Some things are unquestionable: You have to eat well, stay physically active and refrain from smoking to keep your body healthy as you age. But when it comes to fighting wrinkles, gray hairs and other age-related issues, sometimes the advice you've heard isn't always true. Here, we bust eight widespread anti-aging myths and offer science-backed advice on what works to help you look good and feel great.
Myth: No need for sunscreen on a cool or cloudy day
Reality: You actually need sunscreen every day that you plan to be outside — for every forecast, in every season. Up to 80% of the sun's harmful ultraviolet light can pass through clouds and fog. In addition to a cancer threat, the sun is responsible for more than 90% of the visible changes commonly attributed to skin aging, including wrinkles and age spots. Exposure to UV light damages the collagen and elastin fibers deep in your skin, causing it to lose strength and flexibility.
Myth: Walking is the only exercise you need
Reality: Regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent or manage certain chronic conditions, strengthen your bones, improve balance and lift your mood. But regular strength training is just as important for your physical and emotional health — not only does that help with weight control and bone-building, studies have shown it improves glucose control and reduces the risk of heart disease.
You don't need expensive gym equipment to get started, says Travis Stork, emergency medicine physician. "Body weight exercises, such as pushups or squats, are great for strength training." Aim for at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening exercises, plus 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity.
Myth: Drink water to hydrate dry skin
Reality: Every organ and system in your body needs water — it helps regulate body temperature and flush out toxins, it aids in digestion and carries nutrients to your cells. Your skin is no exception, says Andrew Ordon, plastic and reconstructive surgeon. Its cells depend on water to function efficiently and repair damage. And while it's true that the outermost layer of your skin may feel rough if it doesn't contain enough water, there's no science to prove that drinking extra water can make dry skin supple, according to the Mayo Clinic. To keep your skin hydrated, limit your time in hot or chlorinated water, use gentle cleansers instead of soap or products that contain alcohol, and moisturize as soon as you get out of the shower or bath to help trap water in your skin.
Myth: Pluck one gray hair, seven more will grow
Reality: Or maybe your friend told you it was 10 that come back? Or perhaps just two? No matter the number, it's simply not true. What happens in one hair follicle stays in that follicle, without influencing surrounding strands. Hair color is determined by a pigment called melanin; as you age, less melanin is produced, so your hair turns gray. When pigment cells in the follicle surrounding the hair die, hair goes white. If you pull any of your newly lighter strands, a new one of the same hue will grow back in the same place. Cutting a renegade gray is better than yanking it out, which may traumatize the follicle. And nothing can stop or slow the rate at which you gray — that's determined by your genes.
Myth: Moisturizing prevents wrinkles
Reality: As your skin becomes drier and less elastic with age, wrinkles become more visible. Moisturizers can help by trapping water and oil already on the skin, which temporarily plumps cells and masks the tiny lines and creases. But moisturizers don't penetrate into the deeper layers, and they can't stop wrinkles from forming.
Factors beyond genetics can speed up the process — from too much UV exposure to smoking and even poor diet. Prescription retinoids can help smooth fine lines (but may irritate your skin). You can ask your doctor about laser treatments and other techniques. And keep an eye out for at-home light-therapy devices, Ordon says.
Myth: Expensive skin care products work better
Reality: That cream you bought at the spa may cost more, but it doesn't mean it's any more effective than what's available at the drugstore. The formulation and concentration of active ingredients are what make the difference, not the price tag. On the other hand, prescription products likely have a higher concentration of the active agents (and should be used with a doctor's supervision), Ordon says. Everyone's skin is different — you have to find what gives you the best results, with no adverse side effects, Ordon adds.
Myth: Calcium supplements are needed for strong bones
Reality: Your body needs calcium (and vitamin D) to maintain healthy bones. Food is the best source of calcium, and you should aim to get it from your diet first. Low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are the best sources. Green vegetables such as kale and broccoli contain smaller amounts. Vitamin D is naturally available in only a few foods, including fatty fish; it's also added to milk and to some other products.
Myth: Crossing your legs gives you varicose veins
Reality: If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, the formation of varicose veins is pretty much out of your control: Those gnarled, enlarged, dark purple veins often found on your legs and feet are the work of weakened valves and for some women, hormonal changes.
When veins are functioning properly, they return blood from your body to your heart to be recirculated. The veins in your legs work against gravity, so tiny valves open as blood flows up toward the heart, then close to stop the blood from flowing backwards, according to the Mayo Clinic. As you age, veins lose elasticity and valves may weaken, so blood flows backwards and pools, and your veins enlarge and become varicose. Female hormones also tend to relax vein walls; family history and obesity contribute as well. Some experts consider standing in the same position for long periods of time as a potential risk factor (because blood doesn't flow as well). But crossing your legs is not an issue.
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