Most women in their 20s have the luxury of not having to stress about — or even think about — their health. They can drink water, eat relatively healthy foods balanced out with the occasional bacon burger and brownie, go to bed at 3 a.m., wake at 6 a.m. and still feel energetic and ready to take on the world.
But, just because your body is working in your favor during this decade, doesn't mean you shouldn't be proactive and take every measure to ensure it stays that way. In addition to getting an annual physical exam at your primary doctor's office, you should also be visiting your gynecologist every year (no excuses) and making sure you receive each of the following exams when needed.
Cervical cancer testing begins at age 21 and should be given about every three years, depending on the results of your human papilloma virus test, according to Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and women's health expert at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. That's right — whether you did or did not receive an HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, you should find out whether you have HPV. Ross says it is the most common sexually transmitted infection and affects 75-80 percent of men and women, causing genital warts and cervical cancer. "For low risk women 21 to 29 years old, Pap smears can be done every three years with human papilloma virus (HPV) testing every five years if both tests are negative."
It's crucial that young women begin to understand how they can take control of their sexual health — something a quality doctor can help ensure happens in your late teens/early 20s. Is it any wonder why so many of us (hand raised) make it to age 30 without a real understanding of the follicular and luteal phases of menstruation? "Discussing the importance of birth control and safe sex begins in your 20s," Ross says. "Women who are sexually active should be screened yearly for sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia and gonorrhea. HIV testing should be done yearly continuing until age 64. Making sure women have received the HPV vaccine is essential."
There is no age in which you shouldn't be aware of your cholesterol numbers, particularly if high cholesterol runs in your family. But, as a general guideline, you can begin inquiring about this in your 20s, so that you can make necessary changes to your diet and exercise routine.
Same goes for your blood pressure — though it's usually a given that your doc will check your numbers at each visit. High blood pressure is linked to heart problems, blood clots, strokes and even dementia, while low blood pressure may cause fatigue, depression, dizziness and more.
This one may not be on your radar, but Dr. Eugene Ahn, medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, says vitamin D is more important than you might think — and that it's difficult to get sufficient quantities of it through diet alone. "In my experience at CTCA at Midwestern, I have seen that roughly three out of four patients are vitamin D deficient," Ahn says. "Vitamin D is a critical vitamin for bone and immune system health. A lot of epidemiological data shows significant correlations between low vitamin D levels and a higher cancer risk."
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