Health Mistakes From Your 20s That You'll Pay for Later

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

One more tequila shot? Why not!? Two more pounds of bacon? It’s delicious. Three more hours of Game of Thrones? After that bacon and tequila, definitely.
The 20-something you probably thinks you’re killing it at life right now, but guess what? The 40-year-old you hates 20-something you. Fortunately, older, robe-wearing, New Yorker-subscribing you has traveled back in time to tell you what health mistakes you can fix to make his/her (i.e., your) life suck less down the road. The mistakes below were culled from doctors and studies, to help you make sure the “it” you’re killing isn’t you in your 40s and beyond.

You don’t move around enough

MDVIP-affiliated physician Dr. Michael Hubner calls this one of the more “subtle” dangers. Careers happen, kids happen, and before you know it, exercise is just a distant memory. Life doesn’t ever slow down, so move your ass before you’re just another fat statistic in this modern-day pandemic.

You replace the doctor with Google

There are a lot of reasons you avoid the doctor. The No. 1 reason? You haven’t found your doctor. And regular checkups can reduce the likelihood that you get surprised by a health crisis. It might take some time, but with 25% of heart attacks striking without visible warning, finding a doctor you don’t mind seeing is time well spent.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You spend too much time in front of a screen

You live in a digital world and you are a digital girl. We get it. Just make sure you’re not falling prey to digital eye strain, which can cause headaches, blurred vision, and long-term eye damage. Look up and blink twice if you’ve read this. Your eyes will be glad you did.

You think sleep is optional

Using those screens close to bedtime is ruining your sleep. Whether it’s from late-night TV or closing down the local bar, your increasing “sleep debt” will destroy your heart, damage your creativity, and turn you into an asshole. Or, in some cases, just a bigger asshole.

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You binge drink too frequently

Dr. Charles Metzger, an MDVIP-affiliated internist, says that we learn most of our lifelong drinking habits in our early 20s (nervous yet?). Breaking bad habits becomes much more difficult as we age, so keep the drinking in check while your liver still loves you.

You ignore STD risks

You’ve seen the way-too-graphic sex-ed videos. You’ve gotten “the talk.” Yet somehow, in 2014, dramatic increases were seen in all nationally reported STDs. Sure, sometimes you’ll be asymptomatic (still not a good thing). But other times an STD can paralyze you, cause infertility, and could endanger you or a future pregnancy. Screenings and tests are a lot faster and cheaper than they used to be, so it’s pretty easy to know your status. And knowing is half the battle!

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You have bad posture

Future you really doesn’t appreciate the hunchback you’re giving him right now. Eight hours a day slouched at your computer makes a mess of your spine, which seriously messes up everything else. Recent studies have shown that any prolonged stationary position (even standing) is terrible, so straighten up and sneak in some office workouts whenever you can.

You don’t keep an emergency fund

Nobody plans to get kidney stones, but if you had to pay nearly $4,000 to piss a rock today, would it break the bank? If the answer is, “What’s a bank?” make sure you’re not setting 40-year-old you up for disaster.

You don’t pay attention to your skin

Forty-year-old you would like to thank you for turning him into a leather purse. Tan lines might be hot now, but not so much when they get you a case of America’s most common cancer, and sagging wrinkles to boot. Most experts recommend wearing sunscreen every day, but since that’s probably not going to happen, at least toss the tanning oil.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You subsist on processed foods

Designed for addiction and convenience (not health?!), highly processed foods now make up more than 60% of the average American diet. Eating too many processed foods will afflict future you with obesity and diabetes, what with all the sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients.

You don’t floss

Yes, flossing sucks. You know what sucks more? Gum disease. Your odds of getting it increase as you get older, and flossing significantly reduces your chances of getting it. And yes, your dentist can tell if you’re lying about it, so just do it!

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You abuse your eardrums

Years of loud concerts, club-hopping, and blasting tunes at the gym have left 40-year-old you with noise-induced hearing loss. Your phone isn’t being an annoying babysitter when it gives you a high-volume warning. Crank it down a few notches, or it will have to stay up permanently.

You skip regular vaccinations

Growing up, vaccines are right behind reading assignments on the “worst things about summer” list. Adults tend to either a) forget they exist, or b) are too lazy to keep them updated. But the truth is pretty sobering: there are more than a dozen illnesses preventable by vaccines, and about 60,000 adults die every year of them (with hundreds of thousands more hospitalized). Now go relive your childhood, and get that little prick again!

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You make some poor body-art decisions

Sure, that outline of Utah on your upper arm will help you fit in at every ear-destroying concert, but Dr. Hubner says over-the-top body modifications are some of the “biggest mistakes” he sees. Twenty-something you probably thinks your best friend can totally pierce your eyebrow right now. Well, 40-year-old you is sick of looking like a pirate.

You ignore potentially alarming bodily changes

There’s a lot of crap in life that you just have to “toughen up” and get through. Sitting in traffic? Deal with it. Shortness of breath? Well, that’s a different story. Certain small (or large) signs can indicate dangerous future health issues that could be avoided with a little preventative care.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You smoke

You probably don’t need to be told again about the dangers of smoking. So we won’t do that. We’ll leave it to the CDC.

You don’t make an effort to de-stress

Drinking, smoking, and fast food. If these sound like your coping skills, then you might be destroying the personal, financial, and health goals of your 40s, says Dr. Metzger. It’s all about the habits, and it takes daily practice to replace the bad with the good. Your brain will be rewired in no time, and it’s a good thing, too, because stress has long been known to cause some serious health problems.

You don’t balance your life

“Chasing your personal and professional goals in your 20s can be very fulfilling,” says Dr. Metzger. But he warns this can also lead to a lot of stress, anxiety, and self-destruction. You don’t want to end up with dying regrets, so maybe find some new balance if you’re feeling overextended.

This doesn’t mean you should stay inside, covered in sunblock, wearing earplugs, and turning off all your electronics. Just be a bit more aware, and you won’t be decrepit before you get the chance to have a midlife crisis.

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Nicholas Knock is a freelance writer for Thrillist who plans on staying young forever! You can follow him on Twitter: @nickaknock.