What practices have at the most effect on your health, for better or worse?
October 14, 2008 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What are a few significant things you wish you did when you were younger that you believe would have helped better preserve your mental and physical health? What are a few significant things you did do in the past that you now see paying dividends?

I know aging is a complex dance of genetics, childhood circumstances, diet, good habits, bad habits, and myriad other factors. I know where to find hard data about the positive effects of exercise, doing crossword puzzles, maintaining a social network, etc. As I lay out a "healthy life plan" in my early twenties, it would be great to know more personal experiences, whether they're of regret or relief, and to see if there's anything that would make me massively re-prioritize my efforts.

For example, do you attribute your great teeth to thirty years of flossing? Did running end up hurting your knees more than it helped your health? Do you you have inexplicable mental acuity in the face of a family history of deterioration because of a voracious book-reading habit? Do you wish you ate more vegetables or swam twice a week? Did the hip surgery pay off? If you could give your age (or approximate for privacy's sake) and the length of time you sustained the good or bad habits that would also be extremely helpful.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (41 answers total)
My mother — in her mid-fifties — said she started taking skincare very seriously starting in her twenties, especially with respect to daily moisturizing. She has lovely skin, much younger-looking than that of either of her rather younger sisters, so maybe she's right in attributing it to her skincare routine. (Also, Mom says: always, always, always wash your face before bed.)
posted by adiabat at 10:20 AM on October 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

I thought school was about getting good marks. Wrong. It's about learning how to make friends. I have never ever gotten a job based on my high school average- or even based on what university I attended. I get all my jobs based on who I know or how personable/confidence-worthy I can be in an interview, so I wish I had started amassing lasting friendships and sparkling social skills earlier in life.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:23 AM on October 14, 2008 [38 favorites]

People cannot be trusted. Sad but true. :(

I also like Pseudostrabismus's answer. The intersection of smartest people I know and those who have been 'most successful' (in terms of wealth/career) is pretty small.
posted by rokusan at 10:24 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Staying out of the sun as a (somewhat gothy) teenager seems to have paid off handsomely -- I have far fewer lines than the friends who mocked me for covering up in the sun back then. Yay, skincare!

Learning a foreign language (or two, or three) has gotten me jobs, and gotten me in the door on jobs I maybe wouldn't have otherwise...it's also a great way to stretch the brain.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:31 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Skin. Nthing staying out of the sun. I finally got no-sun religion, by around age 30 or so, but by then I'd had my share of suntans and sunburns. Wear sunscreen or stay out of the sun every day.

Dental care. I have taken care of my teeth and I am so glad. For me that means cleanings three times per year, a Sonicare toothbrush, and various levels of flossing.

Language skills. If I could do my younger life over again, I would take Spanish and really learn it. Do a semester or two in a Spanish-speaking country. Instead I floated from language to language, and never mastered or retained any.

Education and first jobs. I am so happy that I got my education and my low-paying difficult but important first jobs done as a young adult when I had lots of energy and drive. (I mean, I still have (some) energy and drive, but it's way easier to do education and first jobs as a younger adult, at least for me.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:39 AM on October 14, 2008

I smoked for 15 years or thereabouts, and quit cold turkey on 9/3/93, when I was just getting ready to turn 33 years old. I got tired of waking up and coughing a lung out each morning. I have never regretted it.
I became a vegetarian on 1/1/95, and have never regretted it either. I just need to remember that there IS such a thing as being an unhealthy vegetarian. Because hey - cheese pizza is vegetarian, but crap for your health.

I would highly recommend that you (or anyone) consider these two things.
Definitely long term dividends.

Hope this helps!
posted by willmize at 10:39 AM on October 14, 2008

What pseudostrabismus said.

I also wish I'd learned to dance. I still can (and have) but it's a hard, uphill slog because when I was a kid I was encouraged to study and not bother with all that superficial physical stuff, like sports and dancing. I have bad coordination because of it, I think. It literally takes me 5-10 times longer than other people to teach my body to do something. (Oddly, this often bothers the person teaching me more than it bothers me- they take it as their failing.) I didn't learn even the most basic things about sports or sports injuries so when something happens I tend to panic too much. Athletics is a strange new world to be just entering in your late 30s.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:41 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few positive things jump to mind:

Joining the swim team, which has instilled in me a lifelong love of exercise and fitness.

Becoming a beach life guard, which exposed me to death at a pretty young age and has subsequently left me very cool under pressure.

Buying an old car that required constant repairs, which gave me the skill and confidence (some would say hubris) to tackle major problems on my own.
posted by saladin at 10:42 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

- Save money now. The money you save now is worth a lot more than what you'll save in the future.
- Travel. It's good for your brain and it gets much harder when you have kids or have a full time job with only a handful of days off.
- Establish an adult-to-adult relationship with your parents. This isn't possible for everyone, but I've found it to be really rewarding to be able to talk to my parents as people, not authority figures. They know a lot and it's easier to access their experience when it comes as advice and not sounding like an order.
- Learn how to cook well and on a budget. It will save you money, keep you eating healthy food, and help you woo the opposite sex.
- Pay attention to grammar and proofread. It makes you look much better, especially in any educational or business setting. It's much harder to establish good writing hygiene later in life. (Mefi postings made on the sly during the workday are exempt of course.)
posted by Alison at 10:48 AM on October 14, 2008 [10 favorites]

In college I was a history and political science double major from a small town who really had no inkling of what I wanted to do, since I never figured I could make a living in my field of passion, which was photography.

In my junior year, I was arm twisted into taking an acting class by a couple of close friends in order to have enough warm bodies to make the course available. I hated every minute of it. I got into a few shouting matches with the instructor and really disliked him at the time.


That class was far and away the key to my ability to ultimately make my living as a photographer. It helped me come out of my shell, loosen my inhibitions, and be more at ease around strangers.

At more than a few of my corporate photo shoots I feel the need to provide as much entertainment as I can in order to relax my subjects, and I owe my ability to do so to the acting class.

Looking back, the guy who taught me did me more of a favor than he ever realized and was one of the most influential people in my life.
posted by imjustsaying at 10:48 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

In their favor, though, I am healthy as a horse despite living badly in my twenties. I attribute this to my parent's insistance irritatingly "slow foods, " back-to-the-land, no refined sugar, etc. diet when I was a kid. I attribute my great teeth to drinking milk from our own animals (so not flash pasteurized, etc). No data available yet on the bones but they seem fine.

Also, we had very limited access to TV when I was a kid and I became a voracious reader, which I'm grateful for because it gives me access to a much wider selection of way of seeing the world. Sometimes that hasn't been helpful, but I'm grateful for it anyway.

I don't know if this is what you're asking for, but I'm actually grateful my parents were so mismatched. I can see two nearly diametrically opposed approaches to the world as equally valid. I'm also grateful that my parents were counterculture. I got to see the pluses and minuses of seeing the world that way.

On preview: what Alison said: travelling at age 18 changed me for the better in a very fundamental way. I don't think it would have worked as well if I'd waited. It was presented as a frivolous and bourgeois thing to be able to do, but I think it's vital and should be part of everyone college education. Guess what? Other ways of thinking and living really do work! And sometimes are even superior to how you think and work! It was a stunning revelation.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:55 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Relax. Don't be too busy. If you have to cut things from your life to find more time, cut it from work if at all possible.

Drink, in moderation.

Cook food from scratch rather than relying on anything that comes in a box.

Exercise, but also learn to listen to your body....some types of pain should not be worked through.

Maybe the most important, IMO: Live in a place that lets you (if not forces you to) walk a lot. Nothing keeps the body functional like walking does. That means living within a couple of miles of your office.
posted by paanta at 10:57 AM on October 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

I have great teeth that I routinely get compliments about, and my parents were hyper vigilant about our dental care. I was adopted from a country without a fluoridated water supply when I was 18 months old; I had parasites, low birth weight, and horrible baby teeth. I have all these faint fuzzy childhood memories of hours and hours at the dentist's. But it paid off. I had so much work done on my freshly sprung adult teeth, and they're straight and bright and strong and beautiful. The dentist I saw even used me (with my mom's permission, of course) as a case study in a paper for a dentist's journal about how much a third world mouth can be turned around with early treatment and fluoridation. I want to get a sonicare toothbrush to maintain my smile now, in my 20s.

I think the fact my parents were awesome about our diets helped too--not in some prepackaged health food crap way, but in that my mother always cooked us real, solid meals from scratch that were a good balance of all the food groups. I still firmly believe balance in diet is more important than anything else--which is partly why I don't believe in restrictive diets much. My entire family is strong, resistant to disease, and glows with health, and I think it's because we ate all sorts of things, all the time. I think "real," substantial food is better for you than prepackaged, overprocessed diet/lite food.

It's too obvious and easier said than done, but I personally think having access to true wilderness helped shape me growing up. I mean, gyms are nice and all if they're the only way you're going to get any exercise at ALL--but if it's possible I really think actual labor in an honestly different, wild, and natural space does a lot for mental reflection and health as well as physical well being. I long for the time I spent when I was younger swimming in oceans and lakes, hiking craggy mountainous areas of Vermont, trekking across dunes, wandering around forests and climbing trees, skiing across frozen lakes and snowy fields, rafting across rapids, riding horses, and milking cows in the summertime. I miss the way the air tastes in environments like that. It makes me feel alive in a way nothing in the city can.

I also don't think people relax OR work hard enough in the right ways. Most people have desk jobs or whatnot, and yes of course they need to relax mentally, or in the eye strain sort of way, sure. But it seems like few people ever get their heart racing out of purely physical exhilaration. I find if you test yourself physically every once in a while, your body rewards you with the ability to relax and feel serene afterward in a deep, all-consuming way office stress just can't summon. I think our bodies (and minds for that matter) are meant to have cycles where we test our bodies' limits and then lapse gently and deeply back into homeostasis, and the jobs modern city-dwellers have don't accommodate this.
posted by ifjuly at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2008 [11 favorites]

And if I could favorite pseudostrabismus' comment a thousand times, I would. Nothing has been a bigger slap in the face to me growing up than realizing what he's talking about. I worked so hard in school I could barely see straight. I never slept and my adolescence was homework and nothing else--I didn't fall in love or make lasting friendships because I was too busy taking 2 years' worth of college credits in high school. I don't regret it entirely because I love the things I learned for their own sake, truly. However, I know now none of it mattered when it comes to a successful job outside of academia, because I didn't make social connections or learn how to be versatile and "bounce back." Grades mean much less than people believe. In the time I've now spent out of school, I feel like I've learned so many invaluable life lessons, and only wish I had been exposed to them earlier. School is not everything, not by a mile.
posted by ifjuly at 11:25 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

One doesn't not have to suffer to be/get in shape. Just walk. Walk, walk ,walk, walk, walk. Yes, it may take LONGER to get in shape... but if you walk an hour a day 4-6 times a week - you'll be in shape, sleep better, won't be interested in crappy foods etc etc.

Also, just take it easy and like others say here == relax == - there's very little worth getting in a huff for...
posted by mrmarley at 11:28 AM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

I wish I had recognized the importance of fiber in one's diet sooner.

If you had asked this three days ago, I wouldn't have posted this. Despite being thirty-seven, I still thought of myself as "young" (as opposed to "middle-aged") three days ago. As in, not paying a whole lot of attention to what my diet should be, outside of limiting total calories. As recently as last year I was poking fun at my parents for their whole-grain breads and breakfast cereals that all had "bran" somewhere in their names.

Two days ago, I developed a hemorrhoid--one of those maladies which, in my mind, brands one irrevocably as "middle-aged." Turns out these, at least the external variety like I have, are intensely painful. And, suddenly interested in this medical topic which I was barely aware of before, I did a bit of research and find that insufficient fiber in one's diet increases the risk for these (not to mention other undesirable conditions). And that, the way I had been eating, I probably wasn't getting enough fiber.

Of course, no one can say for sure I wouldn't have gotten a hemorrhoid even with a better diet. Still, I now wish I had recognized the importance of fiber sooner. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
posted by Gregor Samsa at 11:34 AM on October 14, 2008

Yes yes yes! On the access to wilderness.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:39 AM on October 14, 2008

willmize said: Because hey - cheese pizza is vegetarian, but crap for your health.

Unless it's vegetarian, non-rennet-using cheese, it's not vegetarian.

That aside, I agree with willmize --- quitting smoking and eliminating meat from my diet both improved my life significantly. Also replacing Diet Coke with water, holy moly I felt so much better within a day.

One thing I did at age 40 that I am so glad I did was learn a practical skill I could do with my hands. I was always book-smart and that has served me well and I feel very grateful for the opportunities it presented, but working with my hands gives me a whole different kind of satisfaction that feels much deeper and more real somehow. Working in real-time sans monitors & keyboards is very healthy IMO.

I regret believing the people in my family who told me I wasn't worth it, no matter what "it" was. I regret wasting a lot of time and effort trying to convince them otherwise.
posted by headnsouth at 11:45 AM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I wish I hadn't thought that English majors couldn't or needn't exercise.

I wish I'd known how abruptly your twenties end and how quickly afterward you wake up one day and you have a fat ass and have to spend years working it off. Seriously, years.

Other than that, your body at twenty is amazingly resilient and can take a lot of cigarette smoking and alcohol use and still spring back.

But when you look at thirty...someday you'll open the door and it'll be there in a pair of indoor pants and a desire to spend Saturday afternoon at Target. When that happens, you look that fucker dead in the eye and DO NOT FLINCH my friend. Put the Doritos back on the shelf. Realize good beer usually carries two hundred calories a bottle. Pull it together.

But in your twenties? Floss. Go to the dentist. Otherwise, really, knock yourself out. That's the whole point.

Oh, and stay away from credit cards.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:46 AM on October 14, 2008 [15 favorites]

All good advice; personal anecdote: When we purchased our home, we did not decide to buy the most expensive one we could afford, as many people suggested. We purchased the most expensive one that we could afford on one salary. Is it the biggest one on the block?-no. Do we sometimes regret not spending the extra $$ to get one more room, or a bigger kitchen, or a larger bedroom?--oh yes. Did we panic when my wife lost her job?--no. In fact, we decided that she should take a year off and spend it with our then young children; which was priceless (can't measure those dividends). No fear of losing the home, no rush to get another job, a stressfree (relatively) event in our lives. Now if we both lost our jobs at the same time.....

In retrospect, buying the smaller house was a very good decision; and the lesson here is when you are making large financial decisions, make them so that you can sleep at night.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:47 AM on October 14, 2008 [19 favorites]

Oh: try to avoid drunken sex. Partly because of the whole disease/pregnancy/bad judgment thing, but mainly: drunken sex is almost always lousy sex. If you're going to do it drunk, it's kind of not worth doing unless you're in a long term thing and then it's just one of those things you'll occasionally do together, like order and share an enormous regrettable pizza.

If you find yourself in the position to do some crazy sex thing that's going to be a lot of fun and be the memory you savor when you're an old guy surrounded by all your old guy friends, do it mostly sober.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:55 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm 47, sturdy, and energetic.

What I'm glad I did early:
  • Eat vegetables and little processed food
  • Learned to dance--great not only for exercise but for social and musical skills
  • Developed practical skills (home repair, etc.)--made me more active, more confident about big projects that build muscle and use my brain
  • Learned Spanish thoroughly--fun for the brain
  • Got out of debt--great for reducing anxiety as well as job-related stress
  • Built a super-efficient house that's really cheap to live in--ditto
  • Rode my bike a lot instead of driving--it became a habit
  • Had no children--would have been stressful for this introvert who likes a quiet, tidy home
  • Stopped going to doctors for every little thing--I can now recognize and ward off various problems before they get expensive, and I know which herb does what
What I wish I had done sooner:
  • Stay in shape. I got flabby and getting rid of flab in middle age is hell.
  • Eat more protein and less carb. I was a depressed vegetarian for more than 20 years. When I started eating meat, I perked right up.
  • Start my own business--I wasted too many years being stressed, bored, and underpaid by employers. My own business now keeps me sharp and innovative. I can feel the synapses forming.
  • Learn more languages. I want to try living abroad but have found out that I don't fit well in Latin cultures. This time I'll pick the culture, then learn the language.
  • Save more money--I'd feel less pressure now.

posted by PatoPata at 11:56 AM on October 14, 2008 [12 favorites]

I just realized you're maybe not a guy.

Everything still applies.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2008

As a kung fu student for almost 2 years, martial arts have emerged as something I am now pretty invested in that I can't imagine living without. It's a valve that has kept excess stress, restlessness, and fatigue away. I can already see evidence of what it will wind up giving me as far as confidence, clarity, strength, and proprioception go.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 12:18 PM on October 14, 2008

Prioritize your own happiness. When I was 21 I quit going to school full-time and took my first tech industry job as an adult (I had done internships since I was 18). For the next three years I toiled away, I was on call 24x7 (frequently utilized), I was always behind on work, my successes went unnoticed and my failures were constantly harped upon. And I was paid really badly. Through all this I developed a strange sense of obligation to my employer, and I was really miserable and depressed about my job, but I felt like it was all my fault.

At some point, impartial third parties started to tell me that I was incredibly overworked and underpaid. I didn't see it this way because I had never known anything else. But after getting more and more upset about the situation, without any initiative from management to help me out, I finally had a little meltdown at work when the CEO yelled at me for coming in late (9:30am) after I had been awake from 3-5am troubleshooting for a customer. I finally resolved to quit.

Since that time I've put a very high value on my own happiness. Those years at that shit job infected the rest of my life with angst, and it was really unpleasant. These days it's incredibly important to me that my job be a generally enjoyable part of my life, with reasonable hours and pay, and lots of opportunity to learn and advance myself. When those things start to fall away, I immediately start looking for the next opportunity. At the same time, those first three years taught me to work hard, work efficiently, and never take a good job for granted. They've supplied me with no end of little anecdotes to tell interviewers and such, and I never forget where I came from.

The moral of my story is, work hard, but don't be a slave. Don't be tricked into believing in silly ideas of loyalty to your employer and a need to subjugate your own happiness or desires for their gain. You will always be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. It's a big, amazing, beautiful world out there. Try not to spend all of the best years in a cubicle, under the harsh glare of the fluorescent tubes.
posted by autojack at 12:34 PM on October 14, 2008 [31 favorites]

I'm in my twenties myself, but I still think I have advice to offer!

Fall in love for real, and get your heart broken. This teaches you how to handle relationships, makes you value the good ones, and hopefully will encourage you to get out of the bad ones early.

Get organized, or every move will be a nightmare. Learn to pare down your stuff and declutter, and live with only what you really need. This helps to keep you out of debt, too.

Value people above anything else.
posted by purplecurlygirl at 1:16 PM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm 32, healthy and content. Here are (some of!) my tips for women in their twenties:

  • Use sunscreen every day, don’t use soap, drink a litre of water every day, and moisturise using a cream suitable for baby skin (such as Sorbolene).

  • Cycle for an hour at least three times a week, stick to the recommended caloric intake for your BMI per day by eating fresh, nutritious food, use public transport as much as possible, learn to love walking again, and measure weight loss by whether you can fit into your clothes (not by scales.)

  • Make friends with your parents and siblings, strive to forgive feelings of betrayal and abandonment, and treat them as well as the people you’ve chosen to love. Aim to always be your best self with them, and if you have to, seek professional help as soon as you realise you haven’t found peace with them. They won’t always be there.

  • If you’re not a mother in your thirties but you’d like to be, get your fertility tested. If you’re single and doctors won’t test your fertility, tell them you’re in a relationship -- it can mean the difference between having and not having children (I know.) Don’t bury your head in your sand about your biology, face up to it and plan around it accordingly.

  • Realise that it’s OK to want a man, and it’s OK not to want a man, but your twenties are when you’re most desirable to most men (I wish I’d paid attention to this!) You are not a media construct, and you are more desirable than you think you are -- instead of looking back on old photos only to realise the beauty you had, realise it now and embrace your uniqueness. There will never be another person like you.

  • Really, truly listen to your instincts with regards to men, marriage, and mothering: the urge to fit in shapeshifts, and it’s stronger than you think. Don’t settle, but do be realistic. In your twenties you have <2>60 years to meet your soulmate (read that again and prioritise -- then question whether soulmates are found or made.)

  • Someone you know has a crush on you right now and is hoping that you’ll notice.

  • Buy fewer things of better quality, determine whether each purchase is a want or a need, never own a credit card, draw up a monthly budget that you can stick to, and save up for items instead of taking out loans. Build your internal self-worth so you’re not tempted to seek it outside yourself with status objects, and save 10% of your income for that rainy day (because trust me, it will come.) When you start to earn a regular wage visit a financial adviser -- no matter what your income you can benefit from one.

  • Don’t overlook financial planning. You live longer, are likely to be paid less, and will likely have less retirement savings due to time out of the workforce. You may end up single through divorce or bereavement -- consider this, and realise that considering it doesn’t mean you’re willing it to happen, it means you're looking after yourself.

  • Try to maximise your earning potential before you have children, even if it means working for gleaming capitalist machines. Don’t underestimate the demands that pregnancy, birthing, breastfeeding, and childraising will take on your ability to work -- seek realistic advice from parents (e.g. review their daily schedule, particularly the mother's contribution to paid and unpaid work) before you decide to have children.

  • If you want to stay home to raise your children but you think you can’t afford to, forgo your annual holidays, sell your plasma television, shop in thrift stores, live frugally, nix eating out, and rent (yes, rent) during the first years of their lives. You need much, much less than you think you do -- and if it's what you want, through temporary financial frugality, you'll gain much, much more.

  • If you don't want to stay home to raise your children, that's OK too.

  • People will always judge you for something no matter how you live your life -- so take a deep breath, hold your head high, drown out the syncopation of society, and follow the beat of your own drum.

  • posted by elke at 3:44 PM on October 14, 2008 [33 favorites]


  • In your twenties you have less than 20 years to have children, but more than 60 years to meet your soulmate (read that again and prioritise -- then question whether soulmates are found or made.)

  • posted by elke at 3:47 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

    A man was at the doctor's for his annual physical. As they wound things up he asked, "So Doc, am I going to live to a hundred?"

    The doctor looked at him for a moment, then asked, "Well, do you smoke?"



    "Socially, and only in moderation."

    "Do you use illegal drugs?"


    "Eat a lot of fatty red meat or greasy fried foods?"


    "Any dangerous hobbies, like motorcycle riding or skydiving?"


    "Do you stay up late all the time, partying and carousing?"

    "Uh, no."

    "Do you have casual, unprotected sex with a variety of partners?"

    "I should say not!"

    "Well then, why do give a shit if you live to be a hundred?"

    The point, dear Shroedinger (note the similarity), is that no one here has suggested what is probably the most important thing: live a little. Keep your sense of humor, take a few well-considered risks, skip your first marriage (but jump headlong into your second, once you've got a little living under your belt). Dance if you really enjoy it, but remember, dancing is a primitive mating ritual. If you're going to mate, mate. Live, love, laugh (especially at yourself), travel, eat some scary foods, learn to appreciate good wine and good people.

    Have you ever seen a gravestone that said, "Wish I'd have flossed more regularly?"
    posted by dinger at 4:13 PM on October 14, 2008 [14 favorites]

    "Stopped going to doctors for every little thing--I can now recognize and ward off various problems before they get expensive, and I know which herb does what"

    Here's one: don't eat herbs instead of going to the doctor.
    posted by borkingchikapa at 4:35 PM on October 14, 2008 [7 favorites]

    I studied Spanish in high school and college, lived abroad in Spain and only hung out with Spaniards and am now bilingual. I'm not just comfortable in the language; it comes out just as easily as English does. I am REALLY glad I spent the time, effort, energy, and money on that.

    And you should floss. It can extend your life because it gets rid of all that bacteria in between your teeth that can make you sick later when your immune system isn't so great. I regret not taking better care of my teeth, pero por lo menos puedo contarte el cuentito sobre los dientes malogrados en castellano. ;)
    posted by cachondeo45 at 5:17 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I wish I would have learned at a young age to make exercise a normal, ongoing, enjoyable part of my life. It sucks that something that could really be a lot of fun ended up being just another shitty chore I avoid.
    posted by Space Kitty at 5:25 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

    Borkingchikapa, I never said to eat herbs instead of going to the doctor. I said I stopped going to the doctor for every little thing, by which I meant every sniffle, sore throat, or minor discomfort. For example, some herbs help relieve a cold. Tense? Maybe first try some valerian tea before running to the doctor for prescription tranquilizers. That was my point.
    posted by PatoPata at 5:32 PM on October 14, 2008

    I know this link may be played out, but given the answers given to this question, I feel that it needs to be presented.
    posted by captainsohler at 7:24 PM on October 14, 2008

    I wish I hadn't dropped five grand on a septoplasty, which hurt a lot, disfigured my proud Jewish honker, and didn't really improve my quality of life. This wasn't the surgeon's fault, but just remember that you can be in small percentage of people for whom voluntary procedures don't work out.

    I wish I had learned more neat physical tricks earlier. If you ever have a hankering to do something acrobatic, like parkour or capoeira or circus or the flashier martial arts, start now. You have more spring, and less likelihood of injury, and better recovery time when you do hurt yourself.

    I'm glad I never got in the habit of buying snack food in the groceries. I wasn't raised with taste for it, and I don't buy it.

    I am glad I have been able to talk to my dad in depth about his health issues, many of which run in the family. I am at high risk for heart disease and bowel cancer, but I have many years' start on him in which to take preventative measures that may help.

    I am pleased I took up weight training. It didn't make me huge, but it has kept me surprisingly strong and made mundane physical tasks easier. I look forward to an old age with lots of bone and muscle mass. This goes double if you're a woman: weight bearing exercise is crucial to prevent osteoporosis.

    I'm glad I abandoned having a corporate career for doing things that interested me. Instead of getting lost in my work I have a rich life outside work. I believe this has helped me through rough times where I have activities to occupy me and social connections to help me stay stable.

    I have learned that drinking is a terrible way to deal with emotional problems. I like drinking, it is fun, and I will not be stopping, but if I feel sad or overcome or stressed I cut it back, and don't lean on it. Regular heavy drinking is powerfully depressing, and a big barrier to getting out of the pit and on with your life.

    I am glad that I have made an effort to reach out and make friends with men my own age. As you get older, workmates and classmates disappear one by one. If you don't cultivate other people, you end up isolated and alone. Social ties are important for social apes like us.

    Learning to cook well has been great for my mental and physical health. It is much easier and cheaper to eat a healthy diet if you can cook. A good meal is a source of satisfaction to you and to others. Cooking good food for yourself is an act of self-care which is good for anyone's mood.
    posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:21 PM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

    Flossing and flossing.

    Ugh. I wish I had been forced to floss as a child. Now I floss every night (feel weird if I don't), and I haven't had a cavity in several years.
    posted by FergieBelle at 5:41 AM on October 15, 2008

    I'm 62 and started doing yoga 10 years ago. I wish I'd started it 30 years ago when I was thin and relatively limber.

    I regret not learning another language, I tried but it just didn't take and I didn't put out the extra effort it needed. If you live in the US then Spanish is a good place to start. Learn 2 languages and you'll never regret the effort spent.

    Things clutter your life, experiences carry you through life.

    I'm glad I didn't start a family until I was 40, it's making my later life a lot more entertaining than it would have when I was young and wanted to play.

    Skip the smoking and don't get stumbling drunk in public. The smoking is really bad for your skin.

    I did enjoy living in the woods but the wood smoke didn't do my lungs any good.

    Personal hygiene, skin care and flossing are a lot more important than you may realize. Cleanliness will never offend anyone you would want to know.
    posted by ptm at 5:44 AM on October 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

    Still in my 20's, so this is coming from the medical literature rather than my experience:

    Exercise makes everything better. It works as well as antidepressants for your mood, it decreases your risk of heart, lung, GI disorders. Studies show that it actually delays the onset of arthritis and bone problems, despite the myth that it wears out your knees or whatever. It delays the onset of alzheimer's and dementia. Basically it is a silver bullet for aging-related problems.

    The data shows that 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times a week is ideal. 1 or 2 times a week has little long-term effect, once you get to 3 you start to see statistically significant results, and at 5 you hit the flat part of the curve, where going up to 6 or 7 days a week has little impact.

    A hack to tell if you're working out hard enough: you should be able to say 4 words, no more, no less. If you can't say 4, you're going too fast, if you can say 5 or 10, you're going to slow.

    Tack on 2 days/week of strength training to round it out.
    posted by oqrothsc at 5:58 AM on October 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

    I'm turning 30 this month, and since I want to live to see 300 (and 3000, and so on), getting my affairs in order regarding my health (both physical and mental, since they're largely one and the same) is pretty damned important.

    Things I've done right:

    - Resolved to never have children, went and got a vasectomy, and refused to date anyone who wasn't resolutely childfree. This is likely the biggest game-changer of them all; I have far more free time, and far less stress, than I would have otherwise ... and as we know, stress kills.

    - Adopted cats. They make me smile by just watching their normal routines, and unlike kids, we can leave the apartment without them. They're low-maintenance children, if you will.

    - Developed a love for drinking water. I drink a lot of water each day, automatically.

    - Lost interest in sweet foods. I don't drink soda (on the rare occasions I do, it's diet) or eat candy. My teeth are in great shape.

    - Went digital, compact, and minimalist. I have far fewer things that I have to cart around, and could probably evacuate my home with two bags' worth of stuff without feeling like I've lost anything important (my wife and cats aside, of course). I used to be a pack rat, but realized that the vast majority of my possessions effectively had negative worth to me (by taking up space, and needing to be accounted for). I'm not perfect on this account yet; having a wife who isn't a minimalist doesn't help. ;-)

    - Tracking everything I need to do in an external-to-my-head to-do list (in my case, OmniFocus). I'm much calmer since starting this, since I don't have to worry that I might forget to do something vital.

    - Never found an interest in smoking, aside from a few depressed months in college when I smoked cloves.

    - Realized that alcohol is not a healthy antidepressant, since it negatively affects your longer-term mood when you're not drinking.

    - Found it helpful to see therapists during rough patches in my life. Having a disinterested third party there to listen is immensely useful.

    Things I've done wrong:

    - Took on debt. This was the worst mistake I've ever made, and I'll be paying for it (quite literally) for a long time to come. This is the key stressor in my life right now; I have around $20k in credit card debt, and quite a bit more than that in student loan debt that I haven't even started to repay yet. Going to school off the backs of loans was dumb; I don't use my degree at all in my field (web development), and could have easily made do without it. At least the interest on student loans isn't that bad; the interest on credit cards is awful. If you ever think you need a credit card, think again; you're better off cutting back on any other area of your life than taking on high-interest debt.

    - Conversely, I blew a windfall of money when I had it. In my early 20s, I was involved in the dot-com boom and managed to sell a company I had co-founded. In the course of one year, between the sale and working for the new parent company, I had nearly $100k; rather than invest in my future, I blew it all on furnishing a new apartment and living day-to-day during the dot-com crash. If I did things right, I would be living nearly stress-free today.

    - Had lots of sex partners, including several cases of unprotected sex early on. I'm really, really lucky that I've come up clean in STD testing; things easily could have gone wrong here. While I'm glad that I know exactly what I'm into sexually, and don't feel like I'm curious as to "what's out there", I still could have gone about this much more carefully.

    - Haven't consistently tracked my weight or kept up an exercise routine. I don't know what it is about my current relationship, but I've put on 40 pounds since it started three years ago. That needs to change (the weight, not the relationship!).

    - Giving a damn about anything that doesn't directly impact me. Before my recent efforts to stop giving a damn about everything, I'd have a strong stress response to all sorts of things: scummy politicians in the news, someone littering on the sidewalk, rude behavior online ... the list would be endless. Lately, I've been forcing myself to simply not care anymore, and it's helping tone down my stress responses. (Not reading the daily news is a good thing; books are more useful sources of information on any given topic, and you'll certainly hear about anything immediately important — like a major disaster — anyway.) I have my hobbies, my wife, and my cats, and nothing else matters.
    posted by korpios at 9:14 AM on October 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

    One lifelong bad habit I've recently had to unlearn is sleeping with my hands curled up under the pillow - carpal tunnel syndrome is a bitch, and having use of your hands is easily taken for granted until they stop working!
    posted by goo at 9:13 AM on October 17, 2008

    sigh. Another party that Slybevel is extremely late to. Anyway, here goes:

    When I was a kid, I read. I read and read and read. I read encyclopedias, and Readers' Digest Condensed Books, and Ranger Rick magazines, and National Geographic, and any other damned thing I could get my kid hands on.

    And, God, I'm so thankful that I did. Today I'm happy, healthy, and smart because of it. And I'm still a big reader.
    posted by SlyBevel at 10:11 AM on October 17, 2008 [8 favorites]

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