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Every year National Women's Health Week is an opportunity for women to take command of their health. Women often have trouble finding adequate health care in comparison to men, and this week serves as a reminder that the fight for better health care outcomes for women is still ongoing. Read on to learn about ways that you can take control of your health!
The body is always complex, but women have a host of health conditions that are either exclusive or disproportionately experienced by them. It can be difficult to find doctors who specialize in or even have adequate experience with many of these conditions. In addition, medical science has often been developed with male physiology in mind. This is an issue because women and men may have very different symptoms for the same conditions, or different responses to the same treatments. Diagnostic periods for women tend to take longer, and this is one reason why.
Conditions Exclusive to Women
Conditions More Likely to Affect Women
A litany of studies suggest that women, unfortunately, have more trouble than men finding adequate care. They spend longer in diagnostic periods, have longer hospital waits, and are more likely to have their conditions misdiagnosed or their symptoms of pain downplayed or ignored. Female-specific conditions often receive less research attention and funding, and women are more likely to have "medically unexplained" symptoms -- subjective symptoms (pain, dizziness, lightheadedness) that aren't immediately connected to a specific physical cause. It's important for women to educate themselves about conditions that they're more likely to experience, as a strong knowledge base will help you advocate for your own care as a patient.
National Women's Fitness and Health Day is the perfect opportunity to schedule a checkup with a medical professional! You may want to consider a Well-Woman Visit, a physical and in-depth discussion about your health, tailored to your age and family history, with special attention paid to problems that largely or exclusively affect women. You also may want to visit your gynecologist, or schedule a prenatal visit if pregnant.
In addition, to honor the day many organizations will be providing free screenings for women's health issues. Here are some to look for:
When we think of health, we tend to think of the medical side, the doctors' visits and immunizations. But National Women's Fitness and Health Day is geared towards the idea that a major component of health is staying active and exercising regularly. Whether you're doing cardio or strength training, going to the gym or playing a sport, regular exercise gives many health benefits, some of which are specific to women's health:
Mood Stabilization: Working out releases endorphins, hormones which reduce anxiety and depression. Endorphins also help counter the estrogen drop which occurs before and after a period, and before and during menopause. Estrogen is a source of serotonin, a chemical in the brain which contributes to happiness and relieves depression. The endorphins released by exercise can counteract loss of estrogen.
Stronger Bones: 80% of Americans with osteoporosis are women, and 50% of women with it will break a bone. Exercising, especially while younger, increases bone mass that helps counter this. Aerobics, strength training, and stretching exercises are great ways to help strengthen bones.
Weight Loss: Aging tends to result in weight gain, but women have specific challenges in this area. Weight gained during pregnancy can be hard to lose even long after giving birth. Estrogen and muscle mass lost during aging can lead to excess weight retention.
Improved Sleep: Women can also have additional challenges with sleep, due to hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopausal symptoms. 2 1/2 hours of exercise per week has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration, which relieves stress and depression.
Much like with exercise and health care, women have specific dietary needs that may change over the course of their lives and often differ from what men might need. Some foods that women need may be obvious and universal, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein, and staying hydrated is important to everyone. But other needs are more particular:
Iron-Rich Foods: 20% of women and 50% of pregnant women don't have enough iron. Iron prevents anemia and helps produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the bloodstream. Lack of it causes fatigue, weakness, and irritability. Sources: Red meat, turkey, chicken, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils, some fortified cereals.
Folate or Folic Acid: These are forms of Vitamin B9, and decrease the risk of birth defects. Women in reproductive years should get at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day, 600 mcg during pregnancy, and 500 mcg while breastfeeding. Sources: Citrus fruits, leafy greens, beans, peas, some fortified cereals, breads and rices.
Calcium and Vitamin D: These strengthen bones and teeth, making them vital in preventing loss of bone mass and diseases like osteoporosis.
Involve Your Loved Ones
Studies have shown that people who have a regular exercise companion generally have an easier time staying motivated and sticking to a regular schedule, and consequently lose more weight. Whether you're working out with a friend or family member, mutual support is one of the most effective factors behind getting and staying in shape.
Prioritize Mental Health
Stress levels contribute to declines in physical health, and women consistently report higher rates of stress than men as well as more emotional physical symptoms resulting from stress.
Some ways to manage stress include:
Women are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, with twice the number of women than man experiencing depression. Sometimes this occurs due to physical factors, such as menopause and premenstrual syndrome, which effects 20-40% of women, with 3-5% having symptoms strong enough to be classified as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). 10-15% of women experience postpartum depression, as well.
Depression is misdiagnosed in women 30-50% of the time, and fewer than half the women suffering it will seek care. If you think you may have symptoms associated with anxiety or depression, don't hesitate to seek out professional help!
Have a Conversation
If National Women's Health Week has one thing to teach us, it's that coming together to discuss women's health is vital in maintaining it. Social support is invaluable in maintaining exercise regimens, improving moods, reducing stress, and better understanding our own health and fitness needs.