Ready to make good on that resolution to be healthy? Here, healthcare professionals share what it takes, and weigh in on everything from low-fee health services to what tests to ask for at your next visit. Armed with this checklist, youll ensure better health this year and throughout your 20s.
The panel: Sharon E. Orrange, MD, University of Southern California Department of Medicine; Sloane Berger-Chen, MD, Columbia University Medical Center Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Lyle J. Rausch, MD, PhD, Stanford Department of Dermatology; Caroline Bohl MS, RD, CDE, Columbia University Medical Center.
1) Assess your coverage. Before you can even make an appointment, you have to figure out how youll pay for your doctor visits and treatments. If your company offers reliable insurance coverage, youre in luck. But if youre a freelancer or in between jobs as many 20-somethings are uninsured doctor visits can get pretty pricey. Instead of skipping them to conserve funds, Dr. Sharon Orrange suggests patients look for low- or no-fee alternatives. Academic centers that are tied to medical schools with residency programs are good bets, as they often run outpatient clinics that charge very little or are free. Many large cities also have foundations like The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center, which help certain groups, such as actors or LGBT patients, find healthcare; Planned Parenthood provides affordable reproductive health services.
2) Find a primary care physician. No matter how healthy you feel, its a good idea to have at least one doctor you feel comfortable with, who knows your medical history, and who you will continue to visit over time. Says Dr. Orrange, While you may not necessarily need an annual physical [during your 20s], it is important to forge a relationship with a primary care doctor so you have someone to go to if the need arises. He or she will determine how frequently you need to be seen, and can refer you to specialists if and when you need it.
3) Get tested and vaccinated. If you havent done so already, now is a good time to establish an informational baseline for future visits. Know your numbers: blood pressure, weight, and if you have a family history of diabetes or high cholesterol your fasting blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Your primary care doctor can also order DNA, STD, and thyroid tests if you request them. Ask about immunizations or vaccinations that you might be due for, such as the meningococcal vaccine and the tetanus booster.
4) Check in with your lady parts. Those stirrups are scary, but at some point you have to saddle up. According to Dr. Sloane Berger-Chen, women should have their first gynecological visit between 13-15 years old, and should start getting annual pap smears at age 21. If youre sexually active and aged 11-26, you should also consider a Gardasil vaccination: given in a series of three shots, it helps to prevent Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection, a known precursor to cervical cancer. Discuss breast cancer screening, STD testing, and birth control with your doctor as well.
5) Get a complete skin exam. A porcelain complexion and faithful SPF usage does not guarantee that youre skin cancer free. According to dermatologist Lyle Rausch, Melanoma, which causesalmost 100,000 deaths yearly, shows up all over the skin and that includes areas where the sun dont shine. Over 50% of [cases] are found by a dermatologist during a complete skin examination of a patient who had originally come in with a different complaint. Make sure your dermatologist inspects even unexpected places, like inside your labia, under your eyelids, and inside your mouth. Any mole larger than a pencil eraser that has changed in size, shape, color or texture should be seen by a dermatologist right away.
6) Clean up your eating habits. During your 20s is the perfect time to start practicing what dietitian Caroline Bohl calls preventative nutrition. Moderate saturated fat and salt intake, start taking a standard multivitamin and calcium supplement, and focus on whole foods, good fats and balanced meals. Not surprisingly, Bohl cautions against fad diets like the lemonade cleanse. Any diet that asks a person to eliminate certain food groups is not healthy and will be difficult to sustain. Diets based on including vegetables, good fats, and complex carbs are better choices.
7) Make skincare a priority. When you were a kid, soap and water did the trick. Now, you should establish a healthy skincare routine. Dr. Rausch suggests using a mild, non-drying cleanser morning and night, and a fine-grained exfoliator when needed. Wear a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher from 10 am 4 pm daily, and expose yourself to 15-30 minutes of sunlight at least three times a week to avoid vitamin D deficiencies. Dont be an extremist in sun avoidance, says Dr. Rausch. Avoid burns but enjoy the outdoors. Plenty of water and sleep will also keep your skin in check.
8) Speak up. If you have any symptoms you consider strange, unusual or worrisome, ask your doctor about them, says Dr. Orrange. Autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis tend to declare themselves in women in this age group, as do mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and OCD. Dr. Rausch suggests patients keep track of skin lesions or discomforts that dont heal in 1-2 weeks, and that they perform self-administered skin exams with full and hand-held mirrors at least twice a year. Irregular bleeding, abnormal hair growth, painful or heavy menstruation, pelvic or abdominal pain, frequent urinary tract or vaginal infections, and painful intercourse are other things worth mentioning to your doctor.
9) Be prepared. To get the most accurate care possible, bring a list of observations, symptoms, and specific questions to each doctor visit. It might seem easier to ignore changes in your body, but addressing them early could save your life.