Here is to the women of the world! Women of all ages face unique health challenges throughout their lifetimes, and women often put caring for others before caring for themselves. So this May especially, we celebrate women in every stage of life first and foremost.
Even when caring for others, it is important to remember that taking care of yourself needs to be a priority. That’s why we have put together some tips to help you feel your best. Let’s dive in to see how some of these affect millions of women each year.
How Do Certain Health Conditions Affect Women?
It’s not just a woman’s health that affects her life — the health of those around her can play a part, too. Two out of every three caregivers in the United States are women. This means they provide daily or regular support to children, adults, or people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Female caregivers have a greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic added even more stressors to caregiving.¹ To help combat the physical and mental stressors, below are some things you can do today:
Exercise 30 minutes a day
Practice good sleep habits
Set aside “me time” every day to unwind
Avoid unhealthy behaviors
Recognize when you need help and seek the appropriate support
Asthma is more common in adult women than adult men. Also, African Americans in the US die from asthma at a higher rate than people of other races or ethnicities.² After puberty, women with asthma may have more symptoms during certain times in their menstrual cycle and asthma may cause problems during pregnancy.³ According to WomensHealth.gov, women with asthma report more trouble sleeping and experience more anxiety than men with asthma. Additionally, women’s lungs are smaller than men’s which may make women more sensitive to asthma triggers, making it harder for women to breathe during an asthma attack.³
According to the CDC, approximately 18 women die daily from a prescription painkiller in the US. Since 1999, the percentage increase in prescription painkiller deaths was more than 400% among women compared to 256% in men.⁴ Women ages 45 to 54 have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose and prescription painkillers are involved in one in every 10 suicides among women.⁴ It is critical to always discuss what medications you are taking with your health care provider and only use prescription drugs as directed. For help with substance abuse, call 1-800-662-HELP. You can also click here to download the CDCs 2013 report on Prescription Painkiller Overdoses.
Breast & Cervical Cancer
Mammograms and regular screenings have been proven to save lives. In the US, more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer this year and over 13,000 will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.⁵ If detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers. For over 20 years, the CDC and Prevention’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) has decreased disparities in breast and cervical cancer deaths. Through cooperative agreements with states, tribes, and territories, the program provides breast and cervical cancer screenings, diagnostic tests, and treatment referral services to low-income women. The NBCCEDP is the only nationally organized cancer screening program for underserved women in the US.⁵
Mom & Baby
If having a child is in your life plan, there are multiple ways to ensure you and your child have a healthy start together. Prior to pregnancy, you should learn all the ways to stay healthy to prevent complications during your pregnancy and after the child is born. Things such as quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and other drugs, and getting updated vaccinations are all ways you can help keep yourself and your child healthy.⁶ Learn more about prevention and health during pregnancy by visiting https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/during.html.
After the baby arrives, there is a lot to think about. Breastfeeding, medical conditions, checkups, and infant safety are all things you should review and become familiar with. For example, one out of every 150 two-year-olds is treated for an accidental medication overdose. Additionally, having age and size-appropriate car seats/booster seats/seat belts can reduce serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%.⁷ By properly preparing for the arrival of your child, you can help ensure they have a head start on living a safe and healthy life.
Protecting your skin is well worth the effort. Women ages 49 and under have a higher probability of developing melanoma than any other cancers except breast or thyroid. Those with fair skin and lighter eyes and hair are the most vulnerable to skin cancer and there has been a recent trend in younger women developing skin cancer due to tanning from the sun or in salons. The good news is that all types of skin cancer are preventable. Hopkins Medicine recommends the following tips for preventing skin cancers:⁸
Apply broad spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, every three hours
Avoid peak sunlight between the hours of 10am and 2pm
Avoid getting a tan
Have annual skin checks by a dermatologist
Do a monthly self-exam
Ways to Put Your Health First
The US Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health created National Women’s Health Week. This annual celebration of women happens each year in May and aims to help women find and build a foundation of good health.
One of their key tenants is that health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Every woman is unique and has their own style and motivation for staying healthy. The key is to find what works for you and cultivate habits that you can stick to throughout your life.
To get you started, the Office on Women’s Health suggests numerous things you can do:⁹
Take care of your mind and body
Maintain a healthy weight
Get regular physical activity
Eat heart healthy and well-balanced meals
Pay attention to your mental health
Develop good sleeping habits
Monitor alcohol intake
Avoid illicit drugs
Protect yourself from COVID-19
Get annual well-woman & preventative screenings. Be sure to discuss your family health history and personal habits with your health provider. You should also discuss which screenings or tests you may need.
Take a few moments to think about your own health goals. What do you want to accomplish over the next year? What is holding you back from achieving those goals? No matter your age or station in life, we are all able to take small steps to improve our overall well-being. Be sure to visit https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-living-age and find ways to live healthy at every age.