Why Your 20s Are Prime Time to Care About Your Health


Staying active in your 20s will save you a world of hurt later on in life. Here’s the proof. (Photo: Stocksy/Hugh Sitton)

Scientists are working on making 100 the new 60 within our lifetime. If you are only in your 20s, however, does research into the science of aging have any relevance to your life? Can’t you just “blow off” any concerns about your health until you are at least 35 or 40?

Two recent scientific studies suggest it is never to early to start practicing a healthy lifestyle. The first of these is the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, which involved following more than 3,500 young adults ages 18 to 30 for 20 years, starting in the 1990s. At the end of the study period, researchers measured whether the heart arteries of these people were already showing silent (but deadly) plaque.

Five healthy habits were tracked several times during the 20-year span, including maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and drinking a low amount of alcohol. During the 20 years, 25 percent of the group improved their habits by adding at least one new healthy one, 34 percent stayed the same over 20 years, and 40 percent had fewer healthy habits at the end.

Related: You Don’t Need That Much Water (And Other Healthy Habits You’re Doing Wrong)

Did it matter? Each healthy habit that was added during the study, such as beginning an exercise program, reduced the risk of finding silent artery damage in these study participants by 15 percent. On the flip side, losing one healthy habit (like going from being a nonsmoker to a smoker) increased the odds of finding this early killer plaque. Even more startling was that a third of the previously healthy young people who let it all go — slipping backward on three or more health habits, such as gaining weight, stopping exercise or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol — were walking around with silent artery damage at a young age.

Was there any really good news? Although only 10 percent of the group practiced all five of the health habits at the beginning of the study, it’s refreshing to learn that 25 percent of the group added health habits during these busy years in their lives. It is never too late to see the benefit of adopting a healthier lifestyle in your 20s and 30s.

Consider also a study that was just published by researchers at Duke University and New Zealand. They studied 1,000 adults at age 26 and again at age 38. At age 26, researchers examined the participants’ lab work, measures of fitness, and blood pressure, as well as 18 bio-markers that assessed lung, kidney, heart, dental, liver, and immune function, and modeled them to assess the participants’ biological age. At age 38, some of the participants had a biological age that was younger than 30, while some had a biological age that was older than 45! In other words: Health measures assessed at age 26 predicted the participants’ true age a dozen years later. There were study participants who, at 38 years old, were less physically able, had brain aging, reported worse health, and looked older than the norm. Yes, they looked older! And it was predictable by measurements made when they were 26.

Related: Science Confirms That People Age at Dramatically Different Rates

What are the implications of these studies for you? One is to know the main health numbers — your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, and measures of fitness all need to be assessed when you are in your 20s, if not sooner. Ignoring health in youth can catch up with and bite a millennial in the rear (not to mention their hair line, or the early appearance of wrinkles) before they hit 40. It seems that the lifestyle rules of not smoking, eating a plant-strong diet, exercising, and managing stress and sleep are lessons to adopt early in life, whether you’re in your teens, 20s, or beyond. 

If you are in your 20s or early 30s, why not adopt some of these habits today and potentially save yourself health and aging trouble down the road?

Joel Kahn, M.D., is an interpreventional cardiologist, Yahoo Health advisory board member, and author of “The Whole Heart Solution,” and “Dead Execs Don’t Get Bonuses: The Ultimate Guide To Survive Your Career With A Healthy Heart.” 

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