Today is Women’s Health & Fitness Day, but its promotional message is important every day — to encourage women to take control of their health, learn the facts they need to make smart health choices and make time for regular physical activity.
People are living longer today, in part because science and pharmaceutical companies offer some solutions for treating disease and injuries. But this also means that we need to keep the old machine primed and in good shape if we want to use it longer.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. One in every two women suffers from heart disease or stroke. The risk for these diseases, however, can be reduced with regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes per day.
Exercise also will help prevent osteoporosis, lower the risk for diabetes, reduce back pain and strain, promote weight loss and strengthen muscles.
According to the American Medical Women’s Association, some studies also have shown that physical activity lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Regular preventive screenings for certain diseases can improve a woman’s quality of life and life expectancy.
Two necessary screening tools for women are a yearly pap test to detect cervical cancer and an annual mammogram to detect breast cancer.
Screening for colon cancer also is important, particularly if your parents or siblings have been diagnosed with the disease. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death after breast cancer and lung cancer.
Other important health checks and screenings include those for blood pressure, your skin (to detect early skin cancer), and your vision, dental and hearing.
If diabetes runs in your family, have your doctor check your blood sugar and give you tips on how to avoid that disease. The same goes for other diseases. Be proactive and take charge of your body.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in women, and using tobacco greatly increases your risk of developing it. Tobacco use is linked to a higher risk of breast and cervical cancer, plus cancers of the urinary tract, kidney and pancreas. Smoking also can cause cancers of the mouth, throat and esophagus.
Excessive use of alcohol is not wise either. More than two drinks a day can raise blood pressure in women, and binge drinking can lead to a stroke. Excessive drinking increases the risk for liver damage, heart-related problems, some forms of cancer and can make life generally miserable for you and everyone else. Research now suggests that one drink per day may help protect women against heart disease, but more than one may cause calcium loss from bones.
Other tips to consider
• All women need to make sure they get the proper calcium intake to build bones. Young females need to start the storing-up process so they won’t develop osteoporosis at a later point.
• Establish good eating habits and you will feel good and have lots of energy no matter your age. Limit fat (especially saturated), salt, cholesterol, phosphorus and caffeine. Too much fat and cholesterol increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, while too much phosphorus and caffeine will cause bone to lose its calcium. Carbonated colas and diet drinks are high in phosphorus, so eliminate these whenever possible.
• When planning meals, remember the importance of eating a variety of foods concentrating on color — the more colorful, the better. Load up on vegetables, fruits and whole-grain options.
• Make yourself a priority. That doesn’t mean you should be a “me, myself and I” person, but it does encourage you to seek balance in your life and set aside time to fulfill your own needs.
• Keep a positive attitude. There is a definitive connection between living well and healthy and having a cheerful outlook on life.
• Take care of your teeth by flossing daily.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.