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10 Easy Ways Women Can Improve their Health
Women frequently put their own health on the backburner to care for others. Two Kelsey-Seybold physicians explain how adopting 10 simple, healthy habits can make a huge difference in taking better care of yourself.
Sleep deprivation isn’t pretty, as any mother of a newborn can tell you. “There’s no substitute for good, solid, dream-inducing sleep,” says Kelsey Shanahan-Prendergast, MD, Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. “The lack of good sleep has been linked to weight gain, heart disease, and reduced brain functioning, such as poor memory and concentration.” So, try your best to get in at least eight hours of sleep a night (even if it means not watching just one more episode). As a last resort, catch up on the weekends by napping or sleeping late.
You may be tired of hearing it, but exercise is one of the easiest things you can do to stay healthy. “Just 30 minutes of daily exercise, even broken up into 10-minute increments, can significantly reduce your risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis,” says Joi Findley-Smith, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. “Exercise also reduces or improves the symptoms of menopause, PMS, diabetes, and numerous other conditions.”
“Approximately 25% – 40% of women have gum disease, which has been associated with premature births, heart disease, and some kinds of cancer,” says Dr. Shanahan-Prendergast. You may have a lovely smile, but compare the time and money you spend whitening your teeth to the time you spend flossing. If the whitening wins, consider spending more quality time with your dental floss. You should floss your teeth at least once a day.
4. Get checkups
There are two doctors our experts would advise you to see on a regular basis – your OB/GYN and your primary care physician. “An annual well-woman exam includes the very important Pap test and breast screening, but it isn’t a comprehensive physical,” says Dr. Findley-Smith. “In addition to your annual well-woman exam, you also need an annual physical with your primary care physician.” All women need a comprehensive routine physical every one to two years to screen for serious health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (which is, by the way, the leading cause of death for American women).
5. Eat Breakfast
When you wake up in the morning, you’ve probably been fasting for about 12 hours. “Studies have shown that decision-making, learning, and memory are impaired when breakfast is missed,” explains Dr. Shanahan-Prendergast. So, reach for high-fiber cereal, low-fat milk, or cheese and energizing fresh fruit.
6. Wash Your Hands
Five seconds of soap and water isn’t quite enough to wash away germs. “To avoid illnesses, scrub with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing the ABCs,” says Dr. Shanahan-Prendergast. “Or, if you aren't near water, carry and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel, such as Purell.”
7. Take Calcium
“Not only does calcium protect against bone-thinning osteoporosis later in life, but it also has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of PMS,” says Dr. Findley-Smith.
8. Control Portions
Do you heap food on your plate? Are second helpings the norm? Doing so can significantly increase the caloric intake for the meal. “If you're still hungry after a normal-sized meal, wait at least 20 minutes and give your stomach time to tell your brain that you’re full,” suggests Dr. Shanahan-Prendergast. In general, portion control is one of the easiest ways to reduce your chances of weight gain, which can lead to high blood pressure, gallstones, diabetes, and heart disease.
9. Quit Smoking
“Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in this country, and about 140,000 women die from smoking-related causes each year, such as cancer and heart disease,” explains Dr. Findley-Smith. “Smoking has also been associated with infertility, miscarriage, and other reproductive health issues.”
Remember that line from the airline safety speech: "In case of emergency, put the oxygen on yourself first, then assist the other person”? The idea is if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be in any condition to care for others. “Even if you have to schedule it on the family calendar, make time to read a book, take a bubble bath, work on a favorite hobby, or just relax,” says Dr. Findley-Smith. “You might be surprised how much better you feel when you make time to recharge your own batteries.”
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