It is important for women to take precautions against diseases like breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis, while also protecting their reproductive and mental health. Here are tips for maintaining good health:
• Manage stress. Women encounter a lot of pressure and stress throughout their lives. Take a few minutes every day to relax. Meditation is a great way to forget about daily pressures and can also help improve your mental health.
• Check for breast cancer. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends biennial film mammography from age 50 to 74 years if you don’t have any family member with breast cancer.
Consult with your primary care doctor regarding when and how often you should have a mammogram.
• Eat a healthy diet. Try to fill your diet with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed foods. Choose whole grain breads, high-fiber foods and lean cuts of meat, poultry and fish.
Healthy eating will help you maintain a proper weight and avoid diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and pregnancy problems.
• Monitor calcium intake. Too much absorbed calcium can increase the risk of kidney stones and may even increase your risk of heart disease. Women under 50 should be getting 1,000 milligrams per day, while women over 50 should be getting 1,200 milligrams per day mainly through diet.
Calcium-rich foods like low fat milk, salmon and almonds are recommended and can help women avoid osteoporosis.
• Stay safe in the sun. As summer approaches, make sure you protect your skin from the sun. Excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can cause skin cancer. To protect yourself, wear sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30 if you are going to be outdoors for more than a few minutes.
Even if you wear sunscreen, you should check regularly for signs of skin cancer. Warning signs include any changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of birthmarks, moles, or freckles, or new, enlarging, pigmented, or red skin areas. If you spot any changes, consult your doctor.
• Exercise. Women need a recommended mix of cardio and resistance or weight-bearing exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, dancing are good for women’s health, and can help prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.
• See your gynecologist. Once a woman becomes sexually active, she should start going to the OB/GYN for regular pelvic exams and Pap smear screenings. The Pap smear tests for signs of vaginal and cervical cancers, along with sexually transmitted diseases such as human papillomavirus (HPV) or genital warts.
• Consider genetic testing. Doctors can screen patients with a family history of certain diseases. These tests can assess your risk for diseases that are common in women, for example, breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
• Understand postpartum depression. The period after you have your baby can be filled with countless emotions. If you experience mood swings, trouble bonding with your baby or signs of depression, you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).
In the United States, one in seven women develops PPD. There are a few suggestions for coping with PPD symptoms: creating time for yourself, exercising, socializing with friends and sleeping at least six hours a night. If you notice feelings of depression after birth and don’t fade after a couple of weeks, see your doctor.
• Avoid cigarettes and limit alcohol. According to the American Heart Association, exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths each year. If you smoke, try to quit, and don't spend time around others who smoke. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
• Ask your primary care doctor about vaccinations and screening tests. There have been sporadic outbreaks of pertussis, measles, and mumps; this information suggests that some woman may need booster shots.
There are also vaccines for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer), influenza, pneumonia, and shingles. Screening tests are available for HIV and Hepatitis. Ask your physician if you should be screened.