extremely popular water sport enjoyed by people of all ages around the world. However, many surfers wonder if spending so much time in the ocean exposed to the sun and elements could potentially cause them to age faster than non-surfers. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at some of the potential aging factors associated with surfing and determine whether surfing truly makes you age faster.
UV Exposure from the Sun
One of the most significant aging factors that surfers are exposed to is ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. UV exposure is well known to cause premature skin aging and increase skin cancer risk. Surfers spend many hours each week paddling, sitting, and laying on their surfboards in the ocean directly exposed to the sun’s UV rays without much protection.
The reflective properties of both the ocean water and the surfboard itself bounce UV rays back towards the surfer, increasing the amount of UV exposure compared to being on land. While sunscreen helps protect against UV damage, it is difficult for surfers to reapply sunscreen frequently in the ocean. Over decades of regular surfing without consistent sun protection, this UV exposure could potentially accelerate visible skin aging signs like wrinkles, age spots and loss of elasticity.
Tips to Reduce UV Damage from Surfing
- Apply a waterproof, broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher before every surf session.
- Seek shade or cover up when taking breaks on land.
- Wear a rash guard, wetsuit or sun protection clothing while surfing for additional coverage.
- Limit sun exposure during peak UV hours from 10 am to 4 pm.
- Perform frequent skin self-exams and see a dermatologist annually for professional skin checks.
Effects of Saltwater and Chlorine Exposure
While saltwater has some benefits for skin health, long term exposure may age skin more rapidly according to dermatologists. Saltwater is drying and can deplete the skin’s natural moisture levels. This chronic dehydration leads to fine lines, uneven texture and a less supple appearance over time.
The saline content also draws water away from skin cells, causing them to shrink slightly which may exaggerate existing wrinkles. Additionally, chlorine exposure from swimming in pools between surf sessions can act as an irritant and further dehydrate skin. To combat this, surfers need to deeply moisturize daily with a non-comedogenic formula.
Results of Saltwater and Chlorine Aging
Aging Sign Cause Premature wrinkles Chronic dehydration shrinks and stresses skin Uneven texture, loss of elasticity Repeated cellular shrinkage over years Age spots Long term sun and oxidative damage exacerbated by dry skin Dull, sallow complexion Depletion of skin’s moisture barrier
Oxidative Stress from Pollution and Sun
Surfing near coastal cities and areas with water pollution subjects the body to additional oxidative stressors. Oxidative stress happens when free radicals outpace the body’s natural antioxidant defenses. These free radicals are generated both externally from pollution and sun exposure as well as internally during cellular metabolism.
Long term oxidative stress accelerates normal cellular aging processes and damage to collagen and elastin fibers. This leads to premature wrinkles, liver spots and sagging skin. Regular surfers may accumulate higher levels of oxidative stress over decades spent in and around polluted waters compared to non-surfers.
Consuming a diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, along with topical antioxidant serums can help surfers boost their defenses against oxidative damage. Limiting surf sessions in industrial areas with known pollution when possible also decreases oxidative insult.
Examples of Oxidative Damage Seen with Aging
- Wrinkles and loss of elasticity from elastin and collagen breakdown
- Age spots from melanin clumping caused by free radical activity
- Sagging or loss of firmness as supportive structures deteriorate
- Accelerated telomere shortening leading to earlier cell death
Effects of Cold Water and Wear & Tear on Joints
Going in and out of cold ocean water on a regular basis may have both benefits and drawbacks for joint health. Cold water can temporarily reduce inflammation in joints; however, the repetitive motions involved in paddling and catching waves places stress on joints over decades. Positioning oneself on a surfboard also often involves hyperextension of joints.
Regular surfers have higher lifetime risks of developing joint issues like arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis and injuries due to years of repeated microtrauma. Carrying extra board weight while paddling also puts stress on shoulders, lower back, hips and knees. To minimize injury risk, surfers should strength train for core and surrounding muscle groups to support joints and improve flexibility.
Potential Joint Issues Seen with Long Term Surfing
|Shoulders||Rotator cuff tendinitis, impingement, arthritis|
|Knees||Meniscal tears, ligament damage, osteoarthritis|
|Hips||Bursitis, labral tears, femoral neck fractures|
|Lower Back||Disc degeneration, herniated discs, spinal stenosis|
Impact of Repeated Injuries on Aging
Surfing without proper protective equipment often leads to injuries like cuts, abrasions and contusions from accidents in the water or boards. Over a lifetime, surfers may sustain many minor injuries like this but also major joint injuries as discussed previously. Each injury requires time to heal fully and repeated injuries can permanently weaken tissues and accelerate aging even after healed.
Minor cuts may scar more noticeably over decades and healed joint injuries increase arthritis risk through inflamed and imperfectly repaired joint tissues. Repeated head impacts from wipeouts can potentially elevate risk of age-related neurological issues as well. Proper wound care, ER visits for significant injuries and protective gear can help minimize injury accumulation and long term effects.
Examples of How Injuries Age Tissues Over Time
- Scarred tissues look permanently older
- Incompletely healed fractures may leave chronic joint issues
- Overworked muscles become stiffer and prone to future injury
- Breakdown of damaged joint tissues worsens premature arthritis
Lifestyle Choices that Can Impact Aging
While the physical demands of surfing itself such as sun/water exposure and injury risk can potentially speed certain aging processes, lifestyle choices surrounding surfing also play a role. Surfing subculture often involves sleep deprivation, excessive sun/UV exposure, smoking, alcohol use, poor diet and lack of regular medical care – all of which profoundly impact overall health and aging.
Getting adequate restorative sleep, not smoking, limiting alcohol in moderation, frequent hydration, skin protection and eating plenty of antioxidant-rich whole foods may help offset some aging effects from years of surfing exposure according to dermatologists and physicians. This healthier lifestyle results in overall better cellular health, immune function, DNA integrity and resilience against environmental insults.
Healthy Surfer Lifestyle Tips
- Hydrate and wear sun protection daily
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night
- Do not smoke and limit alcohol intake
- Eat mostly whole foods high in nutrients
- Visit your doctor annually for checkups
- Stretch and strength train for injury prevention
In summary, while enjoying many health benefits, decades of regular surfing does carry risks that may potentially accelerate certain visible aging signs in the skin, joints and other areas. The greatest aging impacts stem from chronic sun exposure