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Are you a Queenslander in your 20s? Here are the health issues to have on your radar

Five friends seated in a row on a hill, wearing sunglasses and taking a selfie
Building good social support networks is a smart health choice, particularly for young men

Long term health is rarely on anyone’s radar in their 20s. For one thing, you’re busy – your 20s are a time of learning, starting careers, travelling, having fun, or generally figuring out what you’re going to do with your life.

For another, the vast bulk of the things that tend to kill Australians are statistically unlikely to hit until well into your future, and you’re part of a generation that has a higher life-expectancy than those who came before you.

That’s the good news, but it’s no reason to be complacent. While it’s important to have fun and live your life, this post takes a close look at some of the health issues we’d recommend having on your radar throughout your 20s.

Tests and checks for everyone

Let’s start with the serious stuff. Regardless of your gender, this is the short-list of medical tests and checks you should be prioritising in your 20s.

Start doing regular skin checks for melanoma at home every month

Your teachers tried to drill it into you at school, but your 20s is where it’s easy to forget, so here’s your quick reminder: be sun safe. Wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. Use SPF30+ (or higher) sunscreen when you’re outdoors. Spend as much time in the shade as possible.

Queensland has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, across all age groups, and it's the most commonly diagnosed cancer in under 35s in our state. Start paying attention to your skin now by doing regular skin checks. Remember that no one knows your skin like you do, so even if you get a doctor to look once every year or two, you need to be checking your own skin often. We made this guide on how to check your skin for skin cancer to help you make this part of your routine.

Get your blood pressure checked regularly

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood in the arteries as the heart pumps it around the body. You’ll probably have this checked fairly regularly without paying too much attention to it – your regular GP will frequently check your blood pressure as a part of treating other illnesses. Talk to your GP about how often you should have your blood pressure checked.

Get your cholesterol levels and blood glucose checked as recommended by your GP

Your 20s are the point where you need to start paying attention to your cholesterol and/or glucose levels, especially if you’re a smoker, you’re overweight, or you’ve got a family history of heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Get your first cholesterol and/or glucose test close to your twentieth birthday, and your GP can advise you on how often you need to be retested based on the results.

Get your eyes checked every two years

Medicare will cover the cost of an eye check at the optometrist of your choice. The optometrist will look at how well you can see, and also check for signs of diseases that can affect your eyes. Putting these checks on your radar is useful, because it’s not always obvious when you’re developing an eye condition and the test can pick up early warning signs, many of which can be treated.

Have a dental check-up twice a year

Eating and drinking healthy, brushing your teeth regularly, and using fluoride toothpaste will go a long way towards keeping your teeth in good condition, but the reality of tooth decay is that you won’t notice the physical symptoms until it’s pretty advanced. A dental check-up every six months gives a dentist the opportunity to spot the early warning signs and treat problems before they’re advanced.

Lifestyle choices for all genders

Here’s the thing: if we go by the mortality statistics in Queensland there is a really good chance that you’re not going to die in your 20s. But a lot of the really common causes of death in Australia are the result of us making decisions about how we live our lives, starting from the choices that are made in our 20s. So if you’re inclined to do a little forward planning and would like to set yourself up for a healthier time in your thirties, forties, and fifties, here’s a shortlist of things to pay attention to.

If you’re a smoker, it’s time to quit

The long-term health benefits of quitting cigarettes now, as opposed to later in life, are considerable. While you start getting the benefits 20 minutes after you quit, it can take years before some of the risk around heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer are reduced.

On the other hand, the long-term health benefits to staying a smoker are…well, non-existent. Visit QUIT HQ to start your quit journey today.

Develop healthy drinking habits

Your 20s are full of opportunities to go out and have fun, but it's also where you set up the base for lifelong habits. This makes your 20s a good time to develop healthy habits around drinking. Not sure if you're drinking at risky levels? Take our quiz to find out more about your relationship with alcohol.

Eat healthy, be physically active, & control your portions

Your 20s are a great time to make sure that you’re making smart choices about what you eat, how much you eat, and how much you move. You’re in a position to set the habits that will carry through to your later life.

Paying attention to what you eat, your portion sizes, and getting a half-hour of exercise each day helps minimise your chances of developing heart disease, bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other unpleasant conditions.

Maintain a healthy work-life balance and develop support networks

Stress is a natural part of everyone’s life in their 20s, but it’s important to realise the difference between normal stress and the point where it’s becoming a problem. One of the best things you can do for your mental health is maintain a healthy work-life balance and develop healthy relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. Create boundaries between your work and your personal life, and prioritise relationships that are built on respect and a willingness to lend one-another support.

Practice safe sex and protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections

There’s a lot of advice about this one out there, so let’s focus on one of the important ones: use condoms when you’re having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Have this conversation with your partners early, when you can, so there’s no confusion about it.

Even if you’re using other contraception methods to avoid pregnancy, use the condoms as well. They’re the only method that protects you against both sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, and you’re always within your rights to say no to sex if you can’t agree on how to have sex safely.

Women’s health

With the general stuff out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the tests that should be on your radar if you’re a woman in your 20s.

Get a cervical screen every five years

All women over 25 should have a cervical screening test every five years. This applies even if you aren't having regular sex, regardless of whether your sexual partners are male or female, and whether you’ve had the HPV vaccine or not.

If you haven't had a cervical screen before and you're feeling a bit nervous, you can read this guide about exactly what happens, step-by-step, at your cervical screening test.

Be breast aware

Breast cancer isn’t common in younger women, but it pays to be breast aware. Get to know the look and feel of your own breasts, and check for any changes. Breast changes to look out for include:

  • a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it's only in one breast
  • a change in the size or shape of your breast
  • a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
  • a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
  • a change in the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling
  • an unusual pain that doesn't go away.

Most breast changes aren’t cancerous, but you should go to see your doctor if you notice a change to make sure.

Men’s health

Right, let’s take a moment to talk through some of the checks and lifestyle conditions you should definitely have on your mind if you’re a young bloke in your 20s.

The good news: it’s a short list. The bad news: the two things on this list have some pretty unpleasant consequences, and cover the things where young men are leading the way in terms of mortality statistics.

Start regularly examining your testicles for any changes

Right, gents, here’s the really, really bad news: testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between 20 and 35 years old, and there’s currently no known way to screen for or prevent testicular cancer.

The burden of checking for this one is all on you, so stand in front of a mirror, then examine each testicle with both hands, gently rolling the testicle between thumb and forefinger to check  for potential warning signs. The stuff to look out for includes:

  • a painless lump or swelling in either testicle
  • a change in how the testicle feels
  • an ache in the lower abdomen or groin
  • a sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum
  • pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum.

If you notice changes or experience any of the above symptoms, go talk to your doctor as soon as you can. This is not one of those situations where you want to take a wait-and-see approach.

Want to learn more about your testicles and testicular health? We've made a whole podcast episode just for you - search for My Amazing Body in your podcast app and head to 'The Testicles' episode, or listen on our website.

No, really, develop your support networks

Let’s put this as plainly as we can – men aren’t great with mental health. In Australia, it’s men who account for 75% of suicides, and suicide is the leading cause of death in young blokes between the age of 15 and 25. Depression is more likely to affect women, but its men who are more likely to die from it.

When it comes to mental health, men are less literate about the specific effects and treatments of mental illness, less likely to seek out help, and they’re more likely to avoid admitting they have problems with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues due to the stigma attached.

Worse, men tend to look towards their romantic relationships for emotional support, rather than friends and family, which can put an increased burden on their partners and leave men vulnerable if the relationship ends.

If you’re a man in your 20s, one of the best things you can do for your long-term health is start building support networks outside of your romantic relationships and start supporting your friends in return. Make sure you’ve got people you can rely upon for emotional support, and places where you feel that you can talk about your feelings without being judged. Get familiar with the effects and treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, and make sure you’re aware of options outside your support network such as Beyond Blue, Headspace, and the Lifeline crisis counselling service.

A final reminder for everyone

No list on the internet is ever going to cover everything you need to know about your health in your 20s, but it can provide you with a good overview of things to keep in mind. When in doubt, consult with your GP and be guided by their advice.

If you’re interested in seeing what you’ll need to be aware of in later decades, here's a decade by decade breakdowns of common health issues for both men and women.

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Last updated: 22 January 2020