Young men and women in their 20s don't always do all that they can to prevent problems later in life. After all, a 20-something is young and healthy, right? The future is so far away!
And that's true. But what happens next in life depends on what you do during this "care free" decade. So, what are the 10 things men and women in their 20s need to know and do?
1. Protect your skin with SPF 15 every day.
Sunscreen now will not only prevent skin cancers later in life, but it will also prevent wrinkles. Now is a great time to establish a skincare routine, even if it seems like you'll have glowy, youthful skin forever! It's simple: find a gentle cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen you love and apply each daily. And remember to always use at least SPF 15 on your face all year long. Winter sun can cause damage, too.
2. Eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Establish healthy eating early on and your waistline and your heart will love you later! Aim to get at least six servings a day of fruits and vegetables. The more colorful your plate, the more antioxidants you'll consume. And why do you care about antioxidants? They'll protect your heart later in life.
3. Start an exercise routine.
No time like the present! In your 20s, your metabolism is churning at full speed, so having a few extra treats and not exercising isn’t going to make a difference in your body immediately. Unfortunately, as we age, metabolism slows down and the only way to accelerate it is with exercise. So, start now and establish good habits for when you really need them!
4. Get a physical exam every year.
Starting in your 20s, getting a yearly physical exam, with blood work, can help prevent diseases later in life such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure — because you have plenty of time to course correct!
See your doctor once a year and discuss any potential problems. Now is the time to make lifestyle changes or add needed medication to your life in order to prevent serious disease. It's also a great opportunity to develop a strong relationship with a healthcare provider, which is a great thing to have before you need it.
5. See a gynecologist/urologist.
Unfortunately, cervical cancer kills almost 300,000 women every year. What's heartbreaking about this disease is that cervical cancer is often preventable. Starting in your 20s, it's important that you get a yearly pap smear. There are four stages of an abnormal pap smear and the first three stages are completely reversible. So who wouldn’t want to prevent cancer by having a simple, although annoying, test?
For young men, see a urologist for any changes in the urinary stream, pain or swelling. Men often ignore symptoms such as changes in urinary stream (including blood in the urine), which could signal an infection, or early signs of bladder or kidney cancer. Any abnormal swelling in a young man of the testicular region needs to be investigated as it can be a sign of testicular cancer.
6. Have an EKG.
An electrocardiogram is an office procedure done annually on older patients (typically starting in their 40s) to monitor their hearts. Nevertheless, it's a great idea to do a baseline EKG when you're young and healthy.
There is a two-fold benefit to having an electrocardiogram at a young age. First, it can identify if there is anything currently wrong with your heart. (A lot of heart disease in young people is asymptomatic and an office EKG can detect this.) Second, it is important for your doctor to know what your heart looks like when you're young and healthy. As we age and our EKG changes, it might indicate the need for further testing (such as an echocardiogram or stress test.)
My recommendation is to get one baseline EKG in your 20s and then every five years as long as you don’t have any new symptoms.
7. Check your childhood immunizations.
Usually children are vaccinated against life-threatening diseases before starting school in kindergarten. Some patients have their vaccinations updated before college, but if not, it's good to review your current vaccination history with your doctor. Do you need an updated tetanus shot? Should you check your immune status for measles? Did you get your HPV vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer?
8. Practice stress reduction.
As you approach your mid 20s, you're building a career and new relationships, and your stress levels are also building. Learn some techniques to help reduce stress, which will help you now and throughout life. Think about meditation, some yoga, long walks, etc., whatever can help you reduce your personal stress. As we age, stress can lower our immune systems and actually make us sick.
9. Get some sleep.
When we are young, it is difficult to get enough sleep. We work hard and play hard and there is not enough time to sleep. Practicing good sleep habits is something that will carry you through life. It's important to establish a good sleep routine when you're young so that that your body can learn. As we age, it becomes more difficult to both fall asleep and stay asleep, so good habits that are established early help significantly.
10. Have some fun!
Life is complicated and when you're young, there are many obstacles. It's hard to find a job, keep a job, earn enough money, and have good relationships. Carve out some moments in each day to laugh, smile and realize you are on a journey. Your body and your mind will thank you for many years to come if you can see life as a positive experience. Start young and carry on!!