Making excuses for just about anything is easy; we don’t have the time or money, we’re tired, we’re too old for this, we’re too young for that. Do any of these sound familiar? It may seem I’m rattling off a list of excuses to get out of plans, but I’m referring to the justifications we use to put off transitioning to a healthier you.
Sure, we might drink lots of water, go to the gym on occasion, or meditate and call it a day. After all, aren’t these all steps towards a healthier lifestyle? The real issue is many women are not taking their health seriously enough. This isn’t because they don’t need to, but because they think they can’t or don’t know where to start.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports 43% of women have a chronic medical condition that requires consistent monitoring and treatment. Yet, over a quarter of women delay or forgo recommended and preventative services, and prescription medications.
Cost is a clear culprit, but what else is preventing women from advocating for their health? Fear, for one. Women may fear judgment and stigma. They may fear a dreadful diagnosis. Perhaps fear, not laziness, is the reason many of us don’t take action and hope symptoms disappear on their own. I’d also like to toss around the idea of a lack of knowledge. Many women don’t know what health concerns they must be proactive about, especially at different stages and ages of life.
With Women’s Health Week beginning May 12th, it is time to learn how we as women can take control to create a healthier you!
Break Unhealthy Habits
What’s that saying, “out with the old, in with the new?” To make room for new and healthier habits, we need to get rid of the ones standing in our way. To do so successfully, we must make gradual changes, instead of one fell swoop. You have to crawl before you walk, right? There are many progressive steps we can take to prevent stroke — the third leading cause of death for women.
The most effective change is to quit smoking, but many who try and go it alone or quit cold turkey are not as successful. We need support, be it emotional or medical. Experts suggest nicotine replacement therapy products like nicotine patches or gum in combination with resources including smartphone apps and smokers’ quitlines.
Even non-smokers can make crucial lifestyle changes to prevent stroke, like becoming more physically active, which can also decrease the risk of heart disease — the leading cause of death for us women. Health experts recommend that we partake in 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity. But we don’t always have a half-hour chunk of time to block off. Luckily, those 30 minutes can be broken down into several 10-minute intervals throughout the day. Use an at-home workout DVD, like Leslie Sansone’s Mix & Match Walk Blasters program which includes 10, 10-minute mini-walks.
Change Nutritional Behaviors
I’m not here to tell you to skip ladies night out or pizza night with the family. What I will say is this: carefully considering what we consume is essential for keeping up with the demands of the female body’s unique needs. Generally speaking, we need fewer calories than men. However, our need for certain minerals like calcium and iron is much greater.
As our hormones change during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, so do our nutritional requirements. Blood loss associated with menstrual periods can cause our iron levels to drop, putting us at risk of iron-deficiency anemia. This can result in our hair starting to thin and shed. Aside from incorporating iron-rich foods and supplements into your diet, a multivitamin containing biotin can also help lessen hair loss from anemia.
Iron deficiency also poses a greater risk of osteoporosis, which is important for women to keep in mind as we are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis. So in addition to an increased need for iron, our calcium requirements are higher too. Calcium is the key to healthy, strong bones which can minimize possible fractures caused by osteoporosis. Excessive amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of bone fracture, so remember to drink in moderation, which is about one drink daily for women. (Don’t worry, happy hour is still on!)
Helpful tip: Don’t forget our source of nutrients should also come from whole foods. Since healthy eating varies for every woman, the Office On Women’s Health has an in-depth and detailed guide to help you make informed decisions about your food choices based on your unique needs.
Approach Personal Matters
Working towards a healthier you includes managing matters that we aren’t necessarily comfortable discussing, like our mental and sexual health. Stigma prevents many of us from receiving treatments we need, so we continue to suffer in silence while our health worsens, allowing stigma to win.
A research charity in the UK found that few women talk about gynecological cancers because one in five associates them with sexual promiscuity, even though that is not necessarily true. Risk factors for gynecological cancers can include smoking, weakened immune system, poor diet, obesity, having multiple full-term pregnancies, and having a family history. Still, medical care for treatable and preventable diseases, like cervical cancer, is hampered by stigma because women don’t want to discuss their sexual history. Honestly, it’s heartbreaking.
Not to mention stigma is also present in our reluctance to address mental health. Even though one in five women have a mental health condition, many go without treatment because they don’t want to deal with shame or judgment. But if you prioritize the approval of others over your thoughts, feelings, and wellbeing, then you are giving others control over your health. Realize that you have options and suffering doesn’t have to be permanent. We are all capable and deserving of a good quality of life.
We should be encouraging and empowering other women to own their health. Often, this begins when we lead by example, so take the initiative towards prioritizing your health. Know what your body needs as you age and keep up with routine visits, exams, and screenings. Most importantly, listen to your body; it might be trying to tell you something.