When it comes to our health, we should all be taking care of it, regardless of our age. But every decade of life brings a different set of priorities. Arguably the most crucial time to adopt a healthy routine is in your 20s, and if you establish one now (while you're still young), you'll be more likely to convert the simple daily practices into a healthy lifestyle instead of a daily chore.
Deciphering which habits pertain to you, however, and knowing exactly how to incorporate them into your everyday schedule is the big question. We asked seven health experts, from registered dietitians to celebrity nutritionists, to share the daily habits every 20-something needs to adopt now to lead a healthier life.
How much time do you actually set aside to do something for yourself? It might come off as selfish at first, but scheduling an allotted period in your day or week to do what you want is an important part of maintaining good health. In fact, Latham Thomas, celebrity wellness maven, birth doula, and the founder of Mama Glow, (she's helped everyone from to Alicia Keys to Serena Williams) says self-care is often put on the shelf in our 20s because we are too focused on the hustle and guided by the "making it happen" principle.
"Everyone needs respite and retreat," she says. "Establish a ritual practice of self-care or what I like to call 'Glow Time,' which consists of slowing down and paying homage to you. This could be a massage, yoga, meditation, pedicure, a hike, baking, or my personal favorite, a nice hot bath by candlelight. Make this a regular part of your routine.
Take up Phone Fasting
Have you read to this section without looking at your phone? If you have, we congratulate you. It's not easy. It's safe to say that these days, most of us have a smartphone addiction. In fact, according to a recent study by the research firm Dscout, the average person touches their phone 2617 times a day. Latham says it's time to recognize our obsession and detox every once and a while. "It's really easy to get caught up in social media and textual relationships," she says. "Tune all the digital chatter out of your life for one day, perhaps on a Sunday. If the thought gives you a panic attack, then try half a day."
If you are ready to scale your device devotion back a notch or two, then Latham suggests phone fasting. This means refraining from using iPads, computers, game consoles, and smartphones. "Take that time to tune inward," she says. "Be with yourself or with family, go for a run, spend time doing what you love with who you love, and take the time to appreciate the precious moment that is the present."
Use Your Vacation Days
With such a busy schedule, the idea of taking a vacation can seem like more work than it's worth. But Thomas urges you to use your paid time off. "Our culture celebrates martyrdom," she says. "Working hard at the expense of your own well-being is the dominant message in the workplace. No matter how much you love your job, taking a vacation is important. Rather than saving up your vacay days, find a cool wellness retreat to attend or even plan a plush stay-cation in your city or in a town you've always wanted to visit. Even just one day off is a necessary reset."
While we already know that it's the secret ingredient to looking younger, sunscreen does so much more for our health than anti-aging. It's still the best form of prevention for skin cancer. And while we all know we should be wearing it daily, Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition NYC, says so many people are still not in the habit. "Get into the habit while you're still young and before you experience these symptoms," she says. "It's important for your health and your vanity."
Eat Your Veggies
Are you eating enough? According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should be consuming at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruits per day, and Shapiro says you should start the veggie habit now while you're still young. "Make sure you have vegetables at lunch and dinner daily," she says. "That means ordering them at a restaurant or when you order in and learning to cook them or make a quick salad. Research shows that we gain a lot of weight in our 20s due to life changes and instability, so instilling this habit now can lead to a long life of veggie eating."
Registered dietician Michelle Babb, MS, RD, CD of Eat Play Be agrees. "Studies have found that eating only two servings of veggies a day improves focus, attention and brain function," she says. "The most significant benefit is seen when eating at least one serving of greens daily. So buy a big tub of those pre-washed greens and have a salad for lunch or toss a handful into your soup or check out some of my recipes for beans, greens, and grains bowls in Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain."
Don't Drink Your Calories
This is the decade you stay up late and seek out a good time with friends more frequently than others, but this can take its toll on your health. Schapiro says not getting enough sleep, drinking too much alcohol, and working long hours means you reach for caffeinated beverages or sugar-laden energy drinks more often. "Don't waste calories on sugar-filled drinks and stay hydrated with water or reach for old-school coffee or tea," she says. "You'll be better off. Sugar is another habit you don't want to get into. By eliminating soda and juices at this age, you'll avoid excess calories, too much sugar, excess weight, and skin damage. Start drinking clean now."
Eat More Fat
For years, we steered clear of fat after being advised to banish it from our diets, but it turns out your body actually needs it. Wellness advocate and founder of the hip Los Angeles–based juice and wellness bar Moon Juice, Amanda Chantal Bacon says we need adequate fats to improve brain function, hormone production, metabolism, energy, immune function, and tame inflammation. "They're also vital for the assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins D and E, the latter of which is an essential beauty vitamin, important for a healthy inflammation response and skin health," she says.
Whether or not a fat is "good" or "bad" is a question of whether or not it nourishes. "Brain cells are comprised of fatty acids, and the fats that make up the brain come from the fats that are in your diet," Bacon says. "Raw plant fats like avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, olive oil, almond butter, and even green juice (yes, green juice contains fat) are anti-inflammatory, energizing, brain powering, nervous-system supporting, and beautifying fats that are easily incorporated into a healthy plant-based diet."
Bacon stresses that despite our cultural training of "fat is fattening,” the proper use of fat can actually help reduce fat levels in the body. "Depending on my energy requirements for the day, my diet is typically between 40 and 60% fat," she says.
Add Adaptogens to Your Diet
It's already been hailed as one of the biggest health and wellness trends and Chantal Bacon says adaptogens should become part of your daily diet. If the terminology is new to you, don't stress, we'd never heard of it either. This natural substance, commonly found in ginseng, herbs, mushrooms, and minerals, helps our body to adapt and respond to stress. "These potent allies work by regulating key aspects of our stress response," she says. "Improving mood, boosting immunity, and reducing fatigue. I highly suggest making them a daily practice for a profound benefit, which is easy and delicious when you set yourself up for it."
There are several ways you can get your daily dose too. "I spike my food and drinks with adaptogens all day long, a teaspoon of ashwagandha in my tea, a teaspoon of cordyceps in my shake," she says. "The Moon Dust Latte program at our Melrose shop is based on this concept. You can get a Brain Dust Latte that includes Rhodiola, a well-known energizing adaptogen, or a Spirit Dust Latte, which includes calming and heart-opening reishi mushroom."
Prioritize Gut Health
At this stage of life, many factors can affect the absorption of key nutrients such as alcohol, certain medications, and an on-the-go eating style. Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN, the founder of Middleberg Nutrition, and the author of The Big Book of Organic Baby Food, says people in their 20s are still setting up their bodies up during this decade and all of the above can negatively impact their bone and gut health in the long-term. "Your gut health directly impacts how you look and feel every day," she says. "Often called the 'second brain,' our gut is not only responsible for digestion and absorption, but it also affects immune function and mood."
Middleberg says creating a healthy environment is key to keeping your energy levels up and staying healthy. "It also protects against a variety of chronic diseases and allergies," she says. "Those in their twenties can guide themselves to a healthier gut by reaching for foods rich in probiotics like fermented veggies, kombucha, kimchi, and kefir, and incorporating healing foods like bone broth and healthy fats (think avocado, olive oil, nuts/seeds, etc.). There are billions of strains of bacteria, and we are still learning about the difference between them. If you're taking a probiotic supplement, look to rotate every quarter (just like you would a pair of running sneakers)."
Chantal Bacon agrees that probiotics should become an essential part of the millennial diet. "This generation has grown up around anti-microbial soaps, countertops, and an often inappropriate use of antibiotics, which can seriously deplete our gut microbiome," she says. "Culturing the gut, or as I like to call it 're-wilding' can be a game-changer for your overall health but especially for digestion, skin, immunity, and mood. Within the first few weeks of re-wilding, you'll begin to experience improved digestion (from start to finish), a clearer and calmer mind, and your skin will begin to clear up and brighten, allergies will be put in check, and your immune system will strengthen." In more severe cases, Bacon recommends eating probiotic-rich foods throughout the day or taking a good probiotic (while also minimizing sugar and starch) so that you can move into a lifetime of balance and maintenance.
Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast
Did you skip your breakfast today? If you're nodding your head in agreement, you're not alone. Middleberg says research suggests those in their 20s are the most likely to omit breakfast on any given day. "I hear a slew of reasons about why someone may not eat breakfast," she says. "Nausea, limited appetite, and lack of time are some of the top hitters. Breakfast literally means 'breaking the fast.' Your metabolism slows down when you sleep so having a post-fast meal is key to revving it up again and maintaining a strong metabolism through the other decades."
Not only that, but Middleberg says breakfast also positively impacts mental sharpness, exercise routine, and mood. The antidote? "Have a breakfast rich in what I call the two ps, protein and produce, in the morning," she says. "This is when our blood sugar is the lowest."
And don't break your fast with sugar. Middleberg says it can increase your hunger hormone ghrelin, which actually leads to increased hunger and blood sugar issues during the day. "Protein will keep your appetite and energy consistent throughout the day," she says. Examples include eggs, full-fat plain yogurt, nut butter, and smoked salmon.
Ditch Fad Dieting
With the onset of every new year comes a slew of different diets promising weight loss and improved health. But how many of you actually stick to them anyway? Babb says there's a reason why fad diets come and go and that's mostly because dieting doesn't work. "An estimated 90% of people who lose weight gain it back and often add a few more pounds," she says. "Yo-yo dieting jeopardizes your metabolism and may even alter hunger and satiety hormones in a negative way."
Babb says you're much better off choosing a Mediterranean-style diet. This includes plenty of colorful fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans with smaller amounts of high-quality protein, like fish, organic, free-range chicken and eggs, and 100% grass-fed beef, bison, or lamb.
Learn to Relax and Breathe
Constant multitasking, being over-committed and over-stressed puts your body into overdrive, with excess production of cortisol (the fight or flight hormone), which Babb says can lead to adrenal fatigue. "That's when the gland that pumps out cortisol finally says 'hell no!' and you become exhausted and lethargic," she says. "Instead, use meal and snack time as an opportunity to take a break from the chaos, find your breath, slow down, savor your food, and enjoy. When you breathe deeply into your belly, you stimulate the vagus nerve, which signals your body that it can switch out of the fight or flight mode and into rest and digest mode." (Note: One MyDomaine editor swears by this breathing practice to relieve stress and anxiety.)
Change Your Relationship With Food
How do you feel after eating? Do you generally have a positive and happy feeling post-meal, or is there nagging guilt in the back of your mind each time? Babb says it's time to switch up your relationship with food and honor your body's wisdom.
"Food is not the enemy, and nourishing your body is not a nuisance," she says. "Practice tuning in to your body's cues and really listening to the many ways in which your body will communicate with you. Are you hungry? Don't postpone it, just eat. Are you tired? It's time to rest. Are you achy? It's time for gentle movement, like yoga or stretching. If you respond to your body's requests and learn to be in partnership with your body instead of fighting against it or trying to beat it into submission, you will reap the benefits of optimal health that you can sustain with ease."
Establish a Fitness Regime
Are you too busy to work out? Do you find yourself skipping the gym because you're too tired? Well, celebrity nutritionist and registered dietitian, Keri Glassman of Nutritious Life says it's time to kick your fitness regime into gear before it's too late.
"Breaking a sweat takes work, no matter what your age," she says. "However, when it comes to making fitness a habit, the younger the better. The feeling of needing to get a workout into your day will already be long ingrained by the time you hit the age of having children and/or responsibilities that involve juggling schedules other than your own. If you make it a habit in your 20s, then you'll already know the best way to get in an effective workout by the time you hit the age of wacky hormones and a slowed metabolism."
If exercise doesn't come naturally, then Thomas suggests joining a group fitness class. "Finding community can be challenging when you are working, searching for a job, or building a business, so use exercise as an opportunity to meet new and inspiring people in an active setting," she says. "Whether you're in a boot-camp class, a running club, or SoulCycle, you can build community while burning calories one class at a time."
Start a Healthy Nighttime Routine
Developing a nighttime routine is the first step to having a healthy, productive day. Glassman suggests getting this set up in your 20s, and the first step is to incorporate a skincare regime. "This is the time to take care of your skin," she says. "Take off your makeup every night before hitting the pillow so you avoid breakouts (as well as spare your white sheets). Find the perfect light cleanser and moisturizer now. Getting into this habit will save you from having to deal with early-onset wrinkles later on."
Track Your Period
Do you know when you last had a period? If you're unsure, then it might be time to keep track of it in order to maintain optimal health. "Your period is unique to you and therefore an indicator of hormone health and balance," says holistic nutritionist, health coach, and founder of Frolic and Flow, Carly Brawner. "By tracking and observing your monthly cycle, you can learn a lot about what is going on in your body cycle regularity, length, color and texture of blood, as well as comfortability during menstruation are all things to note. A regular, painless period means aligned and healthy hormones."
For ladies in their 20s, Brawner says a healthy period should come each month and last 4 to 7 days, isn’t brown and clotted and isn’t extremely light or heavy (you shouldn’t have to change your tampon eight times during the workday, for example).
"Cramping should not be painful or prohibit you from leaving your couch," she says. "Those who have periods that are never-ending, never come, cause severe pain, or are brown and clotted, should consider trying to find the root cause."
Irregular periods are often connected to low body fat, thyroid problems, stress, endometriosis, poor nutrition, the liver’s inability to properly metabolize female hormones, PCOS, or autoimmunity.
But there is good news: Brawner says it's totally possible to get back to a regular cycle and healthy flow. "I recommend working with a functional medicine physician or holistically-minded nutritionist (instead of a physician who just hands you over BC pills as the solution) to improve diet, stress management, add supplements, and make lifestyle changes to balance hormones," she says. "Note, girls who have one or two 'off' periods shouldn’t worry. Think about the consistent characteristics of your flow, and use them as your guiding light. This information may not be as relevant to those on the BC pill because their period is regulated by outside hormones. Your cycle is a monthly update that lets you in on your personal health. For help tracking your flow check out the apps Clue and Period Diary, and read the book Taking Charge Of Your Fertility."
Thomas agrees. "Learning to honor your feminine cycle can help promote harmony," she says. "Use your cycle as an opportunity to rest, slow down, and nourish yourself. In the days leading up, start to thin out your schedule. Minimize the number of meetings you take, social outings, and go really easy on exercise. Map out your month and plan out the big things to work around your monthly cycle. Slow down on your list of tasks so you can feel rejuvenated on the other side of your cycle and prevent burn-out."
Learn to Cook (a Little)
There's one health habit in your 20s that all our experts are unanimous on, and that's learning how to cook, even if it's just a little bit. "There is an old saying 'give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime' or something like that," Schapiro says. "In your 20s, you are social, working hard at your career, maybe getting romantically involved, or living on your own for the first time, and learning how to cook, even just scrambling eggs or making tuna salad will not only keep you healthy but it will also save you money. It is easy to get delivery when you are tired or lazy, but if you know how to make a quick peanut butter sandwich (yes I am calling that cooking), then you'll be better off."
Middleberg concurs that all millennials should get in the kitchen. "This is probably the single most important action you can take towards a healthier lifestyle," she says. "It connects you to food and helps focus on the quality of ingredients. It also helps create control in a very unbalanced time. For the first time in their lives, they have unrestricted freedom. They can stock their own kitchens, cook the meals they want, and eat out when they choose. By learning to prepare quick and easy meals it will instill food confidence and help them discover and develop their own positive habits."
Babb says knowing your way around the kitchen and being able to prepare delicious meals from scratch is "probably the most important skill for staying healthy." She says, "It's easy to become reliant on convenience and fast foods that are highly processed and contain sugar, artificial flavors, colors, and unrecognizable ingredients that are not health-supporting. If you can grill a piece of fish, roast some vegetables, and cook up a pot of quinoa you're golden."
It doesn't mean you have to know how to cook a five-course meal, but Glassman stressed learning how to cook (even just the basics) and prepare a proper meal will definitely pay off in the long run. "You'll be able to whip up something healthy, save major cash, and impress your friends with your signature chicken dish, not to mention watch your weight by cutting out all the calories that come with ordering in. Learning to cook well-balanced meals for yourself (I'm not talking defrosting frozen dinners!) will help you develop healthy eating habits that will last long into your 30s."
Not only is it good for you, but also Brawner says cooking at home is fun and you know exactly which ingredients go into it. "You get to choose your portion size, and you can consciously choose ingredients that benefit or boost your body," she says. "At a restaurant, you are restricted to their menu. They may not have the greens, quality protein, or fermented foods you know your body needs at that time. Cooking at home, you can curate a plate full of food to create the exact nutrient and flavor profiles your body craves." The only way to better your chef abilities is to practice. "Pick five dishes and perfect them at home, subscribe to Sun Basket or Green Chef (organic ingredients), and use their meals as a kitchen guide, or take a friend to a knife skills class at Sur La Table," she adds.