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How to look younger than you really are

If you are no longer a spring chicken (and a tad vain too) you probably want to look younger than you are. According to a Danish study published in Age and Ageing in 2006, men can manage this by not smoking, being careful about exposure to sunlight and possibly by having lots of children. A good education helps women to age less quickly in their face, and marriage might work too.

The Danes showed photos of the faces of 1876 twins (all over the age of 70) to ten nurses who had to guess how old the people in the photos were. The researchers knew the ages of the photo subjects, so they could work out the difference between the estimated and real age.

The researchers had information on the twins' lifestyle, and so were able to calculate the effect of lifestyle factors on the difference between estimated and real age.

In both men and women, a relatively low BMI speeded up aging in the face. That might be because a low fat percentage makes facial wrinkles more visible, but other factors may also be at work.

In the men smoking and exposure to sunlight resulted in statistically significantly faster facial aging. In terms of sunlight exposure, we're not talking about holidays in the sun or gardening: the researchers looked at whether the subjects had had jobs where they worked outside.

Not quite significant was the effect of having children. Men seem to age less slowly in their face the more children they have. The researchers are not sure what the relationship is here.

The figure below is simplified. Click on it for the complete version.

How to look younger than you really are

Facial aging was significantly faster in the women of lower socio-economic status (who had also had less education).

The effects of marriage and pleasure in life were almost statistically significant. Women seemed to age less quickly in their faces when they were married and the less depressed they felt.

A critical reading of the Danish study suggests that the measured effects are modest and that lifestyle does not play a very big role in facial aging. The researchers do not agree:

"All in all, it could be argued that, though statistically significant, the influence of the present investigated environmental factors on facial ageing seems sparse", the Danes write. "However, it must be considered that perceived age in elderly persons (70+) tends to regress towards a mean of 77, and therefore, any influence could be expected to be modest, e.g. it takes 2.5 and 3 years for women and men, respectively, to increase perceived year by 1 year."

"It is likely that the influence of the same environmental factors on perceived age is larger in younger generations."

Age Ageing. 2006 Mar;35(2):110-5.

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