I'm a millennial who firmly believes that our generation doesn't get the credit we deserve — multiple studies have shown that we prioritize equality, giving back to our communities, volunteering, voting, and entrepreneurship. Many of us are super busy — and as a result, we don't always prioritize or find time to focus on health. So it's not surprising that there are a number of common health mistakes millennials make.
Many of us feel young and healthy enough that we believe it's fine to skip annual doctor's appointments (something I'm guilty of) and approximately 50 percent of millennials don't even have a primary care physician at all, and instead rely on urgent care centers and retail clinics when experiencing a medical problem. In an interview with Bustle, Dr. Jennifer Caudle, Family Physician and Assistant Professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, spoke about the most common mistakes she's observed in the young people she treats. Luckily, we have the power to make simple lifestyle changes that will make us far healthier.
According to Caudle, these are the seven most common health mistakes she consistently observes:
1. Not Going To The Doctor
Caudle tells Bustle that her biggest concern is that many millennials aren't going to the doctor: "Even when we’re healthy, we should go. I often won't see a patient for years — [you should] come in every year."
According to International Business Times, 93 percent of millennials don't schedule yearly preventive visits. But no matter how healthy we feel, we need to schedule those annual visits. Blood work can determine if we're at risk for certain illnesses, have a vitamin deficiency, and so much more. Plus, it's always valuable to know our blood pressure and heart rate — because if it's extremely high or extremely low, we may need to make lifestyle changes.
2. Not Knowing Our Family's Medical History
Caudle also emphasizes the importance of knowing your family's medical history:
As a young adult, it’s hard to really think about bad stuff unless you’re going through it. Young people aren't necessarily thinking abut family medical history. For example, if there's a history of breast cancer or autoimmune diseases in a patient's family history, that changes how I treat a young adult patient and the tests I conduct.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that comprehensive family medical history goes way beyond our parents and siblings. It should include three generations of information — from relatives including aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and cousins. This allows doctors to keep a close eye on symptoms of illnesses that run in the family and schedule more frequent screenings, regardless of our ages. Doctors will also recommend lifestyle changes (such as adopting a healthier diet, exercising more often, or quitting smoking), because it will reduce the patients' risk of developing illnesses like heart disease later in life.
3. Fad Diets
Caudle advises that we should be wary of detoxes and fad diets. "I do a lot of education with my patients about what’s healthy and what’s not. It's unhealthy to only eat carrots for five days because it's the current fad."
She adds that we far too often consider celebrities experts on the topic, when none of their tips have been properly vetted by a medical doctor.
"If you hear of something you might want to try, always talk to your doctor first. Don’t buy anything off the internet. Don’t do a detox because you saw a celebrity who swears by it. Ask your doctor for his or her feedback before you try any fad diet."
Many other doctors have spoken about about the dangers of fad diets, especially detoxes. Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, told The Guardian that our bodies are designed to naturally get rid of toxins in a healthy manner. He explained that our kidneys, liver, skin, even lungs are constantly detoxing. Lona Sandon, a Dallas dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, recently told NBC news that "long-term fasts lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients" and "weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation."
In short, just because celebrities extol the virtues of detoxes and fad diets, they are not experts and we need to talk with our doctors before we make any decisions about changes to our diet.
Caudle also emphasizes to Bustle that sunscreen needs to be worn regularly by everyone — not just the pale folks who will turn lobster red for days if they don't lather up:
"It should be worn by people of all races. Sunscreen is not just for white and light skinned [people]. All people need to limit their amount of time in the sun and always wear sunscreen. Sun not only increases our risk for skin cancer — we now have evidence that sun damage causes signs of aging. By the time you’re 30 or 40, it'll be evident that you baked yourself in your teens."
If you desperately want to look tan, Caudle suggests a spray tan or an at-home lotion that'll give you a tan without harming your skin. Skin cancer is on the rise, and even a slight sunburn increases your risk. What's the best way to prevent this? You guessed it — sunscreen.
5. Not Getting Enough Sleep
It's no secret that many of us brag about how little sleep we get, as if it means that we're the most hardworking, productive, and active members of our friend group. Caudle describes not getting enough sleep with her own hashtag, #CoolNotCool. Here's why:
Sleep is essential to concentration. Our memory is dependent on sleep and our mood is contingent on it. There are also very real risks, like car accidents, when people haven’t slept. Sleep makes you feel good and you’ll function better in school, at work, and driving if you’re well-rested.
We've all had the experience of feeling moody and difficulty concentrating after a sleepless night. But, most alarmingly, the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently provided these disturbing statistics — an estimated 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013 were the result of "drowsy driving." So, lack of sleep doesn't just compromise our own health — it puts others at risk, too.
6. Not Getting Tested For STDs
Caudle also notes that we need to be more vigilant about being tested for STDs (which goes hand-in-hand with our reluctance to go the doctor).
Go into your doctor and have that talk. If you’re sexually active, you should talk to your doctor about how often to get tested and talk about safe sex. Testing is really simple — it only involves going to the doctor and getting blood work. Multiple sex partners increases chances as well. To reduce the risk, I can’t sing the praises of condoms enough. Millennials and young people need to get regular pap smears and get a doctor's answers to the all their questions.
STDs are currently on the rise and less than 50 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 44 have ever been tested for an STD or STI. Every year, 50 percent of people 25 and over will have an STD — and it's a huge problem because many of these individuals don't even know they have one.
7. Ignoring Symptoms of Mental Illness
Not seeking help for mental health issues is a huge problem in people of all ages. Caudle says:
People ignore symptoms they’re having. Being in a funk that you can't shake, jumpiness, and problems at work and in relationships are all warning signs. I tell all patients, especially young adults, that social media is a skewed image — it shows photos of everyone's best days and gives an image of what we think we should do and it creates a lonely feeling.
She also emphasizes that we shouldn't ignore how we're feeling or simply write it off. Caudle adds that young people often worry that she'll talk to their parents or others. "I’m not going to talk about this to anyone. It’s confidential — I’m not calling your job or school. It's mandated by law (HIPPA) and I'm here as a confidential helper."
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only half of people with with a mental disorder receive treatment. This has an effect on all aspects of our lives, including physical health, job security, and a lower life expectancy. So, millennials and people of all ages shouldn't be afraid to seek treatment — it will improve mental and physical health, as well as overall quality of life.