For many of us, living a healthy lifestyle in our 20s and 30s is all about the here and now. Eating the right foods to feel and look good today. Or using that trendy sheet mask to get glowing skin for tonight. Rarely do we consider what our bodies will need and want down the road. After all, “future us” seems so far away.
But adopting certain healthy habits at a younger age (read: right this minute) can not only provide benefits for you in the present, but reap major rewards down the road.
Consider this: A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings revealed that exercise capacity is “strongly associated with cognitive function.” Researchers learned that participants who actively worked out a few times per week lowered their risk of cognitive decline issues, such as Alzheimer’s disease. So when you’re hitting the treadmill, you’re keeping yourself looking good today, sure—while doing all you can to safeguard the future.
But this isn’t only about putting in time at the gym. There are plenty of good-for-you habits to incorporate into your everyday that are excellent investments in your future health. And some of them won’t even require you to break a sweat.
1. Turn Off Your Tech
“Try doing a digital “detox”,” says Samir Becic, fitness trainer and author of ReSYNC Your Life. It may sound harsh, but remove the TV from your bedroom in order to have better REM sleep (rapid eye movement, or deep sleep), he explains. “People don’t realize the enormous negative impact technology has on our health if it is used excessively,” he says. “Not only on our joints, but on our eyes, back, cognitive thinking, and mood.”
A 2013 study published in Current Biology determined that modern light exposure contributes to later sleep schedules, which only serves to disrupt our natural sleep and circadian clocks. By removing the presence of the dreaded “blue light” emitted from our phones, TVs, and computers in our bedrooms, we’re giving our bodies a better chance at a more restful, productive sleep.
Related: Is Lutein All It’s Cracked Up To Be?
2. Start flossing.
While daily flossing may seem like a no-brainer, a 2015 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the American Academy of Periodontology revealed that 27 percent of U.S. adults lie to their dentist about how often they really partake in the activity (we won’t tell if you start flossing today!). For the sake of your mouth, dentists would like to see this number turned around.
“Flossing may seem like a nuisance when you’re young, but later down the line, you’ll be glad you started early as flossing can help avoid periodontal disease,” says Dr. Katia Friedman of Friedman Dental Group in South Florida. “At a later stage in people’s lives, periodontal disease is responsible for bone loss, mobility of teeth and ultimately tooth loss.”
Pro-tip: According to Oral Health & Prevention, you want to floss and then brush—not the other way around—to get the most out of the habit. When you floss and then brush, you’re able to get all that gross plaque out of your mouth, instead of lingering there after it was extracted.
3. Wear Sunscreen
This advice probably sounds like a broken record, but consistent sunscreen application is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being.
“UV damage from the sun is a significant factor in skin aging,” says David Lortscher, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology.”
The hard part is, there’s a delay between when sun exposure occurred and when its effects manifest. For example, it may take decades—yes, you read that correctly—of cumulative sun exposure or indoor tanning to cause skin cancer. It’s reasonable to expect that sun exposure 10 or 15 years ago may result in wrinkles appearing now. So, be sure to use sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher that protect against UVA and UVC rays.
According to The American Academy of Dermatology, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more should be used year-round, not just when the sun is high and hot. The lotion should be reapplied every two hours for continuous coverage, or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.
4. Add Retinol to Your Routine
Take good care of your skin now to reduce the effects of aging later, says Lortscher. “An over-the-counter cream with retinol offers anti-aging benefits, but prescription-strength tretinoin (the generic name for retinol) offers a potent punch that just can’t be beat.”
What’s tretinoin? It’s considered to be the gold standard in reducing fine lines and wrinkles, as well as boosting collagen growth. And, says Lortscher, “It’s the main anti-aging strategy (after sunscreen) of many dermatologists for their own skin.”
But what is retinol? According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a vitamin A compound and an antioxidant. It neutralizes free radicals, those pesky unstable oxygen molecules responsible for disrupting skin cells and, inevitably, causing wrinkles.
You can start by adding this Ann Webb Super Retinol Slow Release night crème to your bedtime ritual.
5. Eat Mindfully
How often have you heard a friend or co-worker complain that they were so busy during the day that they “forgot” to eat? In our hectic lives we’ve become conditioned to either eating on the go or while we’re zoning out in front of the TV. But by choosing to eat mindfully we have the opportunity to not only appreciate the food on our plates, but make better choices as well.
“Try not to eat while doing other things like driving, watching TV, working, or another activity,” says Samantha Scruggs, a registered dietitian and blogger at Nutrition to Fruition. “When you actually pay attention to your eating and your food, you feel more full and are more aware of your portion sizes.” Notice how it tastes and smells when you’re eating.
According to a 2016 study published in Health Psychology, mindful eating was proven to reduce impulsive food choices in both adolescents and adults, decreasing the risk of obesity.
6. Eat Good Fats
Omega-3 has been a buzzword in the world of healthy nutrition for some time now, and with good reason. These fatty acids are work horses in your body, and to build a better one for long-term health experts want you to get your omega-3s straight from the source whenever possible.
“One of the healthiest habits to adopt now for major benefits down the road is eating two servings of fatty fish per week,” says Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, dietitian and founder of Lainey Younkin Nutrition in Boston, MA. Fatty fish, like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines, are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, “which lower inflammation in the body, leading to a healthier brain and heart, as well as glowing skin. One serving is just three ounces, or the size of a deck of cards, so top your salad with some salmon or swap the chicken in your taco for tuna,” says Younkin.
Considering the difficulties we face finding the time to eat a meal in peace, you may be wondering when, pray tell, you’re supposed to have the time to sit and meditate. But carving out even just a few minutes for the practice can harvest benefits far beyond clearing your mind.
According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, mindful meditation can actually boost immune function, with researchers finding increases in antibody titers (the way doctors learn if your body is fighting a virus) to the flu vaccine among those who were in the meditation control group.
And don’t worry about being a meditation pro, says positive psychology and coach Dr. Barbara Cox, PhD, who encourages her patients to find a method that works for them.
What works best? “It can be something as simple as focusing on calming music or saying a positive affirmation,” she says. “Meditation is a very helpful tool for stress because by doing it regularly it can prevent stress. And if stress builds, it can help release stress, too.”
Plus, according to Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, meditation may actually improve the cellular aging process and reduce oxidative stress, which can age us and make us sick.