As we get older, we naturally start to lose collagen and elastin in our skin. This loss is a major reason for the physical signs of aging. Collagen and elastin keep skin looking tight, supple, and hydrated. By the time I hit 30, I really started paying attention to what the lifestyle and environmental factors of premature aging are. As a nutritionist and a fitness professional, it didn't take me long to figure out what the three biggest causes are when it comes to the first signs of aging.

I always tell everyone to stay away from these three S's if they want to reduce visible signs of aging:

Sun

The sun is responsible for the majority of our physical signs of aging. This is by far the largest among all factors. The sun's rays, including tanning beds, cause 80% of wrinkles and sun spots as well as decreased skin elasticity and degradation of the skin's texture. All of the above contribute to premature aging. Using a broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen everyday, year round, at any age, will help to keep skin moisturized and protected. I say that all ages need sun protection, not only for anti-aging purposes, but to also help with skin cancer prevention.

Prevention is key, since signs of sun damage can start appearing five years after the actual sun damage occurred. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a minimum of SPF 30, but personally, I would recommend SPF 50 or higher. In fact, a 2% increase in sun damage can age the face by 3 years. It's never too late to shave off 3 or more years!

Sugar

Excess sugar in the bloodstream from processed and simple sugars causes damage to collagen and elastin found in skin. It does this by attacking the proteins in blood, and once collagen and elastin are damaged, there is a visible loss in skin firmness. Wrinkles also start to appear. The natural loss of collagen begins to occur after the age of 35. Constant increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream can cause premature damage, which leads to visible signs of premature aging. In addition to damaging collagen and elastin, sugar also causes inflammation in the body. As a result, skin looks less supple. And of course, we won't even get started on the havoc it can wreak on your hormones and weight!

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The best way to avoid all of the negative effects of sugar is to have a few pieces of fruit or some berries throughout the day. This is a great way to cut down on those pesky sugar cravings with a little natural sugar, which also gives you some vitamins and antioxidants that your skin will thank you for!

Stress

Last, but certainly not least, is stress. This, too, is a huge factor when it comes to possible premature aging on multiple levels -- from hair to weight, and, of course, skin. Numerous medical sources have said that chronic stress, when not properly managed, can possibly damage and shorten the length of DNA. Like collagen, this DNA naturally starts to wear down, lessening in length over time. But chronic stress accelerates this process. It's not uncommon for highly stressed people to look 5-10 years older. This can be reversed by reducing exposure to stressful situations. Stress works in a number of ways against you, including releasing stress hormones, increasing inflammation, and causing dehydration. All of this leads to increased wrinkles and other various signs of aging.

Obviously, not everyone can just quit their stressful job immediately. Try these tips to reduce stress, even for short periods of time:

  • Try to get in 10 minutes of meditation or quiet time at any point throughout the day
  • Strive to get in 20-30 minutes of cardio, even if it's a 20-minute walk on your lunch break
  • Don't skip lunch, though, and be sure to eat healthy meals during the day
  • Stress depletes your body of vitamins and minerals, so make sure to supplement with a high-quality multivitamin
  • And finally, get a good night's rest

These above things will help counteract chronic stress, helping to minimize its effects.

As you can see, diet and lifestyle can really play an important role in aging gracefully. Making small, conscious changes, such as avoiding the three S's -- sun, sugar, and stress -- can keep you looking years younger by minimizing collagen and elastin damage as well as reducing inflammation in the skin.

Annie Parker aka Sassy Fit Chick is an IFBB bikini pro, fitness expert, and nutritionist. Follow her on Instagram (@sassyfitchick) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnnieParkerSassyFitChick)!

Beauty | anti-aging | dermatology | lifestyle | skin care | video