There's no way around it: by the time you finish reading this column, you will be older. You can't stop time. But perhaps you can cheat it a little. We're not talking about surgery here. That's a topic for another column. Instead, here are six relatively simple steps to looking younger in the new year that don't require a scalpel.
1. Get an eye exam
If you're 40 or older, you may have noticed that it's getting harder and harder to read fine print or to see close objects. That's because the lens of your eye becomes less flexible as you get older, leading to a condition called presbyopia or farsightedness. We know, it's hard enough to find time for regular physical and gynecological checkups. You've probably put a visit to the eye doctor on the back burner. But the National Institute on Aging recommends that after age 40 you should have your eyes checked every one to two years by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. That's not just good for your sight but for your appearance. Squinting a lot to see not only makes you look older but it will give you new wrinkles in the eye area, which you definitely don't want. So instead of straining your eyes or pointing to menu items and ending up with mystery meat, get an exam and invest in some reading glasses. Don't worry: that doesn't mean donning granny glasses. There are plenty of trendy pairs from which to choose. Who knows? Wearing a cool pair of specs might even make you look younger (or hipper, at least).
2. Get fitted for a new bra
Next time you're out shopping, take a look at the women around you. Chances are you'll see a lot of saggy boobs, which are instantly aging. Industry experts estimate that four out of five women are wearing the wrong size. Even five pounds lost or gained can affect your bra size. Your size may also change when you start or stop exercising and when you're pregnant or nursing. Because of these shifts, the average adult woman can go through six bra sizes in her lifetime. We suggest going to a specialist at a department store or a lingerie store for a fitting. She'll take two measurements. The band size is determined by the width of your chest at the smallest part of your back (and is usually measured under your breasts). If the number is even, you add 4; if it's odd, you add 5. To get the cup size, you put the tape around your breasts at the fullest point. The difference between that number and your band size tells you your cup size. For example, between a half inch and one inch is an A cup, two inches is a B, and three inches is a C. A new bra should be snug at the loosest setting. That way it will still fit on tighter settings after repeated wear and washing. The bra band should be parallel to the floor. Straps should not cut into your shoulders; if they do, it means they are carrying too much of the weight of your breasts. It's really the band that's supposed to do most of the supporting. Your breasts should fill the cups and not fall out of the sides or top. If the cop is puckered, that means it's too big. Even after you find the correct size, you may have to try on different styles to find one that works for you. Bras from different manufacturers may fit differently. Also, consider investing in a sports bra for exercising.
3. Use moisturizer
As you age, your skin becomes less taut. In your mid-30s you may begin to see fine lines around your eyes and mouth. These generally get more pronounced as you get older. The speed of skin aging depends on a combination of heredity and environment. Some people are born with skin that looks young forever; others appear to be 50 when they're only 35. But your skin will age faster if you smoke or have been out in the sun a lot without sunscreen. Women whose weight has fluctuated a lot also often have skin that's less firm. Using moisturizers won't provide a permanent fix, but it can provide a temporary lift. Look for a product that includes sunscreen, which you should also be using. We especially like tinted moisturizers with sunscreen: one-stop face care. And you don't have to spend a week's salary on face care products. Dermatologists tell us that drugstore brands (Oil of Olay or Neutrogena, for example) are every bit as effective as the fancy stuff sold in department stores.
4. Lift weights
Women are often afraid to lift weights because they think it will make them look bigger. But women generally don't build muscle the way men do—unless they go on an all-out weightlifting binge. In fact, increasing muscle mass may actually make you look leaner. Also, greater muscle definition makes your arms and legs look younger. You could be younger in other ways as well. Some research has shown that strength training may help your memory as you get older and helps stop the bone loss in aging that could lead to osteoporosis. Finally, muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Many midlife women find they gain a pound or two a year. That may not sound like much, but it adds up. Holding the line is critical. In a 2006 University of Pennsylvania study of overweight and obese women, strength training dramatically reduced the increase in belly fat, which is important, because too much abdominal fat puts you at risk for heart disease and diabetes. If you haven't been exercising regularly, talk to your doctor before starting, to make sure you don't have any medical issues that would cause a problem. For people over 40 who are generally sedentary, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends weight training an average of three times a week for about 20 to 45 minutes per session. Also, let muscle groups rest 48 hours between sessions. Generally, the ACSM says working with machines is probably safer in the beginning than using free weights. You might also invest in a few sessions with a qualified personal trainer to learn how to use the machines correctly.
5. Smile more
Take a look in the mirror and you'll see that gravity does a number on your face as you age. You may think your expression is set at neutral, but to others the downward drooping may make it look as if you're scowling. So try to smile more and lift your look. Researchers have also found that smiling can benefit your mood. It's one of those "fake it 'til you make it" phenomena. Studies have indicated that moving the muscles that make you smile may trigger chemicals in the your brain that actually make you feel better.
6. Get enough sleep
If you're tired you automatically look older. People who don't get enough sleep—at least seven hours a night for adults—are also more likely to be at risk for heart disease and diabetes, among other medical problems. So resolve to pay attention to your sleep habits. Try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time every day. Keep your bedroom somewhat cool, dark and quiet. Use it only for sleeping and sex—not to watch TV or pay bills (stimulating or stressful activities that can keep you up). If these measures don't help, talk to your doctor about any underlying emotional or physical issues that may be interrupting your sleep.
Yes, you're not getting any younger. But if you follow these six simple steps you may look and feel younger, which is as good as it gets. And, remember, when the compliments start coming, just smile!