Your 20-somethings is a unique life-season of self-discovery, adventure and freedom. It’s a time when you feel young, healthy and somewhat invincible – the last thing on your mind is growing older and all of the health complications that come with it. The truth is, however, now is the most important time to build healthy habits that will lay the foundation for better health in the future. Making smart decisions today will ensure the decades that follow are just as vibrant and exciting as this one.
1. Schedule Regular Physical Examinations
Your 20s are usually a decade of good health, and because of this, you may not have considered scheduling your annual physical exam as a part of your regular health maintenance routine. Even if you feel healthy, it is still necessary to visit your primary care physician regularly to catch any irregularities in their earliest, most treatable stages. Based on your individual health conditions, your doctor will determine which testing is needed, but in general, the following medical exams are suggested in your 20s:
- Pap test and pelvic exam – By the age of 21, all women should be having a routine pelvic exam every year and a Pap smear every two to three years (if negative), to screen for cancer and other disorders.
- Skin and clinical breast exam – Every three years, 20-something women should have their physician perform a clinical breast exam and, every year, a baseline mole and overall skin exam.
- Ears, ears and teeth exam – Every two years, women in their 20s should have a baseline eye and ear exam to test vision and hearing. Dental examinations should occur semiannually.
- Blood pressure screening – After 20 years, women should have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years.
- Vaccinations – After age 19, women will require a tetanus booster every 10 years. Also, if attending college, women should talk to their doctor about getting a meningococcal vaccine.
- Other risk factors – Depending on personal risk factors, a primary care physician can determine if screening for chronic disease is necessary, as well as sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol abuse and skin cancer.
2. Get the Right Nutrients
Researchers at Brown University Medical School found that 20-somethings eat 25 percent more fast-food meals than they did in their teens, meaning most young women are missing out on key nutrients in their diets. In addition to eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, 20-something women should make sure to get enough:
- Protein – Women need protein to keep full and build muscle, but 50 percent of women ages 18-50 don’t know if they are getting enough. To get the minimum 60 to 70 grams of protein each day, eat lean meats, eggs, beans and low-fat dairy.
- Potassium – Potassium promotes a healthy heart, but most women in their 20s get less than half the recommended amount in their diets. Get the potassium you need by having two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of veggies daily.
- Omega-3 fats – Women are particularly vulnerable to feelings of depression in their 20s. The omega-3 fats found in foods like salmon and tuna can help boost serotonin in your brain and make you feel happier.
3. Stay Active
In combination with maintaining a balanced diet, staying active in your 20s is key to keeping a healthy weight and preventing a number of chronic health conditions from occurring on down the line. Studies show women who are active may reduce their risk of breast cancer by 37 percent, osteoporosis by 45 percent and heart disease by 14 percent. For optimal health, strive to engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Include a variety of workouts to exercise a full range of muscles, such as yoga, walking, running, high-impact weight-bearing exercises and resistance exercises.
4. Kick Unhealthy Habits
Did you know more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer? Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, and nearly 20 percent of women age 25 to 44 smoke. Smoking raises risk for heart disease and stroke, and can even negatively affect your reproductive health and the safety of your pregnancy. If you don’t already smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, you aren’t alone. In fact, 70 percent of women who smoke want to quit. Talk to your physician about smoking cessation aids and support groups.
5. Get Enough Sleep
In your 20s, it’s common to sacrifice a good night’s sleep to pull an all-nighter to cram for an exam or meet an important deadline at work. While it may feel unavoidable at times, lack of sleep can affect a woman’s health and wellness in the short- and long-term. There are many complex factors that effect how women sleep, such as life events, bad sleep habits and hormonal changes. In fact, women report excessive daytime fatigue more frequently in the 20s and early 30s than at any other age. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of chronic health conditions, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Set yourself up for a healthier future by striving to get the National Health Institute of Health’s suggested 7 to 8 hours of sleep for adults each night.
Your life and body change with each decade. Now is the perfect time to set health goals to promote better health in your 20s and beyond. To learn more about developing healthy habits for a healthy life, visit Women’s Health at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s.