Caring for your body is your responsibility. But often women will put their own health needs last, while they spend time taking care of everyone else. The fact is, self-care is the single most important aspect of our health.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to self-care for women is the guilt-driven—and mistaken—belief that by taking care of ourselves, we are being selfish. Tending to your well-being is not wrong. The longer you go without consideration to your own needs, including health and fitness, the more resentment will grow, exhaustion will set in and you will have nothing left to give—to anyone.
Here are a few of the biggest threats to women’s health:
About 50 million Americans—the majority of them women of childbearing age—suffer from autoimmune ailments including Addison’s disease, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and many others. In each of these illnesses, the underlying problem is “autoimmunity”—where the body’s immune system attacks the very organs it was designed to protect.
Autoimmune disorder (AD) seems to occur when genetics collides with lifestyle. Examples of triggers can include infections, certain foods (such as gluten products) and toxins (smoking, some drugs, hair dyes). As an AD develops, vague symptoms may start to appear such as joint pain, muscle weakness and loss of concentration.
If you suspect you may have an autoimmune problem, it’s important to identify food allergies and completely avoid the problem substances. Some main offenders are wheat, dairy, corn and soy. While each AD will have separate dietary and therapeutic recommendations, most restrict sugar.
Experts are not entirely sure what causes breast cancer, although it is believed that the majority of breast cancers are not hereditary.
Certain risk factors seem to impact the likelihood of developing breast cancer. For example, women who started menstruation earlier or entered menopause later than usual have a higher risk, as are those who have used hormone replacement therapy. The more alcohol a woman regularly drinks, the greater the odds for cancer. Undergoing X-rays and CT scans may be factors. Breast implants can make it harder to detect breast cancer at an early stage.
Staying at a healthy weight, being physically active and limiting how much alcohol you drink can help reduce your cancer risk.
Although everyone occasionally feels blue, usually such feelings pass within a few days. When a woman has a depressive disorder, it interferes with daily life and normal functioning. Depression is a common but serious ailment, and some who have it may need treatment to get better.
Women who are depressed do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity of symptoms—and how long they last—will vary depending on the individual and her particular illness. Some indicators include extreme feelings of sadness, guilt or emptiness and loss of interest or pleasure in activities.
Highly treatable, depression can often be addressed by a combination of dietary approaches, nutritional supplements, exercise, bodywork and talk therapy.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call for emergency medical help or go the nearest emergency room.
While women of all ages need to be concerned about heart health, the older a woman gets, the more likely she is to get heart disease. Symptoms may differ between women and men, and some women have no signs or indicators.
Only half of women who have heart attacks have chest pain.
Women are more likely than men to report back or neck pain, extreme fatigue or difficult breathing. Women’s symptoms may occur more often when women are resting, or even when they’re asleep. Mental stress also may trigger heart attack symptoms in women.
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease, including getting sufficient exercise and eating a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. Cholesterol levels can be significantly affected by diet. Cholesterol is found in all foods that come from animals, not just red meat. Be mindful of how much fish, eggs, cheese and other dairy products you consume. If you drink alcohol, aim for just one drink per day.
Most times, a woman is not even aware she has osteoporosis until a fracture occurs. But sometimes there are symptoms of the disorder. They could include backaches, a gradual loss of height and fractures. Many people have thinned bones and don’t know it.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include family history, advanced age, and body size—small, thin women are at greater risk. Women who experience irregular periods or began having their periods at a later than normal age have increased possibility of osteoporosis, as are those who have had their ovaries removed or are going through menopause. The eating disorders anorexia and bulimia can weaken bones over time as well.
Osteoporosis prevention relies primarily on a healthy, calcium and magnesium rich diet, adequate vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise. Carbonated beverages have been shown to contribute to bone loss.
Good health is empowering
Women are nine times more likely than men to reach the age of 100.
For a longer and better-quality life:
- Avoid compulsive dieting and fad diets
- Include weight-bearing exercise in your regime
- Eat a diet of mostly whole, non-processed foods
- Monitor essential numbers like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
- Get routine medical care and physical examinations
- Get enough rest and sleep
- Allow yourself to say no sometimes
- Take time to take care of yourself and refuel. Consider talk therapy, a massage or a yoga class