Healthy Living in Your 20s


Published: July 16, 2014

When I was in my twenties I felt like I was riding wild horses, and I was hoping I didn’t go off a cliff. – C. Khan

We opened our series Reinvent Your Health last week with an overview of the three fundamentals of healthy living. We continue with an in-depth tour of the ages of woman, filled with tips on how to be the healthiest you – at any age! This week we focus on your terrific, tumultuous twenties.

Your twenties are the years for exploration, experimentation and dreaming up your future. It is also the gateway decade between tween living and full-fledged adulthood. Yes, this is the age to make your mistakes and learn your lessons – but it is not a time to neglect your health. After all, how you live now will strongly influence the many tomorrows unfolding ahead of you.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay describes the twenties as the “defining decade,” emphasizing, “We forget that our twenties are actually what sets the stage for later on. It’s the foundation on which we lay our lives.”

You tend to enter your twenties with a roomful of friends and acquaintances, and exit with a few fast friends with whom you share an unbreakable bond. Life weeds out the real friends from the phonies, but you have a lot of fun along the way.

Party-hopping and nocturnal living define much of what we love about our twenties. Your social scene is at an all-time high, before responsibilities and maturity enter the picture and crash the fun. So how do you balance your social butterflying while still respecting your body and nurturing your health?


Fit Now, Fit Forever

Your twenties are a good time to establish a solid fitness regime. You tend to have more free time in your twenties than later in life, and how you shape up now can define how active and streamlined you will be as the years roll on.

Find out what it is you love to do. You might be a runner, a swimmer or a yoga bunny. Create a varied routine including some sort of resistance work to help maintain tone.

Our muscle mass shrinks as we age, which in turn slams the brakes on our metabolism. If you actively build lean, toned muscle mass – think a slender, streamlined silhouette rather than Rambo-style bulk – you will keep your metabolism ticking along nicely as well as supporting healthy bone density.

Forget fad diets and punishing workouts in a frantic bid to be “pin-up perfect,” and focus instead on being strong and healthy. You’re in the best shape of your life, but your twenties are commonly plagued with anxiety and poor body image. “Look at yourself from the inside-out,” urges celebrity trainer Vanessa Carver, “rather than the outside-in . . . forget weight – think health.”

Planking is a great way to build core strength and tone. Aim for being able to hold a plank pose for an entire minute.

Feed Your Future

Focus on trying to clean up your diet as much as possible. Avoid giving in to those fast-food cravings, and start planning ahead rather than grabbing refined and processed foods at the last minute. Now is also a good time to start basing your meals around proteins – think fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts and seeds. (Handy tip: the ideal serving size for protein is the same size as the palm of your hand.)

Drink at least three litres of filtered water a day, and get into the habit of adding greens to as many meals as possible. Green, leafy vegetables like fluted pumpkin leaves (ugu), water leaf, cabbage and spinach are great support for your liver, which is working hard to sift out the toxins that fast living can throw into your system.

Remember, nourishing your body now will help promote and maintain your fertility, which may play a key role in your life’s next chapter.

Check It Out

You may feel indestructible at this age, but health checks are a must, and two of the most important areas to monitor are your reproductive health and your skin.

Sexual health exams are especially important now. Many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are “silent,” or symptomless, and may impair your fertility as well as your general health and well-being. Pap smear screenings are also crucial for detecting abnormalities on the cervix.

Government statistics show more than 25,000 new cases of cervical cancer arising in Nigeria each year. It is vital to catch this cancer as early as possible, so ask your doctor about testing, both for cervical cancer and for STDs.

Now is also the right time to begin self-examining for any skin abnormalities. Alert your dermatologist if you find anything that looks unusual or different, such as enlarged, irregular or bleeding moles.

All skin tones are susceptible to skin cancer, especially in hot climates with daily sun exposure. There is a common misconception that non-Caucasian skin is immune to skin cancer. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, this dangerous myth contributes to dark-skinned people being diagnosed with skin cancer at later stages: “These delays mean that skin cancers are often advanced and potentially fatal.” So get into the habit of checking now!

Next: Healthy Living in Your 30s.

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