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9 healthy habits to start in your 20s

The 40-something version of yourself will thank you later.

A young man holding a spoon for a woman to try the food they have prepared together.
A young man holding a spoon for a woman to try the food they have prepared together.

If you consider mi goreng a food group, can stay out until 3am and wake up hangover-free and find yourself with serious FOMO every time you scroll through your feed, then chances are you’re in your 20s.

However, while being in your 20s can have you pitted as someone who doesn’t need to, or simply doesn’t, care much about their health, we know that you deserve a little more credit. It might not always be at the top of your mind, but you know that it’s important and probably want to start gaining some great lifelong habits that give you better mental and physical wellbeing.

The truth is, what happens to your body later on in your life is dependent on your lifestyle during these formative years.

Here are nine tips that will set you up for a long and healthy future. Trust us, the 40-something version of yourself will thank you later.

1. Prioritise your mental health

Maybe you’ve started a new job. Maybe you have a big event coming up. Maybe you’ve just got a lot on your plate. Whatever the reason, we all feel overwhelmed from time to time. Your 20s can be a challenging time with a lot of conflicting priorities, so taking time for yourself is important, and practicing mindfulness can help you stay calm, sharp and focused.

Did you know that around 19% of folks aged 15 to 24 dealt with anxiety, and 14% faced depression in 2020-21? Mental health bumps are part of life, so reach out to your GP if you notice a change in your mental health.

In case you or someone you know is going through a tough time, remember you're not alone. For emergencies or immediate help, dial triple zero (000). Lifeline is available 24/7 on 13 11 14.

2. Practise safe sex

It might not be the sexiest topic to discuss, but many effective types of contraception don’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections, so always use condoms when sleeping with a new partner. On the other end of the scale, if you’re considering starting a family, see your GP with your partner to get advice on how to prepare for the next stage of your life.

Do you need a prescription for the contraceptive pill? Or, are you keen to get sexual health advice from a doctor without leaving home? We've partnered with to help provide you with online, confidential, text-based consultations for prescriptions delivered straight to your door. Some of the common treatments include hair loss, premature ejaculation, the contraceptive pill and herpes.

3. Get tested

Until now, life might have felt like a never-ending parade of exams, and well, we're throwing in a few more (apologies in advance). It's time to weave regular tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cervical cancer screenings, and blood tests into your routine. These little health check-ins help catch any issues early on, ensuring you stay your healthiest.

To make it easy, we’ve put together a list of health checks that are important for people in their 20s

4. Sweet dreams

It’s not uncommon for sleep to take a back seat to social, work and study commitments during your 20s. But getting enough sleep is important for your mental and physical wellbeing. Try to keep to a regular sleep schedule, avoid excess alcohol (especially before bedtime) and limit caffeinated drinks after lunch to get a good night’s sleep.

Not getting enough shut eye? We've spoken with a range of experts to find out how to have a good slumber.

It may also be time to break up with your phone before bedtime. The artificial blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt your circadian rhythm, tricking your body into thinking it should stay awake. Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist, Aliza Werner-Seidler from the Black Dog Institute recommends you ditch all devices 1-2 hours before bed. If you can’t help a nighttime scroll, switch your phone to night-time or yellow-light mode and pop on the ‘do not disturb’ feature before you fall asleep. 

5. Cook up a storm

Put simply, healthy eating involves eating more fibre, fruit and veggies and less unhealthy fats, salt and sugar. Meals that you prepare for yourself using fresh ingredients are best, but if you do buy packaged foods make sure you check the ingredients. To help, we’ve put together a simple guide to help you understand some of the trickier terms on nutrition labels.

Looking to improve your diet? Have no money for fancy ingredients and no time to cook? nib foundation partner No Money No Time has you covered. Take the Healthy Eating Quiz today to see where you can improve your diet and unlock access to personalised recipes from leading Nutrition and Dietetics experts – all without paying a cent!

6. Move your body

Struggling to find the time to exercise? You don’t have to go on a 10km run or complete back-to-back gym classes to get fit. All you need to do is aim to complete some form of physical activity every day, whether that be a walk with friends, a quick circuit at the gym, a yoga class or choosing to take the stairs instead of the lift at work. A variety of activities and exercise intensities is best.

Looking for inspo? We've got all the tips to help you be active for at least 30 minutes every day.

If you’re time-poor, choose vigorous intensity activities (ones that make you ‘huff and puff’) rather than moderate intensity activities (which take some effort but you can still talk during the activity). This way you can reduce the time you need to exercise to get the same health benefits. Cassey Maynard’s super speedy 10-minute workout is the perfect combination of strength and cardio.

Ideally, aim for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week and muscle strengthening activities twice a week. Any amount of movement is better than none, though. So if you don’t hit these goals every time, you’re still doing your body and mind a big favour. 

Also try to limit the amount of time you spend seated. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, in the car or on the couch, set regular reminders to get up and move around.

If you are new to exercise or have dusted off your runners after a long period of being inactive, it’s best to chat with your GP or health professional who can guide you on how to get started so you don’t harm yourself by going too hard too soon. 

7. Ditch drugs

We’ll keep this short and sharp. It’s no secret that taking illicit drugs and misusing medicines or other substances puts your health at risk. The only truly safe option is to choose not to take anything that’s illegal or not prescribed for you.

8. Rethink that drink

When it comes to alcohol, it’s okay to enjoy a drink or two occasionally – just don’t overdo it. Avoid binge drinking (which is having more than four standard drinks on any one occasion) and limit yourself to two drinks on any day to reduce your risk of alcohol-related illness and injury.

Try to keep in mind the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines to reduce risk of harm from alcohol related disease. So, 10 or fewer standard drinks a week, and no more than four standard drinks a day. (These guidelines are for those who do not deal with or are diagnosed with addiction illnesses. If you need support with alcohol, the Australian Government has curated a list of organisations that offer support, counselling and more). 

9. Vaccinate

This one is pretty simple – to avoid getting the flu, make sure you have an annual flu shot. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their 20s are eligible for free flu vaccinations, as are people with certain health conditions. Depending on where you work, your workplace may offer a free flu vaccine program so it could be worth chatting with your people and culture department to see if you’re eligible.

Related: Everything you need to know about the flu

Is it time for a health cover check-up?

At nib, we’re committed to keeping you at your healthiest, which is why we’ve put together a list of health checks that are important for people in their 20s.

Everyone’s health cover needs are different. To help you understand what level of cover is best suited to you, get in touch with our cover experts today to learn more about what people like you are commonly claiming on and what cover would be the best fit.

The health information shared in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to replace personalised professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It's always a good idea to consult with your doctor or another qualified health professional regarding any symptoms, medical conditions, investigations, or treatments. Additionally, seek their guidance before starting any new healthcare regimen. 

Fact checked by Dr Hamish Black 2024