Tags: In This Issue, Maternity, Women's Health
It seems, as women, we are always taking care of everyone else first and ourselves last, if at all. Sometimes it even takes some sort of medical crisis to get us to pay attention to our own health. But it does not need to come to that, insist those in the know. Staying healthy, for most, involves simple preventative measures.
"Prevention goes a long way," insists Julie Schnieders, a nurse practitioner with St.Vincent Women's Hospital. "[It's] most important to stay current with the recommendations for health depending on your age. For example, if you are 21, you need your first pap test, if you are 40, your first mammogram. If you are 50, you are going to have your first colonoscopy." (We said simple, not necessarily pleasant.)
Most prevention, however, begins far from the doctor's office. Start out just by living a healthy lifestyle. "Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women," said Dr. Cameual Wright of Riverview Hospital. "In fact, more women than men die of this disease each year. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle begins with reducing the risk of heart disease. This includes following a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, becoming active and having regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to identify and treat disease."
OK, so about that diet, how important is it?
"It is all about what you put in your mouth," said Schnieders. "Simple changes can be done one at a time. For example...soda pop. Change to water or a diet soda. There is too much sugar in soda pop. [Just by taking this one step] you will lose 10 pounds in a year. [Also] whole wheat, whole wheat, whole wheat. Stay away from white bread, white pasta, white anything. And fish. Can you stand it? It's full of good things like omega three fatty acids, which are good for heart health. Lean meat, white cheese: you can still have fun with food and cooking following some of these recommendations."
Wright concurs. "Because many health problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity can be linked to poor diet, it's important to make a healthy diet a priority," she said. "Women should try to include a variety of foods from each of the major food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, protein and healthy oils. The USDA has a website, www.choosemyplate.gov, which offers sound advice on diet and nutrition."
We're guessing deep-fried Twinkies are nowhere to be found on that site.
OK, so what about exercise? And how much?
"Thirty minutes a day, five days a week," said Schnieders. "This doesn't have to be 30 minutes all at once. Maybe you can do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. Cardio training along with strength training is recommended. Consult a fitness expert if you haven't exercised in a while. Remember, walking is easy and all you need is tennis shoes." (Although, when is a cute outfit ever a bad idea?)
"If weight loss is desired," said Wright, "cardio exercise time should be increased to 60 to 90 minutes most days of the week. Strength training should be included at least two days a week."
While lifestyle changes and yearly check-ups will go a long way in keeping one healthy, sometimes women face more serious health challenges with symptoms that need to be identified, addressed and treated. Bipolar disorder is one of those, and the signs may not immediately indicate its seriousness.
"Bipolar disorder is a mental condition that is associated with mood swings ranging from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression)," said Wright. "Other symptoms include inflated self-esteem, extreme happiness, poor judgement, rapid speech and aggressive behavior. On the 'extreme low' end, one could experience sadness, anxiety, sleep problems, concentration problems and suicidal thoughts or behavior."
Also, because bipolar disorder can run in families, "many times just by [the family history] a clinician can tell," adds Schnieders.
Family history or not, any combination of these symptoms might be serious, and one should see a doctor right away.
Postpartum depression is a far more common emotional and health issue faced by women. Being tearful or moody for the first two weeks after a baby is born is often called the '"baby blues".
"This is due to the drop in estrogen from the pregnancy," explains Schnieders. "Anything after these [two weeks] needs to be evaluated. It is a clinical depression that affects 10 to 15 percent of women and it may require medication and talk therapy. Any history of depression may put [a woman] at risk. There are also other factors, so please make sure to let your OB/GYN know what is going on with you. The earlier this is treated the better."