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For many people, the 30s are a time when the pursuits of your 20s take a back seat to true adulting: building a family, establishing your career…and noticing that your body might not feel as young as it used to.
Sleep wrong? That’s a full-day neck cramp. Stay out a little too late? It might take a few extra days to feel like yourself again.
Some of these changes are normal and are due to natural fluctuations in hormones and metabolism—such as the ability to break down alcohol—and a different-paced lifestyle that might be more sedentary than in decades past.
But some of the changes are within your control, at least in part. How you take care of yourself day to day will contribute mightily to how your body feels and functions as you age.
In other words, now is the perfect time to start forming or refining healthy habits that will carry into your senior years. Let’s consider seven tips that will serve you well in your 30s and beyond.
1. Build a relationship with a PCP.
Healthy 20-somethings often skip their annual physicals. But once you turn 30, it’s important to keep these yearly appointments with your primary care provider (PCP). Your annual visit can help you get in front of potential problems like high blood pressure or high cholesterol—you might not have symptoms, but these silent diseases can wreak havoc on your heart and blood vessels.
But your yearly checkup is about more than just screenings. It’s a touch point to build a relationship with your provider.
PCPs are a ready source for credible health information, and they’ll help you stay up to date with important checkups and vaccinations to keep you healthy. The better you communicate with your PCP, the better your care can become.
2. Prevent future health problems.
One of the main goals of healthcare in your 30s is to help prevent serious health problems by managing key risk factors. To do this, your doctor will recommend screenings such as:
- Anxiety and depression
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Blood pressure
- HIV and sexually transmitted diseases
- Intimate partner violence
- Pap smear
- Smoking and unhealthy alcohol and drug use
- Type 2 diabetes
Depending on your health history and the results of these tests, your doctor may recommend additional tests or follow-up appointments to manage existing conditions and keep your health on track.
It can be tempting to discard your doctor’s advice, and we’re all prone to thinking we might be invincible (especially when we’re young). But following your doctor’s suggestions can pay dividends that will make your future self say, “Thank you.”
3. Take steps to prevent cancer.
Avoiding cancer is critical at any age, but it’s especially important to keep in mind if you’ve developed any unhealthy habits during your 20s.
Nicotine and alcohol.
One of the most important things you can do to help yourself stay cancer-free is to stop using tobacco if you do. Smoking causes about 20% of all cancers and 30% of cancer deaths in this country, and about 80% of lung cancer deaths are associated with smoking.
Despite what you may have heard, vaping is not a good alternative to smoking. Your doctor can help you find effective, healthy ways to quit, so be sure to talk with them about how to get off nicotine.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, colon, liver, and breast. In its most recent guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults avoid alcohol or drink less of it. CDC recommends limiting alcohol intake to not more than one standard drink per day for women or two for men.
When you’re avoiding cancer, don’t forget about your skin. One in five people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and it kills more than two people in the U.S. every hour.
The number one cause of skin cancer is exposure to the sun’s UV rays. So, be sure to apply (and re-apply!) sunblock or sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or above every day and wear protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat to keep the rays off your skin.
4. Eat the right amount of healthy food.
Food is fuel for your body—and your 30s are a great time to build or refine healthy eating habits. In 2019, CDC data showed that just 1 in 10 U.S. adults met the recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake.
The government’s most recent dietary guidelines recommend that all adults follow four primary strategies:
- Eat a healthy diet at every stage of your life.
- Enjoy foods that are high in nutrients that reflect your personal preferences, cultural norms, and budget.
- Meet your food group needs with foods and beverages that are nutrient-dense and stay within calorie limitations—generally not more than 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 per day for men.
- Limit your consumption of foods and drinks that are high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. Limit alcoholic beverages.
As rates of obesity continue to rise throughout the country, so do the rates of associated diseases such as cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Getting help with your nutrition is a solid step toward physical fitness and healthy weight management.
5. Practice good sleep hygiene.
Getting regular, high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in maintaining good mental and physical health. Research has shown that disturbances like sleep apnea and insomnia can have a close relationship with obesity. One can cause the other, in a frustrating circle.
The most obvious signs that you need more or better sleep include difficulty falling asleep, waking up often during the night, and feeling sleepy during the day. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends adults get at least seven hours of high-quality sleep each night.
To get better sleep, try these tips:
- Build a comfortable bedroom: Make sure your pillow, mattress, and bedding are cozy, set the temperature on the cooler side (65 degrees Fahrenheit is a good guide), and block out light and noise.
- Set and keep a sleep schedule: Wake up at the same time each day (even on the weekends). Prioritize your sleep and avoid naps if you can.
- Establish a routine each night: Follow it as consistently as you can. Wind down 30 minutes before bed, avoid bright lights, and get away from screens at least half an hour before you turn in. Try not to work in the bedroom—use your bed only for sleep and sex.
- Use your waking hours to prepare for good sleep: Get exposure to sunlight during the day and get a bit of exercise—it can help clear your head and wear you out.
If you can’t get enough sleep, talk with your doctor. They can help you understand what might be impacting your sleep and can recommend tests like a sleep study to help find out whether you have a sleep or breathing disorder such as sleep apnea.
Sometimes, young adults avoid seeking care for sleep apnea because they don’t want to wear a CPAP or BiPAP machine. While wearing a device to bed might not be the coolest look, it certainly beats loud snoring and gasping for breath while improving symptoms like daytime fatigue and headaches.
6. Manage your stress.
Our stress responses start forming in childhood, and it can be difficult to disrupt these habits as an adult. Yet, it’s important to do what we can to reduce the impact of chronic stress. Research has shown it affects all parts of the body, from the muscles to the lungs, heart, digestive system, and even reproductive processes.
The good news is stress can often be managed. Talk with your doctor about your personal circumstances, and keep this general advice in mind:
- Get enough quality sleep each night
- Connect with a healthy social support network
- Exercise regularly
Patients with uncontrolled stress can sometimes suffer from mental health challenges that make stress harder to handle. It’s important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health. Talk with your doctor if you experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as:
- Withdrawal from favorite activities
- Stress in social situations
- Panic attacks
- Generalized worry, dread, or fear
- Social isolation
- Racing heartbeat
- Recurrent sadness
If you have thoughts of self-harm or severe emotional distress, call 911 or 988 right away. The 988 number is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which is staffed 24/7 by professionals trained in mental health support.
7. Get regular exercise. You can do it!
Getting enough exercise is difficult, and when you’re busy it can seem impossible to fit one more thing in your schedule. But you should—it may be the most important thing you can do to get and stay healthy.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That might sound like a lot, but it’s only 30 minutes (one episode of your favorite show) per day, five days out of the week. With 24 hours in a day, most of us can find 30 minutes to get our heart rate up given the many benefits. Walking, running, swimming—do what works for your schedule.
Not only can achieving your physical activity goals help avoid obesity, it can also improve your brain health, reduce your risk of disease, strengthen your bones and muscles, and make your everyday activities easier and more pleasurable.
I played tennis throughout my 20s and 30s. It’s fun, social, and great exercise. Now that I am 52, I’m able to be even more active. I get up a little earlier to swim, run, or work out at the gym. All that activity powers me up for the workday and helps me fall asleep faster at night. Staying active when I was younger helped me get in shape to enjoy even more activities.
Your 30s can be an exciting and busy time—prioritizing your own health today is key to living your best life in your golden years. If you need help getting your health in order, talk with a primary care provider. That’s why we’re here, and we’re always happy to help.