Dramatic dieting and high-impact exercising can make women look older but Margaret Jennings learns it’s possible to find a balance that works for the face and body.

IF YOUR new year resolution is to diet and to exercise more — then be careful! You could end up with a firmer body but an older looking face.

While exercising and eating healthily are two of the top tips for ageing well, by overdoing the workouts or yo-yo dieting, we can affect our skin even more dramatically in our older years, leaving us looking gaunt and haggard.

“As Catherine Deneuve said ‘you choose between your butt and your face’, and most of us have to do that,” says consultant dermatologist, Rosemary Coleman, from the Blackrock clinic in Dublin.

“With dieting the main thing is the elasticity. If people gain enough weight to stretch their skin and if it stays like that for a prolonged period of time before they lose it, they will end up with lax skin afterwards.

“What I say to patients is the best thing you can do is to maintain your weight at a status quo and avoid fluctuations, because from the mid 50s onwards you burn up the fat pads in your face and then it’s very hard to put the weight back on your face selectively. For the amount of fat you would need to put back on your face, you would really want to be piling on the weight in your body.”

Rosemary says exercises that burn fat selectively, such as jogging and high-impact activities, also pose a similar problem because we are going to selectively burn off the fat cells in our face. “Look at joggers for instance; they end up with no feminine curves, no fat anywhere, their bodies are completely straight down and their faces are hollow — so we need fat, it looks good.”

Fidelma Conlon, director at Ireland’s National Training Centre (NTC), agrees. “If you want to stay looking young it’s probably not a good idea to take up marathon running. The correct intensity, with time for recovery, are key issues. Long-distance runners traditionally look gaunt, and a number of plastic surgeons have also expressed the opinion that long-distance running is a principal cause of premature wrinkles.

“Prolonged running is not considered good for the facial tissues due to the constant pounding up and down, causing shearing forces of skin against bone, loosening the tissues with time. This results in the ‘saggy’ look around the face and neck.”

There is a knock-on effect of putting your body under extreme stress by doing high-level exercise, says Conlon. “It is worth getting professional advice from a qualified health fitness professional such as an NTC personal trainer, who will help make those important choices.

“Cortisol is released when we’re highly stressed and high levels can lead to premature ageing. In addition, with free radical damage, ongoing sun exposure and a high-protein diet which often goes with excessive exercise, men and women who exercise intensely over a long period can age faster.”

Dieting, if you are denying yourself pro-ageing foods, can also starve our skin. Good skin relies on the same set of essential nutrients that keeps our arteries and tissues from prematurely ageing on the inside, says dietician Paula Mee.

“A British Medical Journal review, involving 1.5 million participants, found that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet resulted in significant improvements to health,” she says.

That includes monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish. “If you were to follow this diet today, limiting your intake of processed and packaged foods would ensure a better balance of fats and a lower intake of the unhealthy saturated and trans fats,” she says.

“Of course there is no single nutrient that can prevent wrinkles or dark spots or sagging skin. But including certain nutrient rich foods in a regular pattern can provide myriad nutrients necessary to fight skin ageing,” says Mee.

Her book, Your Middle Years, Love them, Live them, Own them, points out that although we can typically begin picking up about 0.5kg a year during peri-menopause, we can fend off those additional kilos with conscious effort, by focusing on some of the lifestyle factors that lead to weight gain, such as poor eating habits, unmanaged stress, reduced physical activity, excessive alcohol and disrupted sleep.

“Quick and dramatic weight loss is not the answer and can make women look older,” she says. “Yes, losing weight especially from the jawline and abdomen is revitalising and can actually make women look younger, but it’s important not to lose too much weight and too rapidly.”

Crash diets and yo-yo dieting also cause supporting facial ligaments to stretch and deeper nose-to-mouth lines can develop, she says.

“With advancing years it may seem like it’s that choice between maintaining a more youthful face or a slimmer silhouette, but I believe you can find a balance with both holding up pretty well,” says Paula. “What you eat obviously influences your skin’s health and your overall health. That’s unarguable. But there is no need to adopt extreme diets to look your best.”

So with that advice from our experts you may apply your enthusiasm for new year starts with extra wisdom — steady does it!

See www.drrosemarycoleman.com, www.paulamee.com, www.ntc.ie


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