I’d like to make a case that your 20s are the weirdest decade of your life. All of a sudden, you’re all on your own (I miss you, mom!), trying to get a job or score a promotion, spending any off-time on your social life (FOMO is real), and maybe (just maybe) being in a relationship or saving up for those major purchases like a house, a kid, or a dog (vet bills are no joke). Who has the time and money to prioritize all the different health tips out there too? Plus, we’re told that we’re “so young” and have “nothing to worry about” (even when it definitely doesn’t feel that way).
While your 20s should absolutely be enjoyed (just like every other decade of your life, FYI), it’s also a crucial time to revaluate your health and establish habits that will help keep you healthy as you get older. Think of it like an investment: What you do for your body now will not only make you feel your best but will also help your future self be healthier too. Read on for six things women in their 20s should be doing for their health.
1. Prioritize your reproductive health
Your 20s are weird because everyone is in a different place: You may have some friends who already have two kids while other friends just booked a one-way ticket to Thailand after quitting their job on a split decision. But one thing we all have in common, no matter what’s in our five-year plan, is that knowledge is power. Whether you are considering having kids or not, it’s important to educate yourself and take the health of your body into your own hands, especially considering today’s climate in women’s health (tampon shortage and all). Look to your gynecologist or sources like Loom or the National Women’s Health Network for valuable information and guidance.
You know when you finally find a hairstylist who gets you and you just click? Well, finding an OBGYN who listens to and supports your reproductive choices and goals is just as important, if not more. And by getting to know your body through methods such as cycle-syncing and pelvic floor therapy, you’ll learn how to best take care of it.
2. Schedule regular doctor appointments
Whether you’re an older Gen Z or a younger millennial, you might not be in the habit of scheduling regular doctor visits. Maybe your mom always scheduled those appointments for you until you turned 18, so it’s just not a habit. Maybe you let your busy work life and an overbooked calendar delay those appointments because there are no pressing issues right now. PSA: Health is not something you focus on when you’re forced to. Preventive health ensures your body is as healthy as possible, and regular visits are important to stay on top of symptoms or underlying issues you don’t even know are there (yes, even as young as your 20s).
You need a physical exam once a year, but you should also see a gynecologist every year if you have a vagina, a dermatologist every few months (depending on your family history, concerns, etc.), a dentist every six months, and any other specialists as needed. Get in the habit of scheduling all appointments needed for the next 12 months at once. Dedicate some time this week to make all the appointments you’ll need over the next year, and set up a system to make sure to keep regular appointments in the future (like booking the next appointment at the doctor’s office or scheduling the same chunk of time in a year from now to make those appointments).
3. Take your mental health seriously
The good news is that our generation prioritizes mental health more than any generation before, thanks to normalizing therapy (thank you, #therapyTikTok!) and moving away from burnout culture. But just because it’s “common” to feel anxious and burned out does not mean you should feel anxious or burned out. You have routines for your physical health (read: eating your veggies, working out, and annual doctor visits), and you should have an established routine for your mental health too. Whether that means weekly therapy sessions, daily meditation, regular tech-free time, or leaving a job that’s depleting you, prioritize mental health above all else. Oh, and don’t wait until you’re totally burned out or suffering from anxiety or depression to ask for help and make changes. Work with a therapist, and instill daily practices to avoid getting to that point in the first place.
4. Eat for your health
Maybe it was when you graduated college and realized cafeteria food and binge-drinking wine out of bags just wouldn’t cut it anymore, or maybe as you got older, you noticed your body doesn’t bounce back from a McDonald’s meal or pitcher of spicy margaritas like it used to. No matter what the catalyst is, many people start to reevaluate the way that they’re eating when they’re in their 20s; however, just because your body is changing and reacting to food differently does not mean you should be eating for weight loss. Instead, think of every bite you take as an investment in your future self.
What you’re eating now will impact your health in 10, 20, or 30 years. Instead of just eating “healthy” so that your body can look a certain way, start eating to boost heart health (like leafy greens and avocados), keep your energy levels increased (like bananas or dark chocolate), or improve overall longevity (like cruciferous vegetables and berries). In other words, eat your fruits and veggies because they help you feel good, not just because they help you look good. It’s certainly never too soon to start eating for your future self, so get in the habit now of using food as a tool to stay your healthiest as you get older.
5. Wear SPF every time you go outside
If SPF is something you only pull out before a beach day, we need to talk. Sun protection is a crucial part of overall health, but it’s one of the most overlooked. Sun damage (including skin cancer) can happen anytime you’re exposed to the sun, not just if you get a bad burn after a day outside. If you’re not yet in the habit of applying SPF every time you leave the house, keep a face sunscreen by the front door with your keys and wallet so you remember to put on a quick layer before running out the door, or keep a bottle in your car for easy reapplication. Of course, sun protection is most important for protecting against serious sun damage like skin cancer, but it’s also a crucial time to prevent other forms of sun damage like wrinkles or hyperpigmentation that increase as we age. Trust me, you’d much rather take preventative measures now to protect your gorgeous skin than fight the effects years from now.
6. Get a good night’s sleep (every night)
Long gone are the days of regular clubbing until 6 a.m. or pulling an all-nighter for an exam. Sure, we might have a fun night out here and there, a special event, or an extra heavy workday that will give us a shorter night of sleep, but I stopped being able to enjoy any time spent out past 11 p.m. the day I turned 25. The reality is that sleep cannot be a second thought or a welcomed bonus like it might have been in your teenage and college years. Start prioritizing sleep (and quality sleep) every night. Turn off Netflix at a reasonable time and have a go-to wind-down routine that you prioritize over the next episode of Stranger Things (as hard as it is to turn it off!). Especially as we get older, sleep is crucial for keeping the body as healthy as possible and our energy levels high, so prioritize getting a full seven to nine hours of sleep every night.