If you’re a generally healthy 20-something, chances are the only time you really worry about your heart is when you’re going through a breakup. (Hey, we feel your pain). But your ticker deserves more attention than that—especially considering around 600,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease every year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. And simply being young doesn’t protect you from heart disease risks.
In fact, almost half of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have at least one coronary heart disease risk factor—such as high blood pressure, stress, or an unhealthy diet—which is pretty scary considering these factors can strongly predict a long-term risk of coronary heart disease. Even having a slightly elevated blood pressure level in your 20s may increase the risk of developing clogged arteries down the line.
Not to get all fear-mongery, but what this means is that the habits and behaviors we establish when we’re young really can catch up to us—and those include YOLO-justified moments, like ordering an extra drink (or three) and skipping the gym for an all-day Netflix session. That’s not to say that sometimes we don’t need to watch TV all day, or have an extra drink every once in a while. But research shows that people who maintain heart-healthy behaviors—not smoking, drinking in moderation, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and keeping a lean BMI—throughout their lives have a low cardiovascular risk profile well into middle age. The bottom line: What you do now, you feel later.