May 15, 2020
Staying Healthy during National Women’s Health Week

National Women’s Health Week was created by the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program intends to empower women to make their health a priority and provide resources to help them on their journey.

Some of the essential components of the program include:

  1. Getting active
  2. Eating healthy and making better food choices
  3. Importance of sleep
  4. Managing stress
  5. Avoiding unhealthy and damaging behaviors such as smoking, excess alcohol consumption, use of illicit drugs
  6. Making important doctors’ appointments

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the components:

Getting active

The hardest part of exercising is getting started and staying engaged. The key to getting active is to identify what type of exercise you enjoy, which may include bike riding, dancing, running or lifting weights. Do you like to exercise alone or in a group? Do you need the extra motivation of a trainer? Really understand what makes you tick.

Mix it up and perform different types of exercises such as cardio, strength, flexibility and balance. Start slow and set manageable, achievable goals. It’s also important to make healthy food choices. If your goal is to achieve a healthy lifestyle, be consistent, change up your routine and remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

The health benefits are endless from heart health, lower cholesterol, lower cancer rates including breast cancer, improved bone density, lower incidence of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Being active is always a healthy choice and there are modifications for every age, weight, injury and level.

Managing Stress

When you get stressed your adrenal glands, the tiny glands on top of your kidneys, release adrenaline, cortisol and stimulate the release of an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). High stress levels put you in a chronic flight or fight state that creates unnecessary stress on your heart and blood vessels due to constant stimulation caused by adrenaline. The blood vessels constrict, making it harder for blood to flow naturally, which may lead to hypertension.

The options for stress management include a combination of basics such as breathing, meditation, exercise, massages, long walks, listening to music, being with friends and family, talk therapy and medication. Basically, any activity that takes your mind off of your stressor.

You can use meditation to help reduce stress. The beautiful thing about meditation is that it can be very personal. Some may prefer complete silence while others prefer to listen to guided meditations or music. It is essential to create a quiet space that works for you. Remember, it is difficult to quiet the mind so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Avoiding unhealthy and damaging behaviors

There are many risks associated with smoking tobacco products. The many resources available to help with smoking cessation include smoking cessation programs at the hospital, therapists that specialize in addiction, support groups and taking prescriptions and OTC medications. Speak with your PCP to create a plan that works best for you.

Alcohol overuse and abuse, much like smoking, can have a plethora of adverse effects on the body. Several studies have shown that drinking more than 1-2 alcoholic beverages per month may increase your risk of developing breast cancer. For those who drink socially, 3-7 drinks per week, be mindful of the effects that alcohol can have on your weight, blood sugar control, circulating estrogen levels, etc.

It’s your body and you want to expose it to healthy foods and activities. The most important decision we can make is to seek proper help and to change our behavior towards a healthier goal.

Make health a priority by making important doctors’ appointments

It is important to make an appointment for a well-woman visit with your primary care or family practitioner. Make sure you are up-to-date with all recommended preventative screening protocols including annual screening mammogram (starting at age 40) and screening colonoscopy (starting at age 50). Annual visits are important allies in your quest for a healthy lifestyle. You can also help identify markers for increased risk of developing cancer so you can be monitored more closely.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many breast centers and endoscopy suites are closed under emergency governmental order. As restrictions are being slowly lifted across the country, we encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician, OB/GYN’s, breast surgeon and GI doctors to determine when it is safe to proceed with your necessary study.

For women in need of screening mammograms, you can also reach out to the imaging center directly to find out if they are doing screening studies in addition to diagnosis. Finally, you can always check your state government website to check the status of restrictions.

For more information about National Women’s Health Week and how to make health your priority, please click here.

Authored by Dana Holwitt, MD, FACS