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7 ways to maximize your health in your 20s

Youth, beauty, a sense of invincibility. Your twenties are filled with so much potential as you plan careers and families, even a first home.  But this is also the time, if you're not careful, when your bad habits could have lasting health consequences in the future.

Your 20s are also the perfect time to make these healthy changes.

"It's important to acknowledge that you have just completed a pivotal part of your life (high school and college) and now it's time for a new chapter; one that can have lasting and empowering impact on the rest of your life," Michael Munson, owner of Thrive Fitness & Wellness, said. "By embracing healthier food, fitness and lifestyle choices, it can only make your life and your future richer, and fuller."

We asked local health experts for some tips for healthy living in your 20s. Here's what they had to say:

Maintain low body fat

Maintaining a low percentage of body fat will have more of a profound impact on your health than any other single intervention, warned Charlie Seltzer, MD, owner of Lean4Life Weight Loss & Fitness Solutions.

"While it is a great idea to eat healthy, and you should always try to improve the quality of the food you eat, staying lean should be top priority," Seltzer said.

He added that for some that might mean exercising a little more to offset extra calories. Although he emphasized that you can't out-exercise indiscriminate eating.

If you are logging in long hours at work to jumpstart your career, Seltzer said that also could make you more prone to unhealthy food choices and a more sedentary lifestyle.

"Set an exercise schedule that you can realistically follow. It doesn't have to be 90 minutes, 6 days a week," he said. "It is more important that you block out time and do your best to stick to the schedule."

Schedule regular checkups

Seltzer also recommends routine checkups and blood work with your primary care physician, even if you aren't experiencing any health issues.

"You need to make sure there is nothing going on regarding your health that is beyond your control," Seltzer said.

And if you are experiencing symptoms, don't be afraid to see a health professional.

For example, deep fatigue could just be the result of late nights at the office. However, it could also be an indicator of anemia — a disorder not uncommon for young, menstruating women — or hypothyroidism, which can lead to high cholesterol, heart problems, low bone density and even depression.

Make heart health a priority now

Worrying about your risk for heart disease does not begin in our forties or fifties.

"Autopsy studies in young soldiers and accident victims in their 20s (and even earlier) have shown the presence of significant coronary artery disease or building up of cholesterol plaques in the heart arteries," Vincent M. Figueredo, M.D., associate chair of medicine and chief of clinical cardiology at Einstein Medical Center said.

This gives evidence that our lifestyle even in our younger years can affect our future health.

"Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and no smoking will decrease the buildup of cholesterol in the heart arteries and reduce the risks of future heart attacks," Figueredo said.

Don't skimp on sleep

Numerous studies, according to the CDC, have proven the impact sleep can have on our health. While 20somethings may feel like they can pull an all-nighter with no ill effects, lack of sleep will eventually take its toll.

Not getting enough shuteye is associated with heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and stroke so if you are having sleep problems, see a health professional.

Build strong and flexible muscles

Dana Auriemma, owner of Freehouse Fitness Studio, recommends a balanced workout routine for 20somethings that includes a good dose of strength training or sculpting, plus stretching after every workout.

"Having strong and flexible muscles protects your joints and keeps your body in healthy alignment - and that keeps you looking and feeling good through later decades of your life," Auriemma said.

To build total body strength, Auriemma recommends two or more workouts each week focused on sculpting with slow, controlled movements and strength training with faster more dynamic exercises. To increase flexibility, include a Pilates or yoga class in your weekly routine.

Hector E. Bones, managing partner of BONES Fitness Partners, added that consistency is key.

"Don't be a weekend warrior," Bones said. "Workout three to four times a week, and know that this is a process."

Avoid unhealthy food habits

Ashvini Mashru, M.A., R.D., LDN, and author of Small Steps to Slim, warned that young people in transition to adulthood are very vulnerable to bad food habits.

"This is the time to say good-bye to some of your favorite 'go-to' foods and drinks that have zero nutritional value: sodas, sugary fruit punches, sugary coffee drinks, many fast foods and even processed meats like hot dogs," Mashru said.

Instead, Mashru suggests making healthy choices like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats and fat-free, 1 percent or low-fat dairy products. Limiting sugary foods and beverages is also important.

An added bonus: Making dinner at home is also wallet-friendly compared to take out orders that can add up.

If you are short on time, cook a batch of soup that offers portions for lunch or dinner during the week. Buy a rotisserie chicken that can be ready for casseroles or to eat with vegetables and a salad.

Break bad habits now

If you are already in the throes of bad habits -- happy hours every week, cheese fries as a diet staple and little to no exercise to counterbalance it all -- then it might seem impossible to get back on the right track, but Munson said that setting clear goals will help you achieve your desired results.

"Don't beat yourself up, but take accountability for your choices," Munson said. "Make a conscious decision to change and know that you deserve to look and feel your best."

This is the first installment in series on healthy living tips for every age group. Have a suggestion? Contact us at