20, 21 years (female)
Try to eat 3 healthy meals a day and make this a habit for life. Your performance in school and at work and even during your free-time activity still depends on your diet. Even if you feel you're done growing, you still need 3-4 foods a day high in calcium to support the completion of your bone density and continued bone strengthening. Also, 2-3 iron-rich foods a day are still recommended to support your blood. Read food labels to see how much fiber you need and how much you are actually getting — fiber is known to prevent colon cancer and heart disease.
Avoid the "traps" that often affect people your age out on their own. Junk foods taste great but can deprive your body of what it really needs and can put on the excess weight (as can alcohol). Also, avoid habits that will be tough to break later on, such as always eating in a rush or in front of the TV, or eating when stressed or while studying.
If you are unhappy with your appearance or performance, take a good look at your eating and see what you could change. There is no vitamin or "energy" supplement nearly as good as just eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly. This becomes even more important if you are a college student or at a job where you feel you are not as active as you used to be (or would like to be).
See your dentist every six months for regular cleanings and exams.
Keeping your body on a fairly regular wake/sleep schedule (even on weekends) will help you get the sleep you need. Try not to save all of your "think time" or studying for bedtime — it often delays falling asleep.
Always wear your seatbelt in the car and your helmet when biking or in- line skating. NO ONE thinks an accident will happen to them.
Wear sunscreen if you are outside. A great tan is not worth cancer.
Take your body seriously. Tobacco, drugs, and irresponsible alcohol use change lives, and usually not for the better. Far too many adults have regrets about past decisions they wish they could change. If you feel you have made a past mistake, re-contract with yourself and make better future decisions.
Delay sex until you're truly emotionally ready for this step. If you already are sexually active, or planning to be, be smart and responsible. If you have questions or concerns about sex, your sexuality, HIV, pregnancy, or STDs, please talk with another adult whom you trust and respect.
If you live away from home and return for a visit, expect that your parents will still want to know where you are and who you're with (yes, they have their own adjustments to make regarding your independence at home!).
More injuries occur in unorganized sports ("pick-up games" or "a quick jog") than ever before. Warm-up and stretch well before any exercise.
Continue to prioritize your demands — the ones you place on yourself as well as the ones others place on you. You will find that balancing all the parts of your life (including your free time) is the key. Try to talk to your family frequently, even if by phone. You may be surprised by how many more agreements you have now!
This can be a fabulous, and stressful, time. On one hand, increasing independence and decision-making power is great. On the other hand, stresses of school and money, lack of familiar support, and increasing responsibilities and uncertainty can take their toll. If you find yourself getting stressed out more than you feel you should or can reasonably handle, please talk to someone. A friend, parent, favorite professor or coach, counselor, or health care provider can offer support and help.
Social, Family, & School
Your body will continue to "proportion" itself and strengthen muscles and bones. It is recommended that all young women now have routine pelvic exams (regardless of sexual history); your health care provider will then check your reproductive system more closely and screen you for cervical cancer. It is also recommended that you start routine monthly breast exams.
This is a good time to start making your own health appointments (if you haven't already) and looking into an adult health clinic. Be sure you have a copy of your health history (including vaccines) as you move away from home. We recommend yearly physicals. Please call with any concerns you have about yourself.