place your feet flat on the floor. Also, take regular breaks from staring down at your cell phone and change up your position throughout the day.
2You let your cleaning supplies do all of the work.
While dishwashers and iRobots are ah-mazing, we’re now 30 percent less active than our mothers and grandmothers around the house.
Old-school solution: Try not to look at cleaning as the ultimate drag. Rather, consider cleaning your home sans modern appliances for a vintage workout. “Women used to burn over 1,000 calories in their day-to-day routines,” says career counselor Susan Jewkes Allen, co-founder of LifePlusWork, a career counseling and coaching practice in San Francisco. “While women may go to the gym now, their mothers/grandmothers were eating fewer calories and burning more energy.” Cleaning your own home is a win-win: You’ll burn off calories and have a sparkling clean abode.
3You focus on what’s in season with fashion, but not with food.
Back in the day, our grandparents ate what was in season because that’s all that was available, giving them the necessary nutrients they needed. Thanks to modern food-processing techniques, we can eat whatever we want all year round. But that doesn’t mean we should—especially when produce picked and eaten at its peak generally has more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than foods harvested before they’re ripe and then shipped long distances, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Old-school solution: Eat seasonally—and reap the health and environmental benefits. You’ll not only eat foods with better nutritional content, but eating seasonally also often means consuming locally grown foods, which supports local farmers, cuts down on pollution from shipping and trucking food and reduces your carbon footprint. What’s more, in-season fruits and vegetables are more affordable than imported versions. “Our bodies are naturally drawn to certain foods at certain times of the year for a reason,” says holistic healing coach Ashley Williams. “Fruits and raw veggies are naturally cooling and energizing during the summer when we’re more physically active, while beans and root vegetables keep us warm in the winter.” Here’s a handy seasonal food guide.
4You can’t remember the last time you had a conversation that didn’t involve emoticons.
It’s important for your health to communicate not only by voice but through facial expressions, eye contact and body language. “Social interaction—face-to-face, in-person, quality, engaged contact—contributes to mental, emotional and physical health,” notes Allen. Take the vagus nerve—it’s the longest cranial nerve that forms part of the involuntary nervous system and commands crucial functions, such as keeping the heart rate steady and controlling digestion. Research shows the vagus nerve is also linked to other nerves involved in coordinating eye gaze, facial expressions and tuning the ear to the frequency of the human voice. “Vagal nerve tone is strengthened through human interaction,” says Allen, “The higher your vagal tone, the better your body regulates your cardiovascular, immune system and glucose levels.” In a nutshell: the more attuned you become to others, the healthier you become.
Old-school solution: Put away your smartphone and spend more face time connecting with your friends. Not only will you give your vagus nerve a workout, a 2013 study found that spending time with a friend or co-worker who shares your emotional state—in other words, stresses the same way you do—will also lower both of your stress levels, which is a health win.
5You act like skin cancer is no biggie.
Despite skin cancer warning labels—and common sense—45 percent of young women surveyed in a February 2014 study revealed they still use tanning beds. Here’s your wakeup call: Tanning beds blast you with 12- to 15-times more ultraviolet radiation than the sun, which means you’re that much more likely to get wrinkles, dark spots, thick leathery skin and cancer. And that cancer could be the deadly kind: Melanoma is one of the most common cancers diagnosed among young women, with more than 32,000 women expected to be diagnosed in 2014.
Old-school solution: Until the early 20th century, pale skin was all the rage: It was a sign of wealth and leisure…and then Coco Chanel came along with her bronzed self in 1929 and announced, “A girl simply has to be tanned.” (Womp, womp.) Thanks to celebs like Emma Stone and Julianne Moore, pale skin is making a comeback. So slather on the SPF, including on your lips, don sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, and join them.
6You ignore stress rather than deal with it.
It takes energy to suppress emotions once they’re triggered: So much so that researchers at the University of Canterbury discovered a link between ignoring or escaping stress as a way of coping and higher levels of anxiety. “When issues aren’t addressed, the stress still exists in the body,” says women’s lifestyle expert Charly Emery. Chronic stress has a big impact on your health in various ways—from affecting your skin, such as causing acne breakouts, to messing with your sleep.
Old-school solution: Find healthy ways to deal with stress, including true downtime. In the past, women didn’t have constant access to Facebook, Twitter and texting. Instead, downtime could actually be spent recharging their batteries—they took more baths, enjoyed quiet hobbies, read books and spent more time alone. Simply put, life was less noisy. Quiet time equals smarter choices, according to a study published in Psychological Science, which showed 15 minutes of focused-breathing meditation can encourage people to make more rational decisions, nixing recklessness (and unnecessary stress) from your repertoire.
7You’re glued to your desk all day.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Research shows that sitting all day can actually be deadly in the long run, in part because it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. While you should always aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise daily, if you reach that, but sit for the rest of the day, you’re not necessarily lowering your risk for chronic disease.
Old-school solution: Growing up, our moms were light physical activity savants: They played outside as kids and as moms, rarely sat down, while we were driven everywhere and played Nintendo. Work on amping up your daily movement quota. Logging more minutes of light physical activity throughout the day than sedentary behavior can help improve your health, according to a study in Preventive Medicine. Simple things like pacing around as you talk on the phone, watering the plants, getting up to chat with a co-worker in person rather than emailing, and taking a short walk at lunch all suffice—you just need to be moving more often than not.