Experts Agree These Are the 10 Healthy Habits You Should Develop in Your 20s
When we're in our 20s, it can be easy to slack off on healthy habits and put them off for another day. In reality, this is the time when you should be developing techniques that'll make you stronger and happier in the long run, those that will carry you through your life. The habits you start in your 20s are likely to be the ones that you stick to for decades to come.
Before you say it can be overwhelming to figure out what you need to do know that we're here for you. Every person is different, of course, and only you and your doctor know what your specific needs are, but in general, these are some of the best things you can start doing now.
Eat Lean Protein
One-fourth of your plate should be made up of a healthy, lean protein, according to Christy L. Alexon, PhD, RD, a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, because it is the best source of energy.
Alexon has an easy trick for figuring out what a lean protein is. "I like to say the fewer legs, the better. Following that rule, fish would be the best, followed by a soy product or beans. Chicken breasts are OK as well — you know, two legs — but beef should be limited," she says. If you must do beef, she recommends grass-fed as a slightly better option, but any four-legged source is not your healthiest option to eat on a regular basis.
Don't Be Afraid of Weights
No, weightlifting won't necessarily make you bulk up. According to trainer Mauro S. Maietta, an AFAA-certified trainer and a coach at Crunch in New York, women tend to use weights that are too light because of this myth. Don't be afraid to pick up something heavier. "It is the volume of sets and reps that lead to muscle growth, but you should use weights that are challenging after six to eight repetitions," Maietta says.
Buy Produce That's in Season
"Head to the farmers' market or a grocery store that specializes in fresh produce and pick up what is fresh and season-appropriate. Buying in-season ensures your body is getting its nutrients from fresh, healthy sources," Alexon says.
You're more likely to eat healthier if you eat in season, according to the American Heart Association, because fruits and veggies tend to be more flavorful, since they haven't had to undergo preservation of any kind. That means things like squash in the Fall, tomatoes and green beans in the Summer, and fresh greens all year. "Buy in bulk and meal prep, and you can save a lot of money and calories," Alexon says.
But Remember Frozen Veggies Are a Great Time-Saving Option
Veggies, prepared without a bunch of oil, sauce, or salt, are the cornerstone of healthy eating. Ideally, like Alexon said, you'd eat fresh, raw veggies, but in the hectic lives that most twentysomethings lead that's not always a realistic expectation.
"You can use frozen fruits and vegetables as an alternative," she says. "In terms of nutrient retention, sometimes frozen can be even better than fresh because some of the vitamins can be preserved in the freezing process. Canning, however, can destroy all those nutrients due to the high heat used in the process."
Learn to Breathe
According to Sheila Moore, a certified yoga teacher at Davidson College in Davidson, NC, you're probably not breathing correctly. Learning deep breathing techniques can help ensure your body gets all the oxygen it needs and doubles as a calming technique.
"Close your eyes and notice your breath from the moment you begin to inhale to the moment you complete the exhale. Begin to lengthen the inhale and the exhale. Follow your breath, become present, and start noticing how outside distractions and stressors begin to fade away," Moore says.
Reframe the Way You Think About Food
It's super easy to fall into a food binary: There are good foods and bad foods, and that's it. "I really want people to get out of this mentality that foods are either good or bad. There are definitely some foods that we should eat more frequently, but it's not so black and white," says Alexon.
"Think of it like a traffic light: green stands for vegetables, particularly non-starchy vegetables, and you should eat as many as you want. Yellow stands for foods a little higher in refined carbs or sugar, like fruits — they're not bad for you, but you shouldn't eat a ton of them every day. And then you have the red light — high-carbs and high-fat, which should be eaten in small quantities," Alexon says. It's not about overly restricted diets, but about finding a balance.
You've heard this one before, but unplugging for a little each day is good for you, but it's not always easy in a world that seems to require constant digital connection and awareness. Kristi Stuckwisch, MSW, LCSW, an instructor at Arizona State University in Phoenix, AZ, emphasizes that forming the habit of taking digital breaks is important for your ongoing physical and mental health, especially because social media use often means falling into the trap of comparing yourself with your digital friends.
"The number one hack that I'd recommend is to reduce the amount of comparison you do with others. If that means reducing social media time, saying thank you to compliments from others, starting a mindfulness practice, reducing time with negative people, recognizing your inner critic that likes to remind you of your flaws and fears, or starting a daily gratitude journal, do at least one thing to start combating this parasite."
Choose Whole Proteins
Protein is one of the building blocks of your body, since it's what repairs and regenerates it. However, Alexon cautions that not all proteins are created equal. A complete protein has all of the essential amino acids you need, the nine essential compounds that your body cannot produce on its own and must be ingested in food.
"Whey protein, especially whey isolate, is pretty easily digested," which allows the nutrients to be absorbed more quickly and completely, and includes all those nutrients. It isn't just a good option for your breakfast smoothie, it can also elevate your workout. "Make a protein-infused smoothie before your workout, and sip on it a little between exercises, too," Alexon says, pointing out that the protein helps muscles regenerate and the body recover during a workout.
Remember You're a Work in Progress
Stuckwisch notes that women in their 20s are usually going through a period "filled with significant life transitions, where self-esteem is a major vulnerability factor for mental wellness." If you're looking to improve and grow, she suggests the old-fashioned technique of replacing a bad habit with a good one.
"It is not enough to acknowledge that you have bad habits. To change them, neuroscientists show you need a minimum of 7 minutes each day for 63 days to create a new neural pathway," the expert says. "Identify the bad habit you want to change, challenge it, get a replacement tool for it, and implement the new tool. Remember that you are a work in constant progress. Goals happen incrementally, so stick with the new routine, even when it doesn't seem to be working."
Build an Aerobic Base
Building your cardiovascular health is important at any age, but Maietta suggests that it's best if you start a steady cardio routine in your 20s. "Keep your heart strong and the endorphins high to prep your body for your 40s, 50s, and 60s when your body changes," Maietta says, explaining that a high baseline of health during your younger years is crucial to aging in a healthy way.
What if you drag your heels at the idea of a full-fledged aerobic workout on your own? Integrate it into your social life. "If scheduling gym time is not your cup of tea, make group plans with friends that involve walking and active socializing, like a walking tour of the city. Take a group class together at the gym, sign up for group personal training sessions, or anything that gets you out of a chair and away from your smartphones."