OPINION

For Your Health: Young adults, keep eating your vegetables

By Dr. Graham A. Colditz
Siteman Cancer Center
Dr. Graham A. Colditz

If you’ve finally reached that age when you’re officially an adult and starting to branch out on your own for work, school or another adventure, you’ve likely received a lot of advice from the older adults in your life. Some of it you may have sought out. Most of it, probably not.

And, yes, as you’ve guessed, I’m here to add to that latter list with some tips about a topic that may not be very exciting but is actually quite important: your health.

Admittedly, it may feel a little odd to get advice about health at an age when you, and most of your friends, are probably pretty healthy. But what you do today really does matter, not only in helping to improve how you feel right now but also in laying the foundation for lifelong wellness, so you’re less likely to develop serious diseases like stroke, diabetes and cancer down the road. Start with these tips:

Eat a mostly plant-based diet, and be physically active. A healthy diet and regular exercise are cornerstones of good health. On their own, they lower the risk of many diseases, and they can help keep weight gain in check. Try to build up to at least 30 minutes of activity each day. When it comes to eating, focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans – and try to cut back on red and processed meats, sugary drinks and fast foods.

Get enough sleep. It’s easy to skimp on sleep, especially when trying to catch up on things you missed during the pandemic shutdowns. But for your mental health and overall well-being, it’s important to make sleep a priority and to try to get 7 to 9 hours a night.

Keep a lid on alcohol. The more we know about alcohol and its many risks, the more we know that not drinking is the healthiest choice overall for people of all ages. If you do drink, try to keep it to a minimum – and be in control.

Keep up with health care and vaccines, including those for HPV and COVID-19. As an adult, you’re now in charge of your health care, and that can be a big change from when you were younger. Be sure to see a doctor for any regular care you may need or if you have any health concerns. And stay up to date on adult vaccines. If you haven’t had them already, this includes the HPV vaccine, which helps prevent multiple cancers, and the COVID-19 vaccine, which is increasingly important to protect against very infectious variants, like Delta.

Stay smoke-free, or get smoke-free. No surprise here. Staying – or getting – smoke-free is one of the best things you can do for your health. So, if you don’t smoke, keep it up. And if you do smoke, try to quit as soon as possible. Smokefree.gov is a great place to get free help, and it has tools for teens, vets, women and Spanish speakers.

Mind your mental health. In regular times, many young adults struggle with depression, anxiety and related conditions. And with the pandemic, rates have become more pronounced. If you have concerns about how you’re feeling, reach out to a health professional. Don’t be shy. You’re not alone, and treatment can help you feel better.

Taking time to look after yourself and your well-being is one of the best gifts you can give yourself as an adult. And it can never start too early. You deserve it.

It’s your health. Take control.

For more tips, see Early Adults’ 8ight Ways to Better Health and Lower Risk of Cancer, at bit.ly/3BNiKKh.

Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Phelps Health Delbert Day Cancer Institute is part of the Siteman Cancer Network.