As National Women’s Health Week comes to a close, have you celebrated the fabulous females in your life? Women can get used to taking care of everyone and everything, but forget to take care of themselves: that’s a big mistake! Healthy living must be a priority all year long, and we have the steps women can take to ensure they’re staying fit and fabulous—at every age.
A women’s health expert, Dr. Howard T. Sharp, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah School of Medicine and Teladoc Best Doctor’s medical expert consultant, sums up the ways to a healthy life: “Exercise and sleep more, eat and worry less.”
Sounds simple enough! Let’s break down his advice so you can start down the path of health and happiness.
Daily exercise has positive effects on our physical and mental abilities, boosting energy, sex drive, and focus. It can even cut our disease risk. While we hear a lot about cancer in the news, the most common cause for death among women is actually heart disease, Dr. Sharp points out. While risk factors for coronary artery disease like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity may be managed with medicine, they can also be reduced by doing regular physical activity.
The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Try getting in 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. For even more health benefits, the organization says we should try for 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
Yep, they’ve upped their workout game—and so should you! Get outside for walking, running or cycling almost every day; try a new strength or flexibility class like weight training or yoga to improve joint function.
Exercise is a key strategy to both maintaining and losing weight for women of all ages. A healthy weight for most women means a waist measurement lower than 35 inches, and a body mass index (BMI, a measurement calculated from height and weight) lower than 25. By keeping your numbers below these targets throughout life, you lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Your plate has a purpose
Another factor impacting a woman’s healthy weight and overall health is food intake. Choices about eating not only affect how good you feel today, but how good you feel for the rest of your life. Let’s get real though: for a lot of us, starches, sweets, and meats make our taste buds happiest. But did you know that your plate should be half fruits or vegetables?! Load up on these low-calorie foods in all different colors, since they have the most nutrients.
Also choose whole grains, low-fat dairy products and drink plenty of water, cutting out saturated or trans fats, added sugars, and salty snacks. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one drink a day for women, and cigarette smoking is an absolute no-no for women at any age.
By committing to a healthier diet, your whole family will benefit: Studies show that when a woman eats healthy foods, everyone in the household is more likely to eat healthy foods.*
Many women who “go go go” don’t make time stop to assess how they’re feeling. Chronic stress is one of the biggest health concerns for women, according to Dr. Sharp. “Stress can affect a woman’s ability to heal, her mood, and her relationships. Learning to manage stress can make a real difference in health.”
Start by being aware of your breath, making space to be mindful about what emotions arise. Consider adding a regular exercise routine for mood-boosting benefits. Make sure you have hobbies, relationships and other activities that bring joy to your life. One in 5 women will develop a major depressive disorder in her lifetime.** If you’re feeling sad, irritable, and exhausted, you want to talk to a physician or therapist about counseling and other options.
Dr. Sharp also notes that being chronically sleep deprived can have a negative effect on our moods and health, our relationships and job performance. We should get between 7 and 9 hours of solid sleep every night, but women often struggle to get enough shut-eye due to stress, overwork, worry, or sleep apnea.
“It’s important to understand the cause of inadequate sleep, and work on [fixing] it. This may require a healthcare provider who specializes in sleep disturbance,” Dr. Sharp says.
Young, old or somewhere in between?
No matter your age or stage, keeping up with your health means taking medicine as prescribed, having regular check-ups, and going for preventive screenings. Every year, review with a doctor how you’re feeling, how you can improve, and what changes you can make to reach health goals. Regular blood pressure checks, cholesterol and skin cancer screenings, and pap smears are important. Other screenings and vaccine recommendations vary greatly based on age and history: discuss these with a doctor. A physician may also want to talk about general healthy behaviors, sexual activity, birth control, and the impact of menopause on well-being, depending on your phase of life.
There is nothing more important than feeling strong and full of life. If you have questions or concerns about non-emergency health conditions—day or night—Teladoc is here to help get you where you’d like to be. Our board-certified doctors can help you via phone or video anytime, anywhere with care you can trust.