Fit at 20
Your 20s are a time of strength, versatility, and resilience. You have the stamina to take on anything that comes your way—be it a series of challenging assignments or a binge-eating contest. While there may not be distinct changes physically except for growth, a lot is happening inside your body and mind.
Changes in your body
In your 20s, your body is revving with energy. Your metabolism is at its peak, and you typically burn almost everything you consume. It means calories in = calories out. This translates to minimal weight gain. Isn’t that great? However, you cannot ride this wave for long. As you cruise through your 20s, your metabolic rate starts to drop at a steady and gradual pace. Damsels take note: It happens a lot more rapidly for you than for men!
Overall, your 20s are a great time, as it is typical to bounce back and recover faster from any setbacks. But hang on! Don’t take the robustness of your 20s for granted and go on a reckless eating or drinking spree.
A study from Northwestern University found that those who followed healthy habits in earlier years stayed healthy well into their middle ages. Limited alcohol intake, no smoking, a lean body mass, a healthy diet, and regular physical activity were the five foundational healthy habits considered for this study.
Also, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 20s are the decade in which one gains a disproportionate amount of weight. Yikes! If you’re someone who loves daily takeout, it’s about time you start learning to cook. Besides food, stress too plays a role in weight gain. If you’ve not already started, now is the best time to choose healthy habits.
Which nutrients do you need the most?
B vitamins—your need for B vitamins in your 20s increases with stress levels. B vitamins are crucial for energy release and brain function, and they also help to combat stress. The stress in your 20s can be rampant and can cause low energy and fatigue. Consuming foods rich in B vitamins such as whole grains, dark leafy greens, avocados, and asparagus can boost your B vitamin levels and mitigate the effects of stress. Ensure your daily menu delivers enough B vitamins.
Omega-3 fats—omega-3s are essential fats that fight inflammation, improve mood, and take care of the cells—the functional unit of the body. High intake of processed foods and eating foods with fewer nutrients can increase the need for omega-3s in your diet. Those in their 20s go through significant changes during this time, and depression and anxiety may be a part of their life. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fats such as walnuts, flax seeds, and deep-caught salmon helps to alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms.
What about your thoughts and mindset in your 20s?
Although considered a “carefree” decade of your life, young adulthood is a period of varied experiences. Real stress hits you in your 20s. It presents a lot of uncertainty and added responsibilities, which can brew a mind of turbulence, conflict, unsteadiness, and confusion. It is also the time that many succumb to unhealthy behaviors like frequently consuming alcohol, smoking, and using drugs.
As for your brain, it starts maturing and gets well-tuned as you advance through your 20s. You’ll begin to handle complex cognitive tasks such as high-level functioning with better focus than before. Also, your ability to reason and make decisions becomes more efficient, thanks to the increased volume of the gray and white matter of the brain. I bet you’re relieved to know that!
How can you nurture your brain and your mind?
Choose healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and probiotics to boost your brain function. The best part is anything good for your brain is also good for your heart!
Okay, the diet takes care of the physiological needs, but what about the mind and emotional health?
Concerning the mind, it is crucial to decrease the effects of stress by pursuing a hobby or sport. Practicing mindfulness is likely not your thing when you’re in your 20s! However, you’ll naturally gravitate toward the realm of mindfulness. Your emotions take expression in the form of a passion or art like photography or cooking. Since these activities require your attention in the present moment, they help you unwind and leave you deeply satisfied.
If you get interested in the aspects of mindfulness, there are many ways you can tap into that practice via tools like breathing techniques, meditation, tai chi, or yoga.
Your take-home message about your 20s should be this: If you don’t build a foundation in your 20s, it’s hard to backtrack when you’re 40!
How to exercise during your 20s
By Samuel Biesack
The second decade of life is one of the best periods for maximizing your physical fitness. Since anabolic hormones like testosterone and estrogen are at high points during this time, the body is primed to not only exercise at high intensities but also to recover from such workouts.
Since the body has a strong ability to recover from rigorous workouts during this period, you should aim to exercise as much as possible while still being able to recover.
Developing strength during this period should be a prime directive of your training, regardless of gender. Studies indicate that the ability to build strength is most significant during your 20s and 30s and begins to decline with age. Additionally, other studies suggest that developing strength early in life might play a role in being self-sufficient in later years.
That, however, doesn’t mean you should ignore cardiovascular fitness. Studies indicate that in younger years, we have a higher exercise capacity and efficiency, which means that the body uses oxygen more efficiently during exercise.
Greater workout efficiency means you’ll be able to exercise harder and for longer durations but do so while using less energy. Mostly, you get more benefit from exercise at a lower metabolic cost during younger years compared to older age, so it’s best to utilize this advantage while you’re young.
Additionally, since your body has a strong ability to recover during your 20s, it’s not a bad idea to try a variety of different exercise methods. Group fitness classes, swimming, cardio, dance, and even yoga are all great ideas for being as active as you can.
While it’s always a good idea to prioritize the form of exercise you enjoy, your 20s should be the time when developing muscle, strength, and cardiovascular fitness are all priorities. Having a healthy balance of these three goals will ensure well-rounded fitness and health leading into the decades where building and maintaining physical fitness is a bit more challenging.
It’s okay to focus on one type of exercise method more than the others if that’s what you enjoy though. If you loathe lifting weights but love going for a run, then running should be your priority. Just don’t discount the benefits that strength training can afford you in both the short term and long term.
In your training, try using the two-days-on, one-day-off method. This means for every two workouts, take one day to recover either entirely or actively through very light exercise.
When you do so, consider swapping between different exercise modalities from one workout to the next to ensure you’re covering all your bases while also providing your body with the ability to recover.
Here’s how an example week of exercise might look during your 20s: