To make it easier, we asked our panel of experts for just one simple piece of health advice. We skipped the obvious choices like no smoking or illegal drug use – you know that already. Instead we asked them for simple strategies to help a 20-something get on the path to better health. Here’s what they had to say.I suggest that young people try to avoid excessive simple sugar by eliminating the most common sources of consumption: 1) sugared soft drinks 2) breakfast cereals with added sugar and 3) adding table sugar to foods. Excessive sugar intake has been linked to obesity and diabetes, both of which contribute to heart disease. Sugar represents “empty calories” with none of the important nutrients needed in a balanced diet.
Buy a bathroom scale or use one at the gym and weigh yourself regularly. There is nothing more harmful to long-term health than carrying excess pounds, and weight tends to creep up starting in the 20s. It is pretty easy for most people to get rid of three to five pounds and much harder to get rid of 20. If you keep an eye on your weight you can catch it quickly.
Learning to cook will save you money and help you to eat healthy. Your focus should be on tasty ways to add variety to your diet and to boost intake of veggies and fruits and other nutrient-rich ingredients. As you experiment with herbs and spices and new cooking techniques, you will find that you can cut down on the unhealthy fats, sugar and salt, as well as the excess calories found in many prepared convenience foods. Your goal should be to develop a nutritious and enjoyable eating pattern that is sustainable and that will help you not only to be well, but also to manage your weight.
I suggest that young people try to avoid excessive simple sugar by eliminating the most common sources of consumption: 1) sugared soft drinks 2) breakfast cereals with added sugar and 3) adding table sugar to foods. Excessive sugar intake has been linked to obesity and diabetes, both of which contribute to heart disease. Sugar represents “empty calories” with none of the important nutrients needed in a balanced diet. Conversely, the traditional dietary villains, fat, particularly saturated fat, and salt, have undergone re-examination by many thoughtful nutrition experts. In both cases, the available scientific evidence does not clearly show a link to heart disease.
Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School for Public Health.While many people can’t find time for a scheduled exercise routine, that doesn’t mean you can’t find time to be active. Build physical activity into your daily life. Find a way to get 20 or 30 minutes of activity each day, including riding a bike or briskly walking to work.
Nutrition science is complicated and debated endlessly, but the basics are well established: Eat plenty of plant foods, go easy on junk foods, and stay active. The trick is to enjoy your meals, but not to eat too much or too often.
My tip would be to not to ban entire food groups but to practice portion control. Portion control doesn’t mean tiny portions of all foods - quite the opposite. It’s okay to eat larger portions of healthy foods like vegetables and fruit. No one got fat from eating carrots or bananas. Choose smaller portions of unhealthy foods such as sweets, alcohol and processed foods. When eating out, let your hand be your guide. A serving of protein like chicken or fish should be the size of your palm. (Think 1-2 palms of protein.) A serving of starch, preferably a whole grain such as brown rice or quinoa should be the size of your fist. Limit high-fat condiments like salad dressing to a few tablespoons – a tablespoon is about the size of your thumb tip.
If you engage in a lot of drinking and snacking, ensure you exercise a lot to offset all those extra calories from Friday to Sunday that come with extra drinking and eating. We found in a study that on Friday through Sunday young adults consumed about 115 more calories than on other days, mainly from fat and alcohol.
Ohio State University research found that work life in your 20s can affect your midlife mental health. People who are less happy in their jobs are more likely to report depression, stress and sleep problems and have lower overall mental health scores. If I can give just one piece of health advice for 20-year-olds, I would suggest finding a job they feel passionate about. This passion can keep them motivated, help them find meaning in life, and increase expectations about their future. That in turn will make them more engaged in life and healthier behaviors, which will have long term benefits for their well-being.