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Lifelong good health starts young

​​It's the defining decade in life. How you live in your 20s can define your future, particularly when it comes to your long-term health.

As you take over responsibility for your health care, you can help shape a long, healthy future by establishing a relationship with a primary care provider who can partner with you in your care.

"The greatest health risk for young adults is the notion that you're young and should have your whole life ahead of you," said Maria Alvarez, M​.D.​​, a family medicine physician at Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center. "You may be less concerned about your health, because our culture teaches you not to think about becoming ill or dying. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take care of yourself. Actions you take now can affect your health when you're older."

Your well-child visit can become a well-adult visit.

"A yearly wellness visit is no longer about how much you've grown. It's an opportunity to talk with your doctor and take advantage of some health counseling," Dr. Alvarez said. "The conversation may cover seemingly mundane actions such as eating, fitness, social habits and lifestyle. But each contributes to overall health later in life."

Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll used to be the biggest health concerns for young people. Although those activities can still create health problems, the list is longer now and includes high alcohol consumption and eating too much. Young adults are bigger, taller and wider, which has long-term health implications.

"Younger adults are heavier than their predecessors," Dr. Alvarez said. "If the trend continues, heart disease and diabetes will appear at younger and younger ages with more complications. You may feel fine today, but that doesn't mean you'll be fine when you are your mother's age. Good health can go away over time if you're not eating a balanced diet and staying active."

Age 18-29 is a span in life that's light on recommended health screenings. A cholesterol screen is recommended every five years unless you have a family history that indicates a need for screening more often. A pap smear to test for cervical cancer is recommended for women starting at age 21, regardless of whether you're sexually active.

"These are the years to learn about your insurance coverage and understand what health care services and options are available," Dr. Alvarez said. "Take advantage of preventive care including yearly eye exams and regular dental check-ups, and become more like a consumer when making choices and decisions about your care. When you buy a pair of jeans you look at the value, price and quality. Similarly, find out what's available to you for health care services."

For parents of young adults, a role still exists.

"Keep communication lines open. Even when they're grown, it's helpful to talk with your children about health problems," Dr. Alvarez said. "You can help facilitate health care appointment scheduling and encourage your son or daughter to get checked."