Today’s woman has a life jammed with work, family and social events. Oftentimes, women get so busy taking care of others that they fail to care for themselves, and this can be dangerous.
In honor of National Women’s Health Week, May 8-14, Augusta University Family Medicine physician Dr. Janis Coffin offers 10 guidelines that women should follow for better health:
1. Eat healthy. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in sugar and saturated fats can help prevent obesity and many diseases and illnesses. Avoid fad diets, and drink lots of water. It’s OK to indulge in dessert or a glass of wine; just do it in moderation.
2. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Exercise helps control weight, improves sex life and reduces the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, depression and diabetes. If you have not been exercising regularly, begin slowly. Check with your doctor for program advice.
3. Maintain the appropriate blood pressure. About one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure or hypertension. If blood pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage the body in many ways. Hypertension itself usually has no symptoms, so you can have it for years without knowing it. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
4. Maintain a healthy cholesterol level. Have your cholesterol checked at least once every five years and more frequently if you are at high risk or on a cholesterol-lowering prescribed diet. High cholesterol is a risk factor for developing heart disease, so keep your total level under 200.
5. Get screened for cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society advocates beginning at age 21 or three years after the first sexual encounter. Pap smears should continue yearly until age 30. Then if you have at least three normal screenings in a row, you may choose to limit screening to every three years. Women over 70 and women who have had a total hysterectomy may discontinue cervical cancer screenings as long as they’ve cleared it with their doctor.
6. Get checked for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society encourages women age 40 and older to begin annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. In addition, women are encourage to perform regular self-exams in the shower to detect any unusual changes in the breast area. If you are unsure about how often to schedule your mammogram, ask your family physician. If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, you should start screening 10 years prior to this relative’s diagnosis.
7. Get checked for colon cancer. Coffin recommends that women have a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50. She said that the colonoscopy is the best of all colorectal screenings because it is a direct visualization of the colon and the doctor is able to take biopsies of any mass or polyp that may be identified during the procedure. As with breast cancer, if you have a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, you should start screening 10 years prior to this relative’s diagnosis.
8. Get screened for osteoporosis. All women 65 years and older should be screened for osteoporosis by getting a bone density test. The screening test that has the most research to support it is DEXA obtained at the hip. It is unclear how frequently screening should occur. Women with low bone density should receive treatment to prevent further decline in bone density and osteoporosis-related fractures.
9. Make sure your immunizations are current. Only about 5 percent of adults 18 and older are properly immunized. Some of the vaccines you may need as an adult are tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis; Human papillomavirus, or HPV; influenza; meningococcal and Hepatitis A or B. Check with your physician about your immunization record and needs.
10. Take inventory of your emotional health. Nearly one-third of the U.S. adult population has signs or symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Consult your physician if you feel sad, empty, anxious or lose interest in the activities you once enjoyed. It’s not taboo to ask for help, and there are many therapeutic options for improving your psychological health.
None of these steps is a guarantee of good health. However, by eating well and getting enough exercise, you will boost your body’s natural defenses and help stave off illnesses. Furthermore, proper screenings can uncover cancer and other issues early enough to make treatments the most effective.
Every woman is different and has different wellness needs. So, be sure to discuss these guidelines with your doctor – the sooner the better if you have a family history of disease or illness.
Janis Coffin is an associate professor and medical director for Augusta University’s Family Medicine Center. She is a graduate of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, and specializes in family medicine and pediatric family medicine.