A Reality Check for 20-Somethings
Once you make it past your teens to young adulthood, you may think life can only get better. But doctors say that feeling great by the time you're as old as your parents may rely a lot on what you do now.
Let's say you're among the one-third of Americans 18 to 24 who smoke, for example. Your odds for a stroke, heart attack or lung disease are much higher than if you skip tobacco.
"It's a challenge to get young people to sit up and listen because they think they're immortal," says Thomas J. Weida, M.D., a professor of community medicine at Pennsylvania State University and a spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians. "What I focus on is the social stigma of smoking—the smell, the discoloration of the teeth, and the fact that many cities are going smoke-free and that smokers have a lower earning capacity than nonsmokers."
Here's another issue you need to think about: weight. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) funded a study of 2,475 adults ages 18 to 30. After 15 years, those who stayed at their weight—even if they weighed too much—were much less likely to develop high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease in midlife. "The minimum goal for every young adult is to try to prevent weight gain," says the NHLBI's Barbara Alving, M.D.
More advice for 20-somethings:
Condoms or abstinence can help you avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
Marijuana and other illicit drugs can lead to depression and malaise—not to mention jail. Alcohol abuse can cause crippling accidents and long-term effects on your memory, mood and liver.
Loud concerts or cranked-up headphones can hurt your hearing as much as noise from motorcycles or chain saws. Earplugs can help at noisy clubs or concerts.
Using sunscreen correctly—applying it liberally and reapplying it after every couple of hours—can help prevent sunburns that "can cause you to look older sooner and set you up for skin cancer," says Dr. Weida.
Working out will help you stay slim and healthy. But take it easy on your knees and other joints to avoid arthritis as you age. "The key is not to go beyond your abilities," Dr. Weida says. Strengthen the muscles around your joints. Warm up and stretch as part of your fitness routine.
Wear head protection while biking, inline skating, skateboarding, or whenever appropriate. To those who say helmets look dorky, Dr. Weida responds, "Being on a ventilator looks a lot worse."