As a woman leaves the teenage years and enters into her 20s, she is sure to encounter many changes. Not only is she becoming more independent in her world, establishing more mature relationships and possibly planning her family, she is laying the foundation of her health.
If you’re in your 20s and wondering how to set yourself up for a healthy life, here are a few pointers from Christopher Birkholz, MD, an OBGYN on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.
If you’re a woman in your 20s…
- You may experience more mature or lasting relationships
- You may be trying to balance school, work or other stressors
- You may become financially independent for the first time
- You may be contemplating childbirth or family planning
- You may have more stability than in your teens
- You may feel overwhelmed with stresses on your time with work or family life
- You may be unaware of the sexual risks or need for gynecological care
“I wish I had more time to discuss these health issues with my patients,” Dr. Birkholz said. “I think more women would benefit by scheduling an appointment with their physicians to talk about these issues.”
Be smart about sexual disease
One major focus Dr. Birkholz recommends during your 20s is being smart about STDs and sexual relationships.
“From a gynecologic standpoint we recommend you start getting a screening for cervical cancer (pap smear) at age 21 and return every one or two years to follow up with your doctor,” he said.
At these screenings, your doctor can also check for sexually transmitted diseases. This is important because many women who are infected with STDs don’t have any symptoms, and they can cause issues with infertility. It’s better to get screened regularly so you can detect any problems early on.
Protect yourself or plan for parenthood
During the 20s, you may start planning for parenthood with your partner. This can be a very rewarding time, but also very stressful. Before getting pregnant you should see your provider to make sure you are healthy and living a fertility-friendly lifestyle. For example, you should stop smoking if that applies and start taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin.
If you are not ready for parenthood, it is important to use birth control to avoid unintended pregnancies during your 20s. There are many misconceptions women face about birth control, STDs or condom use, and your doctor can help make sense of it all. You can ask all your questions so you feel confident that you are properly protecting yourself physically, emotionally and sexually.
Eat a nutritious diet
Make sure you are eating whole grains, lean meats and plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables. Stay away from processed food and excess sweets or carbohydrates.
If you are trying to lose weight, remember: “You are not on The Biggest Loser,” Dr. Birkholz said. “It is unrealistic to expect 10 pounds of weight loss per week and this may not be safe. A more reasonable goal is one or two pounds per week.”
If you’re worried about your weight, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Find exercise you enjoy
To set a healthy foundation for your life, it’s important to establish a healthy exercise routine. In the middle of school, children, work and a million demands on your time, you may feel that exercise can wait. But you’d be surprised what a difference even a short workout or walk around the neighborhood can do for your health.
Dr. Birkholz recommends exercise five times weekly, with moderately difficult activity three of those times. These are activities that increase your heart rate, such as swimming, brisk walking or sports for at least 30 minutes.
Try different types of exercise until you figure out a routine you enjoy that works with your lifestyle. Exercise should be an activity you enjoy, not a punishment.
Remember you are not invincible
Just because you are young, you are not invincible. Although you may feel healthy, it’s important to get proper insurance coverage, check for cancers, screen for possible family diseases and see a doctor regularly. Healthy habits in your 20s will set you up for a lifetime of wellness.