Health

Small but meaningful ways to practise self-care in your 20s

Lifestyle adjustments can help you build a strong foundation for your body and health

Self-care in your 20s is all about establishing a healthy foundation for the years ahead.

Your body is in peak form. Your resting metabolic rate is firing and your bone density, muscle mass and heart health are in top shape.

This is the age where burning the candle at both ends doesn't knock you out for days.

But do not let all that energy and vitality go to waste. Use it to build a strong foundation to carry you through life.

Here are six lifestyle adjustments you can make that will help prioritise your health and body.

Embrace real food

It is easy to rely on processed, convenience foods.

However, even at this age, you will soon notice having lower energy levels if your diet is full of nutrient-deficient foods.

Dietician Bronwen Greenfield said: "This is the age to focus on creating healthy habits that will set you up for life.

"A simple strategy is to consume two servings of fruit and at least five servings of vegetables a day. This will ensure it's a habit by the time you reach your 30s."

Iron deficiency is common at this age so it's important to ensure you're eating enough iron-rich foods such as lean meats or non-animal sources like legumes, wholegrain and leafy greens. Keep in mind that plant-based sources of iron are not as well absorbed.

Pair these foods with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomato or capsicum, and consume "iron-blockers" like coffee separately to help increase the amount of iron absorbed.

Start moving

Now is the best time to explore fitness options. Find out what works for you and stick to it.

Most people jump straight to running, but you can always try sports that include running like basketball, badminton or tennis. Or workouts you can easily do by yourself at home like yoga or pilates.

Put out the smoke

Aside from yellow teeth and bad breath, smoking also increases the risk of menstrual cycle and fertility problems, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and stroke.

It also increases your susceptibility to pneumonia and influenza, and lowers the levels of protective antioxidants in the blood.

Lay the foundations

Your bone density has nearly reached its peak age. The sooner you start protecting your bones, the more likely you will have strong bones for life.

Eating a diet rich in calcium (1,000mg daily), ensuring you are getting enough sunlight to make vitamin D, and exercising are three key factors to help build and maintain strong bones.

Protect your skin

You can delay the onset of wrinkles, sagging skin and sun damage by diligently applying sunscreen to your face and body every day.

Squeeze in sleep

Sticking to a balanced sleep-wake cycle might not be at the top of your list at this age, but it is important for your mental and physical well-being.

Studies show that people who do not get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, with a lack of sleep also affecting recovery time when you do get sick.

Find balance and make time for healthy habits in your 30s

Life can become more demanding In your 30s as you are likely to be juggling family and career.

It is important to find balance and make time for good habits to safeguard your health.

If you had practised good self-care in your 20s, you will land in your 30s with a bang. If not, it is never too late to make the healthy habits stick.

Here are six ways to do it.

Working out

Your body is still strong, but since your metabolism can slip into a lower gear, now is the time to work on losing excess weight if needed.

Making exercise a regular part of your day and working on maintaining muscle strength now will mean a stronger body in your 40s and 50s when muscle strength can start to decline.

Pay attention to your knees, which need all the help they can get as you age - scaffold them with strong quadriceps and calf muscles.

Fertile time

There is a big gap between the ideal biological age and the ideal social age of conception, according to Monash University's Dr Kartin Hammarberg.

The easiest time to get pregnant is before 30. As you get older, it will take longer to conceive and the chance of having a baby decreases.

A healthy lifestyle boosts your chances of a successful pregnancy - not smoking, taking care of your oral health, avoiding or limiting alcohol and caffeine, and protecting yourself from environmental chemicals.

Tackle stress

Stress is often on the increase at this stage in life, and those everyday micro stressors can add up and take their toll.

There's no better time to work on keeping a lid on stress because over time, it can lower immunity, disrupt digestion and hormones, and trigger disease-causing inflammation.

The most effective stress-buster is introducing a little me-time daily. For at least 15 minutes every day, read a book, listen to music, have a bath, meditate, go for a walk, or whatever you find comforting.

Know your health history

Taking responsibility for your own health is a big step towards self-care.

Start by asking immediate family members about their health issues and build your own records from that. Record your own medical history, any risk factors and medications you're taking.

This system will help you (and your doctor) understand any problems that may come up in the future, prevent errors in treatment and diagnosis and help decide what preventative tests you may need.

Your 30s is a good time to start monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers to identify the need to take action to improve your heart health.

High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol often have no symptoms, so you may not realise you have a problem until something serious happens.

Have a chat with your doctor who can organise the necessary checks and give you advice - from simple lifestyle changes to medication - to keep those key numbers at healthy levels.

Keep breathing

You will be surprised how many of us don't breathe in a healthy way - either holding our breath or shallow breathing - and the negative effects are cumulative.

Boost the benefits by stopping to breathe from your diaphragm a few times a day, particularly when you are feeling tired. Put your hand over your belly button, and as you inhale, focus on making your stomach and chest rise.

This will expand your lower lungs, so you take in more air with each breath. It is an effective fatigue buster too.

Eat better

If you are looking to conceive, good nutrition is a must for increasing fertility at this age.

Ensuring that you are supplementing with folate, and eat plenty of foods rich in iron, zinc and antioxidants.

Your 30s is also the age at which peak muscle mass is achieved, so ensure that you are continuing with strength training, and eating adequate protein and carbohydrates to fuel and replenish muscle stores.

These articles were first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly (www.womensweekly.com.sg).

WELLNESS & BEAUTY