Your 20s mark the decade when you’re establishing yourself as an adult and developing a game plan for your future. You’re busy, focused on school and career. Most likely, socializing, dating and finding a lifetime partner are high on your list.
What you’re not thinking about is heart disease! But you should because the habits you develop now will greatly influence your cardiovascular health later on. Plus, good habits developed now are much easier to maintain.
More than two-thirds of adults in their 20s are overweight or obese. Part of the reason is that the vast majority of young adults do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables daily (4.5 cups or greater).
If your idea of a meal in college was pizza now is a good time to revisit what you’re eating. Do you drink sugary beverages on a regular basis? If so, you could be adding upwards of 500 empty calories to your diet each day. Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks account for more than one-third of added sugars in our diet. Cut back or eliminate these beverages to improve your health and save your waistline.
Whether you order take-out or make meals at home, replace simple carbs with veggies and replace simple sugars with fruit. Limit the amount of processed and packaged foods you eat which are high in sodium, trans-fats and sugars.
A heart healthy diet features the following:
Complex Carbs: Choose a wide variety of colored fruits and vegetables to obtain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber.
Lean Protein: Opt for leans meats such as fish and poultry. Limit your consumption of red meat which contains more saturated fat and be sure to select lean cuts like filet. Add legumes and beans to your meals to enhance their protein content.
Unsaturated Fats: Select non-fat or low-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese) to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Use olive oil in salads and low-heat cooking. Supplement your diet with an Omega-3 supplement like VitaMedica’s Flax Seed Oil.
While you may have been a star soccer player as a kid or active in high school, once college and work starts, exercise may have gone out the window. Whether you’re trying to maintain your weight or shed a few pounds, exercise clearly will help. Like diet, now is the time to develop good habits and get moving on most days of the week.
Carrie may have been alluring while smoking a cigarette on Sex in the City, but this bad habit is one of the worst for your cardiovascular health. If you use the birth control pill, you’re at even greater risk. Better to not start or quit now while you can.
Know Your Numbers
As part of your annual visit with your OB/GYN, your blood pressure will be checked. But, you can also request a lipid panel which measures your cholesterol levels. This may seem premature but high cholesterol levels are becoming more common in young adults and even in children.
Benchmarking your numbers now is a good idea. Here are the key numbers along with targets:
- Blood pressure < 120 mg/dL (systolic); < 80mg/dL (diastolic)
- Fasting glucose < 100 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol < 200 mg/dL
- LDL or “bad” cholesterol < 130 mg/dL
- HDL or “good” cholesterol > 40 mg/dL men and > 50 mg/dL women
- Triglycerides < 150 mg/dL
Keep in mind that some birth control pills can increase your risk for developing high blood pressure so be sure to check with your doctor. Also, if you drink too much alcohol your blood pressure can go up. The definition of moderate drinking is just one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. A drink is considered a 12 oz. beer, a 1 oz. shot of liquor or 5 oz. of wine.
Know Your Family History
When you visit mom and dad for dinner or to do laundry, inquire about your family history. Just because heart disease runs in your family doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. Armed with this information you can make adjustments now to reduce your risk.
For more information, refer to our article, Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Heart.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.