5 Things You Should Do For Your Health In Your 20s
Our resident medical expert and friendly neighbourhood heart surgeon, DR. NIKKI STAMP tells us five fundamental areas you should focus on for the good of your long term health, while you’re still at an age to bounce back from a hangover.
Being in your twenties is great. You’re a little wiser (and richer, hopefully) than you were in your teens and your future is rolling out ahead of you. You’re learning how to truly adult (verb) while still full of the crazy optimism of youth and just the right amount of untouchable. The twenties are a time to start cementing who you really are.
Still young enough to get away with pushing your bodies and your mind, you bounce back from a big night out, big meals and skipping workouts. Twenty-somethings tend to be keen on ‘healthy living’ for skinny jeans (ie. health for appearance). But healthy is what’s really beautiful – and by taking good care of yourself, you not only stand to reap the benefits now but also down the track.
#1 Never forget: you are what you eat
It seems every single day a new diet or a superfood is being touted as the thing to eat to give you abs that would make Ronda Rousey jealous. There’s so much information about diet, it’s hard to make sense of it all.
Eating and sharing food is an enjoyable thing and while we want to be doing all of the right things, we also definitely want to avoid being that person at the dinner table who’s “fussy”. Let’s strip it back to the basics: 1) eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables and 2) eat a diet low in sugar and saturated fat. Easy.
#2 Learn about your heart-mind connection
Happiness feels good right? Well, it’s likely to make you feel good on the inside too. Increasingly, we are finding out about the importance of happiness and a strong mind. As the science world is continually discovering new information, one thing we know for sure is that if feel lousy, you make poorer decisions about your health. Who has’t skipped the gym or destroyed a block of Cadbury? It’s also becoming clearer that depression and low mood are serious risks for nasties like heart attacks.
So how to be happy? Well, everyone is different but one thing is for sure, working on cultivating a life that is rewarding for you is a great start. Begin with connection; we’re all wired for connection and being a part of a relationship with family, friends or a significant other is a sure way to be happy. Don’t forget about things like hobbies that float your boat, community involvement and mental health tools like mindfulness.
#3 Get a few easy tests
If you’re blessed with good health and good genes, trips to the doctor can be few and far between. But even the lucky ones need to pop in to their GP to get a few tests and check-ups now and then, mostly to screen for diseases so we can knock it on the head early if there’s anything unusual.
For women, a pap smear is an absolute necessity from the age of 18. At the time of this fun test (yeah, right) be sure to get your GP to do a breast and pelvic exam too. Don’t forget self breast checks at home. If you’re on contraception (especially the pill) make sure you get your blood pressure checked at least annually.
Happily, men tend to avoid being internally examined in their youth but that doesn’t mean that their downstairs doesn’t need attention. Blokes, you need to take care of your testicles and examine them for anything unusual. You know your boys best so shout out if you feel something odd. And just like women, it’s good to get your blood pressure checked too.
Ladies and gents having sexy times? Good for you! Don’t forget to discuss with your GP the merits of testing for sexually transmitted infections.
#4 Shake your booty
It’s the headline that’s meant to shock us: sitting is the new smoking. Perhaps not exactly smoking, but leading a sedentary lifestyle is up there with one of the worst things you can do for your health. Exercise is what you need to focus on to stave off heart problems, dementia and a number of different types of cancer. It’s also a way to keep your brain happy with the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine, an effect which stays with you long after you’ve showered away the sweat.
We are spoiled for choice. Yoga, barre, F45, running and endurance type races are all super popular right now. Explore exercise and find something that gets the blood pumping. The benefits of exercise are also felt with simple things like walking just as much as burpees.
Keep it simple, sustainable and regular. And as for how much? Well, the best guide is: something is better than nothing and more is better than that. Set achievable goals as many days of the week as you can do.
#5 Be mentally healthy
Mental illness is a something we should have high on our radars, not just for ourselves but for our friends, family and the wider community. Most of us know someone who has struggled with mental illness at some point and with one in five of us affected at any one time, we can’t and shouldn’t ignore it.
Campaigns such as RUOK and incredible work by BeyondBlue and Black Dog Institute are educating and supporting those who are having a tough time. As we’ve all been told time and time again, prevention is better than cure so taking care of yourself should extend to your emotional wellbeing too. Be aware of the times when you’re down and seek help. Don’t forget to exercise which is a great ‘anti-depressant’ and of course, being connected with other humans is vitally important.
But the 20-somethings have a huge role to play in mental health, far beyond personal wellbeing. Encourage the de-stigmatising of mental illness with your friends and colleagues, and push for healthy work environments to support those who are struggling and to promote mental health. Think of ways to make your workplace healthy including team mindfulness or meditation and be a shoulder to cry on for anyone who needs it.
Dr Nikki Stamp is a heart surgeon, a champion for women achieving in domains that are traditionally dominated by men and a strong advocate for the importance of self-care and work-life balance. She is an ambassador for #ILookLikeASurgeon