Health and Wellness Advice for Young Adults 20-40
Building good habits and maximizing safety
As a young adult, the notion of self-care is often deemed pointless given a perceived invincibility. To the young and healthy, the concept of worrying about health, blood pressure or achy joints should be left to the fate of their parents and grandparents. Why fix what is not broken? Especially when there are so many other demands and exciting things to do in life.
Today’s 20-year-olds are taught to live in the present. Why worry about the future? Life happens now! Being in the moment does have great health benefits, so long as daily routines incorporate healthy habits. What we do at 20 impacts to what extent we thrive at 40, 60, 80 and beyond. Routines become habit, and habits dictate our health.
The top causes of death in this age range are not heart disease or cancer, as in the general population, but attributed to unintentional injury (such as motor vehicle accidents), suicide and homicide. Protecting our health at this stage in life warrants attention to basic physical health, safety and management of emotional and mental health.
To help assess what you may need to improve, after reading each category — physical health, safety and mental health — ask yourself these three questions:
1. What behavior(s) above am I doing well?
2. What behavior(s) need improvement?
3. What behavior(s) might I consider changing to improve my physical health?
Physical well-being is our commitment to nourishing our body and assurance that our tank is full. The following basics practices are critical for those 20-40. Nearly all strategies remain relevant to us even beyond 40 as we strive for long-term health benefits. Complete a self-assessment by asking yourself the following: “Do I …”
- Exercise for 30 minutes on most days and strengthen all muscle groups twice a week?
- Eat healthy and regular meals, including 5-9 fruits and vegetables daily?
- Limit saturated fats and added sugar?
- Maintain ideal body weight (normal BMI)?
- Manage my time to assure 7-8 hours of sleep daily?
- Receive routine recommended healthcare screenings and vaccines?
- Maintain a relationship with a healthcare provider for regular preventive care and acute care as needed?
- Practice safe sex every time?
- Avoid exposure to all demonstrated toxins including tobacco products and drugs?
- Wash my hands (regularly and before eating)?
- Brush my teeth twice daily and schedule dental cleanings twice a year?
- Drink fewer than 1 alcoholic drink(s) per day for women, 2 for men?
- Drink 2-3 liters of water per day?
Safety is also a critical component of physical well-being, check in on your risk by asking the following: “Do I …”
- Always wear a seat belt?
- Always wear a helmet when cycling?
- Store and handle firearms safely if present?
- Always take care not to drink and drive?
- Always take care to not text and drive (a 21st-century health challenge)?
- Partner to participate in safe and supportive relationships?
- Apply sunscreen when exposed to sunlight?
As a nation, we are successfully reducing the use of tobacco-based cigarettes, but this previous public health enemy No. 1 is rapidly being replaced by stress. Your 20s and 30s are a time to establish personal and professional identity which can be very stressful. While acute stress increases performance, chronic or continuous stress, without the ability to replenish, is draining and can result in feelings of inadequacy, lack of control, fear and anxiety, hopelessness, burnout and even depression. The top risk for suicide is depression. Disrupting chronic stress cycles require our shifting attention to developing coping skills. While we can’t avoid stress, we can manage many of the day-to-day stressors with healthy skills.
Emotional well-being is the commitment to understanding, embracing and managing our own and others emotional needs. Assess your emotional and mental health and reflect on your answers to the following: “Do I …”
- Observe my emotions and understand my feelings?
- Allow myself permission to embrace all feelings including fears and discomfort?
- Recognize stress levels and know my limits?
- Have realistic expectations about my capacity to manage day-to-day stress?
- Have effective outlets to manage stress?
- Schedule time for self-reflection and journaling of my experiences?
- View challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles?
- Grant myself permission to take time off?
- Balance my use of electronics and social media and “unplug” for extended periods of time daily?
- Demonstrate tolerance of myself and others imperfections and differences?
- Permit time for enjoying personal passion(s), such as cooking, piano, reading, photography?
- Affirm my personal accomplishments?
- Take responsibility for my actions/ behavior?
- Reach out for help to friends, family or professionals when feeling down?
A trusted counselor can be an invaluable resource. Talking through stresses that accompany different phases of life is as important as hiring an accountant to successfully navigate tax season. If overwhelmed, unable to cope, or finding self-care is not a viable option, seek professional help. If feeling alone or not wanting to live, reach out to health professionals and call the Suicide HOTLINE (1-800-273-TALK).
Progression through life can be challenging. Valuable lifelong skills include saying “yes” to help, saying “no” to perfection, and fully acknowledging that our health is critical to our effectiveness in all aspects of life. Our health matters!
Congratulations if you are less than 40 and have mastered these skills! If you are over 40 or curious to look ahead and identify ways to maximize your spiritual, environmental, financial, intellectual and social well-being, see advice for adults ages 40-60.