A Health Guide For Women In Their 20s

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Hey ladies! (Sorry fellas.) We’re in our roarin’ twenties, enjoying the best years of our life. Our twenties seem to be when we are in great health, feeling footloose, and fancy-free. While we should feel confident in this wonderful decade as a 20-something-year-old, wouldn’t it be great if we could feel like this forever?

No matter where you are in your 20s, there are some key health practices women can focus on to better our health. The female body requires special attention to ensure we have strong bones, healthy reproductive and hormonal systems, and a positive mindset. Let’s look at how we can keep our health in top shape today, tomorrow, and for the years to come. While there are a variety of health pillars that encompass our overall wellbeing, we’ll put focus on nutrition, physical activity, and mental health.

Nutrition recommendations for women in their 20s

Your twenties are crucial for optimizing nutrition for the long run. Women need to pay close attention to specific nutrients, especially if planning to have a family in the near future.

  • Build stronger bones. As we grow older, women are prone to losing bone mineral density which can lead to osteoporosis where the bones become weak and brittle. Our bone density reaches its peak sometime between ages 25 and 30, so now is the time to capitalize on it. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D all play an important role in maintaining healthy bones. Focus on calcium-rich foods such as low-fat dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), fortified plant milk, 100% fruit juices, dark leafy greens (collard greens, kale, bok choy, spinach), fortified tofu, almonds, and navy beans.
  • Pump up the iron. Or at least make sure you’re getting adequate amounts. Females are especially vulnerable to developing iron-deficiency with females in their twenties needing 18 milligrams per day and 27 milligrams per day while pregnant. Iron is found in animal foods like red meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. You can also get iron from plant foods such as dark, leafy greens, (spinach, kale, chard), broccoli, green peas, sweet potatoes, beans and legumes (soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.), nuts and seeds, and whole grains (quinoa, amaranth, oats).
  • Keep your hormones happy. Menstrual cycles deplete the body of key nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins, needed for hormone development. Poor nutrition during your cycle may also cause symptoms to worsen. Fats (or lipids), as well as various proteins, are part of cellular development for important hormones. So, don’t fear eating plenty of healthy fats. Get healthy fats from fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
  • Focus on fertility. A healthy pregnancy and happy baby require proper nutrition. Be sure to get plenty of folate (or folic acid), lean protein, healthy (unsaturated) fats, B vitamins, complex carbohydrates, iron, and antioxidant-rich foods. Read more about these fertility nutrients and common foods here.
  • Drink only in moderation. Not only can drinking excess alcohol lead to nutritional deficiencies and dehydration, but it can cause or worsen any hormonal imbalances. Our body tries to get rid of alcohol as soon as possible (it’s a toxin after all) and, with it, the body naturally excretes key nutrients and essential fluids. Stick to drinking in moderation which for women is no more than one drink per day (one drink equals 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1-ounce liquor).

Physical activity in your 20s

Most of us think of exercise as running, a HIIT class, or hitting the weights, but exercise doesn’t just have to be a planned workout. Daily physical activity from normal tasks such as bringing the groceries in, mowing the lawn, gardening, and walking the dog are all forms of movement that will benefit our health.

Rethink exercise to incorporate all forms of movement that you enjoy and can continue to do the rest of your life. Include different types of cardio, resistance training, and flexibility sessions to keep you motivated.

  • Resistance training (aka strength training or weight-bearing exercise) helps increase bone density to prevent osteoporosis, maintains lean muscle mass, supports healthy weight management, and allows you to correctly carry tired toddlers without strain (at some point).
  • Find enjoyable movement that increases your heart rate to your target heart rate zone (calculate your zone here). This helps keep your heart young by lowering your resting heart rate. Fewer beats per minute throughout the day means it can beat for more days, months, and years.
  • Stretch it out every day. Stretching isn’t just for after a workout. Different forms of stretching are known to decrease blood pressure, decrease heart rate, increase joint range of motion, prevent injury, improve blood flow, reduce muscle and joint pain, and much more. Squeeze in flexibility exercises throughout each day. Whether it’s a yoga routine in the morning or a quick 5-minute stretch break before lunch, the more often you stretch the better.

Mental health requirements for women in their 20s

Happiness is a marathon, not a sprint. Supporting your mental health in your twenties will set you up for success down the road. Start building healthy habits now that build resilience, encourage mindfulness, and support your happiness. Putting these habits in place while you’re young gives you the strength to overcome bigger challenges down the road.

  • Schedule time for self-care in that busy schedule. Chronic stress can lead to a variety of chronic diseases. Make time for yourself in the midst of busy schedules, even if that means making a calendar appointment for meditating, taking a bath, or calling a loved one.
  • Learn when to say “no.” You can’t pour from an empty cup. Prioritize your health and happiness so you can share the good word with others. Set boundaries so that you always have time for yourself to relax and de-stress.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s okay to get help when you feel overwhelmed. Ask a friend to watch the kids. Use a meal delivery service to take a break from the kitchen. Hire a cleaning service for once. Talk to a therapist. We all need a mental break at some point.
  • Practice mindful eating. Poor emotions often lead us to overeat and crave unhealthy foods. Incorporate some mindful eating habits such as eliminating distractions at mealtime, taking deep breaths before eating, and allowing at least 20 minutes to recognize a change in hunger cues. Learn more about the Intuitive Eating principles here.
  • Get quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to poor mood, irritability, anxiety, depression, and several other mental health disorders. It’s recommended that adults get about 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night to support a healthy mind.

Whole-body wellness recommendations

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 22% of adult women don’t visit their primary health care provider each year (2010). The first step to health is to know where you stand. Health professionals recommend visiting your general practitioner at least once per year for an annual check-up.

This yearly check-up should look at the basics such as blood pressure, resting heart rate, a panel of blood work (cholesterol, blood glucose, iron, hormones, etc.), and any other physical exams indicated by health history. Us ladies also need to see the gynecologist once a year (that’s the special lady doctor FYI). Read more about that and other healthy habits in the actionable steps below.




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Actionable Steps


1

Eat healthfully most of the time

As mentioned above, women need to focus on key nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, zinc, and B vitamins. Make sure you are getting adequate amounts of lean protein, complex carbohydrates (rich in fiber), and healthy fats (unsaturated). If you’re planning a family now or in the future, check with your doctor or dietitian to see if you need to up your ante on any vitamins or minerals.

2

Cut back on alcohol

Swap the next strawberry daquiri for flavored water. We won’t be young forever, but especially if we binge drink. Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one per day. Choose those that are lowest in sugar like spiked seltzer, wine, or vodka sodas.

3

Move your body

How often do you move your body enough to increase your heart rate? Do you work each major muscle group at least twice a week? Can you touch your toes?

Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week such as walking, yoga, leisure swimming, or easy jogging. Strength train at least 2 days per week focusing on the larger muscle groups (use this Exercise Library to find beginner to advanced resistance exercises). Start adding a few 5-minute stretch breaks into your day – before or after each meal, while on a phone call, and especially after a planned workout.

4

Create a self-care routine

Schedule time to re-group, de-stress, and revive yourself. Let your mind tell you what it needs in order to be at peace amongst all the busy in your day. Treat yourself to some alone time. Take a hot bath. Bust out the adult coloring books. Plan a girls’ night in. Prioritize what you need to support a positive mindset.

5

Practice a nighttime routine

Set the mood for a good night’s rest. If you’re not getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep, now is the time to start. Start by adjusting your bedtime by 15 minutes at a time. Avoid screens (phones, computers, TVs) at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Turn on your essential oil diffuser with lavender, drink some sleepy time tea, and read a book.

6

Schedule your annual wellness check

And then actually go to it. Check-in with your general practitioner at least once a year to get routine bloodwork, a physical exam, and any other specialty exams needed. Check out this preventative care schedule for more info on what you need to ask your doc.

7

Get your lady parts checked

We all look forward to the visit with the gynecologist, but it’s especially important if you are sexually active, plan to have a family anytime in the future, or have a family history of cancers such as breast, uterine or cervical. Get a yearly pap smear, breast and pelvic exam, and STD screening (sexually transmitted diseases). This is also a good time to chat about family planning. The gyno can help set you up for success for optimal fertility.

8

Read more on this topic

We’ve done the research to find the best sources. Try reading: WomensHealth.gov’s list of Healthy Living in Your 20s, McKel Kooeinga, MS, RDN, LDN’s Q+A on Women’s Nutrition, and 9 Things People in Their 20s Should Do Now by Nancy Simpkins, M.D.

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About the Author


shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
Full Bio | LinkedIn


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