Lots of big life changes accompany your 20’s – finding a new job, moving to a new city, searching for a new apartment, paying bills you never knew existed, and falling in and out of relationships more times than you can count. Amid all these changes you may find your health taking a back seat.
But believe it or not, the health decisions you make in your 20’s will affect your body and your life for decades to come. Here are 11 common health mistakes that you’ll pay for later.
You sit too much.
Do you hit the gym three times a week, only to sit at the office/on the subway/in your car/on your couch the rest of the day? I hate to break it to you, but those sweat sessions aren’t doing you any good if you are sedentary the rest of the day. Sitting for extended periods of time increases the risk for dozens of diseases and condition, from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and liver problems. Aim to move at least once per hour during the day. Set a timer if you need to, and get up and stand, walk or stretch for at least 5 minutes every hour.
You get too much screen time.
We live in a digital world and with that comes hours (and hours) of phone, computer and TV time every day. Excessive screen time can cause neck and wrist pain, with people needing spine care at an earlier age than normal. Too much time staring at a screen also causes digital eye strain which can lead to headaches, blurred vision, and long-term eye damage. Take a text break every 20 minutes, looking up from the screen and around the room for 20-30 seconds.
You don’t have a primary care doctor.
If finding a new doctor ranks low on your priority list, time to bump it up. It’s important to have a primary care practitioner even if you are healthy. They’ll keep you up-to-date with all the necessary screenings and tests, everything from vaccines to travel shots to pap smears. Plus, if an emergency arises, you have someone who knows you and your medical history. The best part? Insurance covers one annual check-up per year, no co-pay required. Women also get one annual gynecologist appointment for free as well. You have no excuse – log onto your insurance website to find a doctor in your area.
Your lung function peaks in your mid-20’s and then starts to decline. While this is fine for most people, if you are a smoker now is the time you can cause irreversible damage. The sooner you stop, the better. Studies have shown that people who quit smoking before they turn 30 will avoid the risk of dying from a tobacco-related illness. For help quitting, click here.
You don’t prioritize sleep.
With a busy work and social life, sleep tends to fall by the wayside. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 20% of Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. The risks are more than just waking up groggy and in need of a massive coffee. Too little sleep can cause weight gain, anxiety, depression, and insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Avoid caffeine after 12 pm, and turn off any screens 30 minutes before bedtime. You can also try these foods to help you sleep.
You binge drink
Those late nights spent partying can take a serious toll on your health as you get older. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks in two hours, or having multiple drinks each day. This behavior can kill neurons in your brain, leading to memory loss and issue with learning and decision-making. Plus, heavy drinking can result in serious liver problems like hepatitis, cirrhosis and even cancer. Women should aim for no more than one drink per day, and men no more than two drinks.
You abuse your eardrums
Years of blasting music in your earbuds and going to loud concerts take its toll, and can leave you with noise-induced hearing loss. The standard volume range on music players is 60-120 decibels. Continued exposure above 85 can cause hearing loss. Quick test: if someone standing next to you can hear your music, it’s too loud. Aim to listen at 10 to 50% of the full volume.
You don’t wear sunscreen
As attractive as that tan may be, it puts you at serious risk for skin cancer. And I’m not just talking about applying when you go to the beach – you should be wearing sunscreen every day to reduce your risk of skin cancer and prevent wrinkles and other signs of premature aging. Even on cloudy days, as 80% of UV rays still come through the clouds. Apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, being careful not to miss spots like the tops of your ears, the back of your neck and your feet and ankles. Your lips are vulnerable to UV rays too, so grab a lip balm with SPF.
You forget to floss
I know, I know, flossing is not fun. But skipping it on a regular basis can lead to gum disease, a bacterial infection that infiltrates the tissue and bone around your teeth. It’s the number one cause of tooth loss. Not only that, if the bacteria from your gums enter your blood it can cause chronic inflammation and increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Floss at least once per day, treating it as part of your nightly routine, so you don’t skip it.
You fill up on processed foods
Designed to appeal to our taste buds, highly processed foods now make up almost 60% of the average American diet. These foods are high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, providing a lot of calories with very little (if any) beneficial nutrients. Too much sugar and saturated fat can lead to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Plus in the short-term your energy levels and productivity will suffer. Focus on whole, real foods, stocking your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds to snack on (and ditching the chips).
You don’t practice balance
Your 20’s tend to be spent chasing professional and personal goals. While this can be rewarding, overextending yourself will lead to stress, anxiety, and health problems. Make time for yourself, incorporating small daily habits to help you relax and de-stress. Deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness are all ways to help you get more balance in your life.
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