Ever asked an older person what their biggest regrets are in life? It tends to be a particularly soulful (and oftentimes heart-wrenching) question, with the most common answers revolving around time spent with loved ones and seeing more of the world. In other words, our most common regrets later in life are usually a series of missed chances.
Then there are actual mistakes, the things we absolutely regret doing (or not doing). Those mistakes, not surprisingly, tend to be related to our health. And the most dangerous usually occur before our 40th birthday even hits.
From skin to family planning to pesky, dangerous habits, here are seven of the biggest health-related mistakes that women tend to their 20s and 30s—and how to rectify them.
Using an indoor tanning bed (even for just a short period of time)
Although super tan skin has thankfully been slowly going out of style in recent years, jumping into a bed to brown your skin, even a little, can have seriously dangerous repercussions on your health. “People might think that their skin looks better with a tan, but it’s not worth the risk,” says Margaret Ravits, MD. “The harmful rays from the ultraviolet radiation can lead to premature aging and cancer.”
She adds, “Those who have ever tanned indoors, even once, have a 69 percent higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma before age 40,. More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning.”
Not taking action with your heart health
Our hearts are arguably the most critical component to keeping us alive, and according to One Medical’s Natasha Bhuyan, MD, we should be continuously monitoring our heart health. But not in the way you think.
“People should value their heart health and monitor their blood pressure, but the most important factor in keeping our hearts healthy for longer is making smart, long- and short-term choice regarding exercise and diet,” she says.
Opt for plenty of fish, nuts, berries and heart-pounding cardio (instead of burgers and Netflix binges), and you should be in good shape post-40.
The only skin-related mistake worse than tanning in an indoor bed, according to Dr. Ravits? Spending time in the natural sun sans SPF.
“People assume the sun (Vitamin D) is good for your skin. What they don’t realize is that sun exposure can cause skin damage, wrinkles, brown spots and, in the worst cases, skin cancer,” she says. “So even if you are going for a quick job, ride or to run an errand up the street, always wear SPF 30+ sunscreen, even on cloudy days.”
And as Dr. Ravits explains, reapplication throughout the day is a must. “Sunscreen needs time to activate, so it’s best to apply it 30 minutes before you leave the house and then reapply every two hours, especially if you get wet or sweaty,” she advises. “Take a bottle of SPF 30 or highere sunscreen in your bag. And don’t forget to protect your lips with a lip balm with an SPF or 15 or higher.”
Not planning seriously for a family
Between work, managing a social life, maintaining your health and remembering to feed your cat, it can be difficult to process the notion of being solely responsible for another life in your 20s and even early 30s. But according to Sarah Yamaguchi, MD and OB/GYN, the age at which our bodies are most fertile hasn’t changed much since our cave-dwelling days.
“Women are putting off children for longer and longer and seem to forget that the older you are, the harder it is to get pregnant and carry a normal pregnancy to term,” she explains. “Be realistic with yourself. If you think having biological children is extremely important to you, but not until you are in your 40s, then consider egg retrieval. It’s expensive, but worth your money. Not many women can get pregnant in their 40s.”
Some people swear that popping whiteheads is a surefire way to get rid of them entirely. Don’t trust those people. “It can be so annoying to see that zit sitting on your face, but you need to resist the urge to pick it,” Dr. Ravits says. “If you pick it or squeeze it, you can permanently scar your skin. Your best bet is to see a board-certified dermatologist who can prescribe a strong, effective medication that will help your zits heal without lasting scars.”
Not getting breast cancer screenings when you are at high risk
If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, not getting a screening from a doctor is a serious, serious mistake, says Dr. Yamaguchi.
“For most women, breast cancer screening starts at 40 years old at the earliest. But if you are at a higher risk for breast cancer, that screening should begin earlier,” she says. “The most common reason is a family history where a first-degree relative had breast cancer at an early age.”
Neglecting your brain
According to Dr. Bhuyan, maintaining your health before your 40th birthday hits isn’t just about your physical body, it’s about caring for your mental state, too. “Depression and anxiety and common but overlooked medical issues. This can disrupt your relationships, job, and social activities. This goes hand in hand with having a primary care provider. That partner in health can manage your mental health needs and concerns, too.”