You’re still young. But you may no longer be able to lose two pounds just by foregoing a couple of beers on a Friday night. And, though you feel good most of the time, you’re starting to notice an occasional ache and pain—something you never felt as a teenager. Here are some easy ways to keep fit and healthy during these important years.
Think outside the (pizza) box. “This may be the first time you can’t rely on your mom or a dorm for food,” says Barrie Wolfe, MS, RD, a registered dietitian/nutritionist in Chappaqua. “Stay away from chips, fast food, and late-night pizza.” Instead, choose lean protein like grilled chicken, fish, and egg whites; healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and olive oil; fruits and veggies; and whole grains.
Go light on the booze. “Now is a good time to choose light beer or wine,” instead of caloric cocktails, says Wolfe. “And limit the amount of drinks overall.”
Gird your bones. “Your 20s are your last chance to build bone-density levels,” says Wolfe. “So it’s important to get calcium and Vitamin D from cottage cheese and yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, or kale.” Keep bones strong with a combination of weight-bearing exercise (jump rope, dancing, running, or hiking) and weight-training.
Get moving. “A runner’s high doesn’t have to be from running,” says Bobbi Ornstein, PT, of Mount Kisco Medical Group. “It just has to be something you enjoy, to balance out those hours of sitting at your desk. Even a power walk at lunch keeps you healthy.”
Pump your iron. Women in this age group tend to lose iron while menstruating, so Wolfe recommends poultry, beans, spinach, and lean beef to avoid feeling weak and fatigued. Insider tip: Vitamin C enhances iron absorption, so chase those dishes with fruit.
Increase folic acid. Not only can it help prevent birth defects for women planning to conceive, it’s linked to lower rates of heart disease for men and women. Find it in leafy greens (spinach, broccoli), oranges, and beans.
Boost with B. Young kids, stressful jobs, and endless laundry can drain your energy. To restore it, Wolfe recommends the B vitamins found in whole grains, fortified cereals, beans, fish, kale, and eggs.
Schedule sleep. Trade that extra hour of TV for a bonus hour of snoozing—it’s better for your mood and health. To get your body on board, pair a consistent wake-up time with sunlight or a light box.
For women only:
Cervical cancer screening Regular, reliable screenings make this one of the easiest cancers to treat and prevent. Corinne Menn, DO, a Chappaqua gynecologist, recommends a Pap test every three years that collects cervical cells to look for pre-cancer. An additional HPV test screens for the human papilloma virus, which causes these changes, and for which there is a vaccine.
For women and men:
STD testing. “I recommend HIV testing for all sexually active women and men,” says Dr. Menn. “Women should be offered gonorrhea and chlamydia testing yearly, or after unprotected intercourse with a new partner.”
Screening for Hepatitis B. immunity If not immune, men and women should receive the vaccine.
Cardiovascular Risk Assessment. Based on blood pressure, cholesterol profile, weight, height, and BMI. Heart disease is the nation’s leading cause of death, so assess risk every three to five years.
Depression screening via the Patient Health Questionnaire 2 (PHQ-2) Two simple questions that “will save lives,” says Richard Catanzaro, MD, director of the Department of Psychiatry at Northern Westchester Hospital. “The PHQ-2 is above 80-percent sensitive. Depression is one of the primary risk factors for suicide, the second highest cause of death in the US for those in their 20s and 30s.” A positive screen can lead to treatment.