I wouldn’t be the Kikay Runner if I didn’t at least acknowledge that being concerned about how I look is what led me toward a healthy lifestyle. Looks are skin-deep, but they’re an indicator of how healthy you are and how well you’re taking care of yourself. Unblemished skin, good teeth, thick shiny hair, and clear bright eyes are signs of youth and health. They’re also attractive to most people, regardless of what their subjective view of beauty is.
While some aspects of your appearance are determined by genetics, some favorite bad habits can affect how you look.
Aside from affecting your body on the inside with increased risk of lung cancer, smoking also affects your outsides: skin, hair, and teeth. Smoking constricts blood vessels, especially the small capillaries that bring nutrients to your skin cells. This affects your skin’s collagen, causing dryness and loss of elasticity and strength. This results in dull complexion and wrinkles, making smokers look 1.4 times older than non-smokers of the same age. The same lack of circulation in the skin causes wounds to heal slower, increasing the likelihood of scar formation. Smoking also increases the chance of hair loss: a 2007 study in Taiwan found that men who smoke are twice as likely to lose their hair as non-smokers.
Nicotine in the cigarettes stains your teeth, as well as your fingers and lips. The toxins in cigarette smoke also put you at risk for losing your teeth: A 2005 study in the U.K. found that smokers are six times as likely to develop gum disease than nonsmokers.
There’s a saying that goes, “The more I drink, the better you look,” but drinking alcohol affects your appearance in a negative way. In the short term, drinking causes puffiness around the face and belly. Long term, drinking causes weight gain due to the additional calories you take in with that glass of wine or beer.
Alcohol is toxic, so the body tries to excrete it through the kidneys. Unfortunately this also excretes water and dehydrates the skin. Alcohol dilates blood vessels and may break the capillaries, causing redness in areas where the skin is thin, such as the nose. The dilated blood vessels also cause bloodshot eyes.
Not Hydrating Well
The human body is more than 50% water, so keeping well-hydrated is important not just for your appearance, but also for your health. Eight or more glasses a day will keep a person sufficiently well-watered, but drinking caffeinated drinks causes water loss, which means you need to drink more water to compensate.
Sleeping Too Little
With busy lifestyles working and commuting to and from work (not to mention social events), most people have a hard time getting seven to nine hours of sleep. Enough rest and recovery time are just as (if not more) important as good diet and exercise habits to help the body stay healthy. During sleep, your body repairs any damage; short-circuiting this process makes your body work less efficiently. Dark circles and puffiness show up almost overnight after a poor night’s sleep.
Additionally, lack of sleep causes the body to secrete more of the stress hormone cortisol. Prolonged exposure to cortisol causes your body to store more fat in the abdominal area (goodbye, coke-bottle waistline!) and suppresses thyroid function which may cause your metabolism to slow down (hello, weight gain!). It also increases inflammation or swelling, which can result in a bloated midsection.
Kick these habits ASAP and be on your way to looking and feeling better!
(Contains parts of my article originally published in Total Fitness Magazine June 2011)