Love Your Age — Damn the Decades

gold cupcakes

20s & 30s
Tune in to your cycle. Your menstrual cycle may be flowing like clockwork now, but premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a common issue for young women–particularly those who are under a lot of stress. To feel your absolute best, take steps to keep this monthly nuisance from derailing your life. "You can often control PMS with lifestyle measures," says Tori Hudson, N.D., author of Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd Edition (McGraw Hill). "Getting regular exercise and minimizing caffeine, sugar and alcohol will help." If you’re having more than just an occasional cramp or breast tenderness–or perhaps your lifestyle is less than optimal–you may need to add a supplement to manage PMS, Hudson says. "Look for a combination formula that contains nutrients proven to offset PMS: vitamin B6, calcium, St. John's wort, chaste tree berry, chromium and gamma–linoleic acid from either borage or evening primrose oil." Get them all in Vitanica Women's Phase I ($16 for 60 capsules; evitamins.com), designed by Hudson for young women with PMS.
Set (pretty) good eating habits. The best move you can make to assure a happy, long life is to adopt a healthy diet early—not only for a rockin' body but also for strong bones, a robust immune system and for a host of other healthy benefits. "Your body is forgiving in your 20s and 30s—you can eat junk food, stay up late and party, and get away with it," says Alice Domar, Ph.D., director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham, Mass and co–author with Susan Love, M.D., of Live a Little!: Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health (Crown). "But the habits you set now will be hard to break later. Establish a healthy routine in your 20s and you'll be more likely to do the right things in your 50s."
The good–health basics are simple: Stick to whole foods and eat mostly plants. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables every day. Forgo processed foods and drive–through windows. But don't get too uptight about it either says Domar. "Don't get too hung up on the 'rules,'" she says. "You don't have to perfect. Just aim for a 'pretty healthy' diet. That is doable at any age."
Go with the flow. This is the time of life when energy is highest and the body is most forgiving. Enjoy it, says Lewis. "It is a time of vibrancy, and you don't want to hold back life's flow—if you do, you'll create obstruction in the body, which can lead to problems like ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome." To stay healthy and happy, pay attention to where your life is leading you—and to the inner voice that will tell you when it's best to go along for the ride.
"I rarely tell women in their 20s or 30s to meditate—that would be like holding back a fountain," Lewis says. Instead, Lewis recommends instituting a daily period of reflection and journaling. "The point is to see where life is leading you, so ask yourself questions," she says. Use the journal to release emotional snarls, and refer back to it to help chart your course as you become who you are truly meant to be.

Take care of yourself, mama. It's a good thing these are the decades of high energy and vibrancy, because it's also when most women become mothers and are faced with the tall task of juggling children, careers, husbands and homemaking. Ideally, there'd be plenty of downtime. But if you find it tough to snag a shower let alone a chunk of "me–time," take an adaptogenic herb, says Rosemary Gladstar, the Vermont–based author of Herbal Healing for Women (Fireside). "Rhodiola rosea counteracts the depletion that comes from being overextended in your 20s and 30s." Take 200 to 400 milligrams a day in the morning on an empty stomach. Gladstar likes Mountain Rose Herbs Rhodiola Root Capsules ($9.25 for 100 440- milligram capsules; mountainroseherbs.com).
Build your bones. In our 20s, we think of ourselves as being all grown-up, but in truth our bodies are still developing throughout our 30s. "In early adulthood, you're still building bone mass," explains Carol Krucoff, ERYT, a yoga therapist and practitioner at Duke Integrative Medicine in North Carolina and co-author (with husband Mitchell Krucoff, M.D.) of Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise (Harmony Books). To build strong bones, Krucoff says, you need to do weight-bearing activity and strength training. "The higher impact the activity, the greater the effect on the bones," she explains. "Focus on activities like running, jumping and plyometrics. Racquet sports are particularly good—you're jumping around after the ball, and every time you hit it, you're sending a wave of impact up the arm and through the body." Intimidated by the weight room at the gym? Remind yourself that in addition to boosting your still-developing bone mass, building muscle will also keep your metabolism revved up and help you burn more calories—even when you're sedentary.