With the onset of my thirties, not much obviously changed for me, aging-wise. Sure, I’d noticed for years that my body was becoming more sensitive to things like bad mattresses and not warming up properly before a hard workout. I also found my first gray hair when I was probably around 26, and I’ve had subtle wrinkles across my forehead for years (which have now been joined by subtle wrinkles around my eyes in the past year or so).
All these small but significant signs of aging have been happening slowly, some almost imperceptibly, long before I turned the big 3-0. However, the great thing about hitting such a milestone is that it makes you reflect a lot more than usual about The Direction of your life, as well as the always-present past (which sometimes can come back to haunt me even now).
This morning, as I rode the high of endorphins that came from doing my third hard aerobics workout this week (the holidays, rather than pushing me into the cycle of indulgence and then laziness, seemed to push me instead back into the gym, for the first time regularly in about a month and a half), I started thinking about all the habits I’d started in my twenties that I’m now SO GLAD that I did.
Because another thing about aging that I know is that the longer you’re used to doing something, the harder it is to change it. So for me, I’m glad that my twenties were a time of adopting lots of healthy habits that I still have now, even though my schedule has been taken over by childcare and other adult responsibilities.
Here are 10 healthy habits I’m glad I adopted in my twenties:
1. I became a runner.
After five years of running, the shock of associating myself with the word “runner” has finally started to wear off, and it’s now become such a part of my identity that I can never seem to go too long without thinking about it, participating in it, pushing myself to do it more/better/faster…you get the idea.
As a kid and teenager, I stayed active doing sports and biking outside and walking long distances with friends (even if it was to the local Arctic Circle for milkshakes). By the time college started though, I had dabbled in a lot of different cardio-type exercises but never stuck with just one. For years, using the treadmill and elliptical and bikes at the gym was just something I forced myself to do for 20 minutes before I got to what I really enjoyed (weight lifting). During the seasons of my life when I wasn’t so good about going to the gym, I basically wouldn’t work out regularly at all.
That’s why, when I discovered that endurance running was something I could not only handle pretty well but also something that I enjoyed, it was life-changing. Now, I finally had a go-to workout that didn’t require hardly any equipment or other people or really any forethought at all–I could just strap on my running shoes and go out for one mile or for six. I may continue to cycle through other workouts in addition to running, but the runner part of me is here to stay for a few more decades at least, I hope.
2. I pushed myself to be comfortable trying different workout routines.
As much as I love running, there are a couple times where I tend to get burned out from it: one is during the dead of winter (when the elements and the cold are enough to make anyone never want to step a foot outside again), and the other is right after I’ve finished a big race I’ve been training for.
During those times of flagging motivation, I’m glad that in my twenties I also learned to push myself out of my comfort zone when it came to exercise, particularly when it came to trying out new things like outdoor sports (such as hiking or rock climbing) or group fitness classes. Not only are group fitness classes, in particular, generally pretty fun and a great workout, but because I tend to thrive on routine, I tend to be great at sticking with the same class for a long period of time.
At first, I was intimidated by many of the classes, but I made myself keep going, and I found a few more exercises I love—dance, yoga, and, most recently, kickboxing. Now, because I’m used to going outside of my comfort zone, I am constantly pushing my body’s limits and growing and improving (not to mention meeting new people and learning new skills).
3. I learned to floss daily.
I was so terrible at flossing regularly as a kid, but once I got married, I was determined to start afresh. In our five and a half years of marriage, I’ve rarely missed a day of flossing, and—bonus!—Matt also started flossing and no longer dreads the dentist (because he was always getting cavities as a kid but now doesn’t get them anymore).
4. I got in the habit of drinking a lot of water.
This one was all about making it convenient. On my mission, I carried around a 3-liter water bottle in my backpack at all times. When I taught, I kept a giant water mug on my desk and replenished it with ice water throughout the day. Now, I take a drink whenever I’m in the kitchen and whenever I think I want a snack (when what I really want most of the time is a drink).
5. I stopped chasing the sun-kissed look.
It took me a LONG time to accept my fair skin, and I spent many a year in my teenage years trying to prove my skin wrong and show it that it did, in fact, want to tan and get all bronzey-beautiful (spoiler–it never listened). Finally, I cut my losses and just started wearing sunscreen regularly, and not only has it saved me from a lot of blistering sunburns, but it also got me into good habits for when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that required that I cover up even more than what I was used to.
While I’m not 100% perfect at wearing SPF, I am infinitely better than I used to be.
6. I prioritized sleep.
Even when I was a kid, I prioritized my sleep, so I’m not sure I can count this as a habit I formed in my twenties. But I guess I’m saying that I’m glad I continued to prioritize sleep despite the ever-mounting pressures of adulthood. Pretty much every night, I get 8 hours. Period. Obviously, there have had to be a few exceptions to this (like the first month or two of Raven’s life and the occasional emergency project or whatnot), but I’ve always made it a point to stick to a pretty consistent nightly routine and bedtime (even during college, my first year of teaching, and my first year of motherhood).
7. I learned to say no and to cut back.
In 2013 (so, in my late-ish twenties), I discovered the idea of minimalism and spent the entire year radically decluttering our home and pursuing a much simpler lifestyle. Before, I often sought to fill my schedule to the brim with work and school and friends and hobbies and dating and exercise and just everything. Every single day had a massive to-do list, and every year, I was guaranteed to have about 4 massive meltdowns due to all the pressure I was putting on myself.
There have been many events in my life that have pushed me to slow down and enjoy where I’m currently at, but the year-long experiment of cutting out all the excess was the only thing that seemed to stick for the long haul, and now it’s much more rare that I actually HAVE a must-do on the calendar rather than how it used to be. Granted, a lot of this was made possible by my graduating from college, but it’s still a philosophy that’s stuck with me.
8. I became aware of my sugar addiction.
Now, please note–I didn’t say that I’ve totally gotten RID of my sugar addiction, but I’m at least much more aware of it now than I was before. Before, I would think nothing of eating 50 Tootsie Rolls or downing a milkshake every other day after dinner or noticing the size of the bowl that my ice cream was being stuffed into. Now, while I still allow myself to have sugar (okay, let’s just call it chocolate because it’s pretty much always chocolate), I have more or less finally understood how to enjoy it in moderation. I know that that strategy doesn’t work for everyone, but it works better for me than to try to cut it out entirely (because then I’ll think of nothing else, even if I’ve already been off of it for weeks and weeks).
9. I started washing my hands a lot more.
I’ve always been an avid hand-washer after using the bathroom, but it was only after I served a mission in El Salvador (where sickness seemed to spread much more readily because people there don’t have the hand-washing habits many Americans tend to have) that I became a stickler about it. Becoming a teacher only reinforced the importance of washing my hands, and I credit my habit of frequently washing my hands (especially before eating or before touching my face) with the fact that I rarely get sick.
10. I know what it takes to maintain a healthy weight for me.
Even with a bedrock of healthy habits, there were still a few times I struggled to maintain a healthy weight (namely on my mission and then later when I was pregnant). Having lost 25 pounds after my mission and then the 50 pounds I gained in my pregnancy, I now much more fully understand just how hard it is to lose weight, and I have adopted the necessary practices to maintain that healthy weight once I’ve reached it.
Now, I no longer think of “dieting” or lose-weight-quick schemes. Instead, I’ve gotten used to eating more correct portion sizes, watching my sugar intake, cooking the majority of my own meals, and avoiding greasy and processed foods. I don’t deny myself treats or the occasional pizza (we ordered some last night, actually), but I’ve also learned to just pay attention to how my diet looks over a day and a week, and then make changes if necessary. (I also weigh myself every day, and when I notice my weight creeping up, I’ll cut back then, too.)
Gone are the days when I could eat whatever I wanted and it wouldn’t show or when I could stay out until one o’clock only to wake up five hours later for school or work. But, though my twenties are behind me, I am still feeling pretty good about all I’ve learned so far in taking better care of my health.
Now if I can just remember to schedule our twice-yearly dentist appointments, I’ll be set for life.
What are some of the healthy habits you’re glad you’ve adopted already? Or what habits do you WISH you would have adopted earlier?