We are all born with the genes bequeathed to us by our parents, but there are an incredible variety and number of ways our life choices (and random events or exposures) can impact those genes — including some ways scientists don't know yet. How "well" you age — and here I'm strictly referring to how young you look, though clearly there are other indicators of wellness — can absolutely be a luck-of-the-genes situation.

But numerous studies point to variables we can control. And looking younger on the outside is absolutely linked to aging more slowly in other ways too — so this isn't just about ego. 

Some of these you may have heard before, but others might surprise and encourage you to add a new item to your "good habits" list: 

Floss: As Kathy Butler covered in an article here on MNN, gum disease can seriously age you. She wrote that in addition to the obvious — that tooth loss and decay make you look older — flossing impacts health too: "Research shows that gingivitis, or gum disease, can lead to problems such as stroke, diabetes and respiratory disease. Flossing is your best defense against gingivitis. After all, experts report that up to 40 percent of your teeth surfaces are unreachable by toothbrush." 

Eat fruits and veggies: A 2012 study showed that upping fruits and veggies over the long haul made people look more attractive — specifically three extra servings per day. “Our study suggests that an increase in fruit and veggie consumption of around three portions, sustained over a six-week period, is sufficient to convey perceptible improvements in the apparent healthiness and attractiveness of facial skin,” lead researcher Dr. Ross Whitehead of the University of St. Andrews school of psychology told HealthDay. “Conversely, those [participants] that worsened their diet became paler.” Choose whole fruits and veggies in a variety of colors to get the most out of their anti-aging effects. 

Play: Engaging in activities that are genuinely fun for you will make you smile, will probably get you moving, and can help with age-related declines in mental and physical agility. Playing could include games with other people, or fun (even goofy) activities on your own. Stephen Jepson's initiative Never Leave the Playground is an inspiration point.

Meditate: Photographer Peter Seidler took a series of portraits of men and women both before and after a 30-day meditation retreat. He writes of the project that it was " a visual exploration of the physiological qualities of meditation practice." He says the results speak for themselves, and I have to agree.  

Stop smoking: Even the Mayo Clinic is unequivocal about smoking and skin. Yes, smoking causes wrinkles. By restricting blood flow to your outermost dermal layers, nicotine starves skin of vital oxygen and nutrients. "These skin changes may occur after only 10 years of smoking. The more cigarettes you smoke and the longer you smoke, the more skin wrinkling you're likely to have — even though the early skin damage from smoking may be hard for you to see initially."

Exercise: Conversely to smoking, exercise delivers more oxygen to skin. And studies show it's never too late to start exercising to reap anti-aging benefits. 

Drink green tea: Green tea has been shown to have overall anti-aging properties, but also specifically skin-helping ones: "A review of numerous studies with Green tea (Camellia sinensis) has concluded that both oral consumption and topical application of green tea protects against inflammation and chemical- and UV-induced carcinogenesis," writes Dr. Ivana Binic and her team in a review of natural skin anti-agers in the Hindawi journal. 

Sleep: There's a reason they call it beauty rest. According to WebMD, "Chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic." Not getting enough sleep ages other parts of your body too: A large study of nurses at Brigham and Women's hospital found that getting five hours or fewer of sleep each night was the cognitive equivalent of aging two years. 

Of course, there are more important things than looking younger, and no matter how well you take care of yourself, or how good your genes are, we will all age (hopefully). But all of the above suggestions are life habits that will lead to greater health and longevity as well — so following them isn't just a vanity thing, it's a self-care thing too.

One aspect of the aging equation we can never forget is attitude. Be comfortable with your age and your looks because perspective and energy definitely affect how others see you — and how you see yourself.

Related on MNN: 

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

8 science-based ways to reverse aging
You can't control aging entirely, but you can influence it with some smart choices.