Many women wait until they get pregnant for the first time or start having health issues before seeing a doctor on a regular basis.
That can be a mistake, said Dr. Mitra Razzaghi, the Medical Director of the Women’s Integrated Services in Health practice, a practice that provides comprehensive primary and outpatient gynecology care to women at the University of Colorado Hospital.
Dr. Razzaghi said regular health care should start much earlier and there are several important things women in their 20s should do to ensure their current and future health.
Here are her top six things women in their 20s should consider:
Develop good habits
“It is important to develop good habits to stay physically and emotionally healthy,” she said.
These habits include, but are not limited to: getting adequate and regular sleep; having a balanced colorful diet to include plenty of fruits and vegetables; avoidance of excessive fast or processed foods: avoidance of sugary drinks as much as possible; and consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol.
She also recommends regular exercise or physical activity for a minimum of 30-60 minutes five days a week. And that’s really a minimum. More is better, in this case.
“And absolutely avoid smoking, which can lead to many illnesses,” she said.
“So many illnesses and disorders have been attributed to smoking as the cause. In addition to lung-related diseases such as COPD, asthma and lung cancer, smoking can cause or worsen diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. It can accelerate blindness, macular degeneration and cataracts.
“In women specifically, smoking can increase the number of ectopic pregnancies and preterm labor or low-birth-weight babies. Many types of cancer are connected to smoking. These include, but are not limited to cancer of cervix, stomach, colon and pancreas.”
Follow a healthy sexual lifestyle
“If you are sexually active, always consider safe sexual practices with the use of condoms in addition to another reliable form of contraception,” she said. She recommends seeing a doctor at least once a year for a check-up that includes a discussion of the patient’s sexual health.
“If you have not received an HPV vaccination, you have till age 26 to get up to date,” she said. The HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer in the future.
“If you are planning a pregnancy, don’t forget prenatal vitamins” from the beginning, she added.
Use sun protection
Protect your skin and your eyes from the damaging effects of sun exposure, she advised.
“Always wear a minimum SPF 20 sunscreen when outdoors, and don’t forget to reapply as directed,” she said. “Also protect your eyes from damaging UV light by wearing sunglasses with UV protection,” she added.
“Absolutely avoid tanning beds, a major cause of melanoma in youth,” she said.
Boost bone health
“Make sure you get adequate calcium in your diet,” she said. “Women continue to build their bones up to their mid-20s. Starting off with good strong bones early on can prevent osteoporosis later in life.”
Young women need about 1000 mg calcium and a minimum of 600 IU of vitamin D per day, she advised.
“The best and most bioavailable source of calcium is food, specifically dairy products. Each serving of dairy roughly has 300 mg of calcium. Lactose-free dairy products have similar amounts of calcium. If one is unable to get enough calcium through diet, then supplementation with calcium may be needed among which calcium citrate would be the best-absorbed type.”
It’s also important to perform weight-bearing exercises at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, she said.
It seems like an obvious thing, but lots of injuries are avoidable.
“Avoid driving under the influence, or with distractions such as texting while driving,” she suggested. “Always wear seatbelts or safety gear such as helmets when using a bike or recreational vehicles.
A head injury can lead to life-long issues, she added.
“Traumatic brain injuries can be complex and can present with a variety of symptoms and disabilities. These symptoms can include mild or severe chronic headaches, dizziness, memory issues or difficulty thinking and attention deficit, as well mood swings and irritability. In severe cases, it can also cause limitation of movement of arms and legs, abnormal speech and loss of thinking ability.”
Get regular check-ups
“Many young women tend to think that they only need to go to doctors when they are sick; if they have regular checkups, they can learn so much about their health and how to prevent issues later on,” she said. “Staying educated about their health enables them to keep in tune with their bodies, thus not neglecting their physical and mental health,” which is essential to lifelong health care.
It’s important to find a physician you trust, she said.
“Establish a health care relationship with a primary care physician early on and make sure you see her or him regularly,” she advised. “If you have any concerns about your health, always consult a doctor early on.”
Also, she said, “know and share your medical and mental health family history with your PCP so they can recommend appropriate screening tests early on if needed.”