Women Health Series: What Should I Worry about When I’m In My…20s?
One of four articles in a series about what to expect at different stages of womanhood.
As a woman leaves the teenage years and enters into her 20s, she is sure to encounter many changes. Not only is she becoming more independent in her world, establishing more mature relationships and possibly planning her family, she is laying the foundation of her healthcare.
Snapshot of a Woman in Her 20s
If you’re a woman in your 20s…
- You may experience more mature or lasting relationships
- You may be trying to balance school, work or other stressors
- You may become financially independent for the first time
- You may be contemplating childbirth or family planning
- You may have more stability than in your teens
- You may feel overwhelmed with stresses on your time with work or family life
- You may be unaware of the sexual risks or need for gynecological care
“I wish I had more time to discuss these health issues with my patients,” says Dr. Birkholz. “I think more women would benefit by scheduling an appointment with her physician to talk about these issues.”
Be Smart about Sexual Disease
One major focus Dr. Birkholz recommends during your 20s is being smart about STDs and other sexual relationships.
“From a gynecologic standpoint we recommend you start getting a screening for cervical cancer (pap smear) at age 21 and return every one or two years to follow up with your doctor,” says Dr. Birkholz.
At these screenings your doctor can also check for sexually transmitted diseases. This is important because Dr. Birkholz says many women who are infected with STDs don’t have any symptoms or they can cause issues with infertility.
Protect Yourself or Plan for Parenthood
During the 20s, you may start planning for parenthood with your partner. This can be a very rewarding time, but also very stressful. Before getting pregnant you should see your provider to make sure you are healthy and your lifestyle issues have been addressed. For example, you should stop smoking if that applies and start taking a prenatal vitamin.
For those feeling overwhelmed with fertility issues, consider Dr. Birkholz’s advice: “If you and your partner have been trying to have a baby for one year and have not been able to get pregnant, you should see a doctor. There are many ways to help couples in this situation, and it does not always cost a significant amount of money.”
If you are not ready for parenthood, it is important to use birth control to avoid unintended pregnancies during your 20s. There are many misconceptions women face about birth control, STDs or condom use, and it is valuable to clear these up with a provider. You can ask all of your questions so you are confident that you are properly protecting yourself physically, emotional and sexually.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
For most women, no matter the age or stage it seems like weight is often an issue. If you are on your own in college and just learning how to plan meals, or if you are trying to battle that post-baby belly, maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult for women, even in their 20s.
Dr. Birkholz suggests that every woman knows her body mass index. This is calculated from your height and weight. Ideally your BMI should be between 20 and 25. You can use this website to calculate your BMI.
“A proper diet is the holy grail of weight loss. If you don’t eat a proper diet, it is impossible to effectively lose weight,” says Dr. Birkholz.
Make sure you are eating whole grains, lean meats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Stay away from processed food and excess sweets or carbohydrates.
If you are trying to lose weight remember, “You are not on The Biggest Loser,” says Dr. Birkholz. “It is unrealistic to expect 10 pounds of weight loss per week and this may not be safe. A more reasonable goal is one or two pounds per week.”
This weight loss can add up quickly to a 12 to 20 or more pound weight loss in just three months.
Develop an Exercise Plan
To set a healthy foundation for your life, it’s important to establish a healthy exercise routine. In the middle of school, children, work and a million demands on your time, you may feel that exercise can wait. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Dr. Birkholz recommends exercise five times weekly, with moderately difficult activity at least three of those times. These are activities that increase your heart rate, such as swimming, brisk walking or sports for at least 30 minutes. Keep in mind the other two times should be some type of resistance training or fitness classes.
Remember You Are Not Invincible
Just because you are young, you are not invincible. There are serious health risks and situations that can take a toll on your body and your health. Remember that although you may feel healthy, it is important to get proper insurance coverage, check for cancers, screen for possible family diseases and see a doctor if you don’t feel well.