Here’s the first thing that prevents you from achieving your health goals in your 20s: the lack of a habit loop. Most of us set a bunch of goals about eating healthy or exercising more. We write them down or put them up. And we leave it there. We fail to achieve them. As our existing habits have somehow been established without us realizing it, we simply hope it’ll be the same with the new ones. Well, it won’t. So here’s your first tip on how to form healthy habits in your 20s: learn the art of creating a habit.
For you to form any of the habits listed below, science says that you need two things: a cue and an action (1). For example, you always tell yourself that you’ll start eating more veggies. This is such an abstract idea that it’s basically doomed to stay an idea. Which veggies? Where? When? How?
Your brain needs to make these connections to act on your goal. The proper way to do it is to tie that abstract idea to something concrete. Instead of saying that you’ll eat more veggies, say this: “I’m going to eat a bowl of lettuce with breakfast every Monday”.
In this case, Monday morning breakfast would be your cue. And your action would be actually eating a bowl of lettuce. This repetition creates a loop to a point where you do the habit without even realizing it.
So in order to set these healthy habits in your 20s, you need to make sure you approach them with this mindset and leave the Pinterest vision board mentality behind. Cue and action is your way to go!
Find below some of the most important healthy habits to adopt in your 20s.
1. Get proper sleep.
There are health consequences of sleep deprivation. Not getting enough sleep weakens your immune system and makes you vulnerable to all kinds of diseases (2). But there’s another side to this story. Lack of sleep affects your cognitive functions.
It affects your learning and even your decision-making. When you don’t get enough sleep, you become angrier and impatient. This can make you more prone to making bad decisions. And at an age where you’re already inclined to make questionable life choices, you really shouldn’t be making things worse.
Yes, you’re in your 20s and you have a whole life to live. But make sleep a priority to let your body recharge and regroup. Make conscious choices, not choices made hasty because you were too tired to think straight. Resting with a regular sleep cycle will keep your body working in a tippy-top shape. It’ll also prevent you from getting under-eye bags earlier than you need to.
2. Find a personal interest.
Find something you’re interested in and keep working on it as a way to relieve stress. This can be a simple hobby or a sport you enjoy doing. You must have a friend who has their own thing you associate them with. Someone you know for sure can’t make it to Saturday night plans because they have a painting class that day. Be that person!
Find something and make it your own. You don’t have to go out of your way for this. Even reading on something that you find interesting counts. You simply need to save a day for that activity and read/watch/learn/talk about it. Take up a new hobby. Learn more about deep-sea creatures.
Know about it more than an average person does. This is also a great way to build new skills. And you never know, you may make some money out of it one day. Having routines like this is also helpful when you’re going through a rough time. Because wherever you go, you’ll always have something familiar you can go back to.
3. Drink in moderation.
Your 20s are a time of experimenting. And a good portion of it is about alcohol. Your body is healthy enough to recover from hangovers unlike your 30s when a hangover requires the cancellation of the whole week. But whatever habits you form in this decade have the potential to stick.
That’s why you need to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol in your 20s and do your experimenting in safe environments. Stay in the fun zone where you’re sober enough to enjoy your time. Anything more than that is a waste of your time and money. Plus, it’s no secret that alcohol worsens depression and anxiety.
Turning to alcohol whenever you’re feeling down is not a habit you want to establish in your 20s. You don’t want to become a person who starts drinking when life becomes a little more difficult than usual. Develop a healthy coping mechanism. And alcohol isn’t one of them.
4. Get out more.
Take regular visits to local parks and nearby forests. Nurture your relationship with mother nature. Doing this alone immediately checks off a few healthy habits to develop in your 20s. You get to exercise, meditate, and nurture your inner tree-hugger. It’s no secret that exercise has tremendous benefits for your body.
But leading an active lifestyle starting from as early as your 20s is a great way to maintain a healthy body in the next decades. And habits like going out to exercise and jog usually lead to other healthy habits. For example, you’re less likely to smoke during your jog in the park.
When you come back home, you’re less likely to stuff your face with junk food. You’ve just sweated out in the park and burned a good amount of calories, you won’t want to waste that. Living an active, healthy lifestyle will make you more aware of your other bad habits. As a result, you’ll feel the need to do something about them.
5. Your cells need food.
Let me tell you this, you don’t want to find out about the concepts of blood sugar and blood pressure in a hospital. I was following an incredibly unhealthy diet in my first year in college. You can infer that I was trying to lose weight and nobody prepared me for the competition.
I passed out on the bus from school one day because I did not eat anything that day. I thought I was going blind before I passed out. The second time was when I was having my period. Imagine having nothing in your system when you’re constantly losing blood.
I’m telling you this because I wouldn’t wish that fear on my worst enemy. These things happen. Women in their 20s starve themselves in the hopes of losing weight. Meanwhile, you have billions of cells in your body desperate for an ounce of energy to help you stay alive.
Eat eggs or cereal for breakfast. Get your fibers from veggies like broccoli. Get your sugar from fruits of the season. Eat red meat or fish at least 2-3 days a week. And drink lots of water. Build and nurture your body with healthy foods so that it doesn’t let you down in your 30s. Eat anything and everything in moderation.
6. Practice safe sex.
Unless you’re trying to get pregnant, always practice safe sex. And this isn’t just about getting pregnant either. You need to know that you can contract sexually transmitted diseases like herpes from unprotected sex. And even though condoms alone are not enough to prevent these, it’s a start.
Do not rely on your partner to cover the protection aspect. Do not let anybody be the decision-maker of your life. Carry your own condoms. Additionally, regular screening is the best way to be ahead of any potential health problems.
Do your yearly checkups, find yourself an OBGYN, or follow up with your health care provider to find a contraception method that works best for you.
7. Focus more on personal growth.
People don’t just wake up one day and decide that they have self-worth. Confidence doesn’t work that way. It requires a whole new mindset. And the best way to get started is by learning more about yourself. Get to know yourself. Be more self-aware by reading more and talking to people that don’t think like you.
These will be like mirrors that can show you who you really are. Learn more about how the human mind works, what your cognitive biases are, and why you behave the way you do. Books and a good therapist will be immensely helpful.
You can’t love someone that you don’t know. This applies to yourself too. Once you know yourself, you’ll sense of self-worth will increase. This is going to change your perspective on life and other people. It’ll help you lead a more purposeful life. Lose the baggage while it’s still light enough.
8. Do not forget about your mental health.
Make your mental health a priority. And know that anything that threatens your mental well-being needs to go. If you go to bed and go through frustrating mental dialogues with your boss/partner/friend, which makes you lose sleep, there’s something wrong with that relationship.
A job that burns you out, a friend that sucks the living energy out of you, an affair that makes you feel worthless are the biggest peace thieves in your 20s. And you really don’t want to let that happen. Grudges like these stay and slowly eat you out. Unless you stand up for yourself, you’ll be angry with yourself for a long time.
9. Be preventative.
We always talk about the importance of being preventative. A full-blown 25-step skincare routine can’t hold a candle to regular, consistent sun protection. You’ll get wrinkles eventually. There’s no denying that. But there’s no need to get them earlier than you need to either.
I’m in my mid-30s and I still haven’t been able to develop a healthy relationship with my face. Wrinkles and fine lines can be dealt with to a certain point. But you know what’s even more annoying? The loss of elasticity. Wear your sunscreen, protect your body from the sun. It’s the least you can do for your skin.
So these are some of the most important healthy habits to develop in your 20s. Last but not least, know that we’re all works in progress. Self-discovery, conflict, the pursuit of happiness and joy, or challenges never end. But the earlier you start to work on yourself, both your physical and psychological being, the earlier you take charge of your life and make conscious choices.
- Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62(605), 664–666. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp12X659466
- Upham, B. (2021, March 17). Why Not Getting Enough Sleep Is Bad for Your Health: Everyday Health. EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/sleep/ways-not-getting-enough-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/