In celebration of Women’s Health Week, we’ve rounded up a list of 26 important points for every woman to outline the ABCs of women’s health. There’s a short statement below pertaining to women’s health for every letter of the alphabet. Join us in celebrating Women’s Health Week this week (and every week) so we can live our best, healthiest lives today and for years to come!
A - Arthritis
Arthritis should be a well-known term to every member of AOII, but especially because arthritis occurs more frequently in women than men. According to arthritis.org, an estimated 54 million adults have arthritis, with 25.9 percent of women having arthritis, compared to 18.3 percent of men with the disease. Currently, there is no cure for arthritis, but AOII members work diligently to raise funds that support arthritis research in hopes of finding a cure. Head over to arthritis.org for information, resources and opportunities to get involved!
B - Breast Exams
According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, with more than two million cases diagnosed in 2018. Breast self-exams are an important component to identifying breast cancer early, and early detection is key to successful treatment. The American Cancer Society recommends women begin receiving mammograms (x-rays of the breasts) between ages 40 and 44 if they choose. Between the ages of 45 and 54, it is recommended women have an annual mammogram. After the age of 55, women may switch to mammograms every other year or continue annual screenings. Screenings should continue as long as a woman is healthy.
C - Calcium
We’ve all been told calcium contributes to strong bones, but how much do we need and why does that matter? The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has a recommended dietary allowance (an average daily level of intake sufficient to meet nutrient requirements for nearly all healthy individuals) of 1,000 mg daily for women between 19 and 50 years of age and 1,200 mg daily for women over the age of 50. Why does calcium matter so much? Calcium has many functions, in particular is its contribution to bone health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Bones are constantly being remodeled every day, and calcium is moving in and out of them. In children and adolescents, the body builds new bone faster than it breaks down old bone so total bone mass increases. This continues until about age 30, when new bone formation and old bone breakdown start occurring at about the same rate. In older adults, especially in post-menopausal women, bone is broken down at a faster rate than it is built. If calcium intake is too low, this can contribute to osteoporosis.” And osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide. (Click on “O – Osteoporosis” for more info.)
D - Dental Health
Did you know you should have a dental checkup every six months to ensure good oral health? When was your last check up?
E - Eye Health
Did you know women are at a higher risk than men for vision loss from diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration? Additionally, did you know pregnancy can cause vision changes, and dry eye is more common after menopause? Regular eye exams should be part of your annual health screenings!
F - Folic Acid
Folic acid is an essential nutrient for all women, especially women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects, which are birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. It is recommended for women to begin take folic acid supplements a full year prior to conception to reduce the risks.
G - Gynecological Health
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends girls have their first OB/GYN appointment between the ages of 13 and 15, with annual wellness appointments each year after. At age 21, it is recommended for women to have a pelvic exam to check the health of a woman’s reproductive organs and a Pap test or Pap smear to check for any abnormalities of cervical cells, such as cervical cancer. At an annual exam, the OB/GYN may also perform a breast exam and demonstrate how to perform a self-exam at home. Your OB/GYN can also discuss things with you including menstrual cycle, birth control methods, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, vaccines that protect again certain types of cancers and more.
H - Heart Health
Did you know heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths among women each year? Furthermore, one woman dies about every 80 seconds as a result of cardiovascular disease. The good news is that 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be prevented according to the American Heart Association. Studies show living a healthy lifestyle has resulted in 330 fewer women dying as a result of heart disease per day. To lower your risk, you should manage your blood sugar, maintain a healthy blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, be aware of your family history, stay active by engaging in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, eat healthy and avoid smoking.
I - Iron
Iron is an essential mineral in the body. It transports oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, your body cannot produce enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and more. Iron is especially important for women, as we lose iron in blood each month because of menstruation. Do you know if you have enough iron in your diet? Examples of iron-rich foods include spinach, beef, shellfish, legumes, quinoa, broccoli and even dark chocolate! So go ahead and reach for that (dark) chocolate during that time of the month… And other iron-rich foods!
J - Joints
A joint is a connection between two bones. They allow you to bend your elbows, turn your head, move your shoulders and so on. According to WebMD, smooth tissue called cartilage and synovium and a lubricant called synovial fluid cushion the joints, so bones do not rub together. But increasing age, injury, or carrying too much weight can wear and tear your cartilage. This can lead to a reaction that can damage your joints and lead to arthritis. Keep your joints healthy by maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, increasing muscular strength, improving your posture and consuming plenty of calcium.
K - Know Your Body
As simple as it may sound, it is so important to know your body. Being in tune with your body can help you identify when something is not quite right. For example, regular self-breast exams or skin exams can make it easier to spot an unusual lump or mole that you may need to get checked out by a physician. Knowing the difference between 3 p.m. fatigue from a lack of sleep or heavy lunch and daily fatigue without obvious cause might help you identify something more serious such as iron deficiency.
L - Laughter
Laughter sure is good for the soul, but did you know there are some actual health benefits associated with laughter? Laughter has been shown to lower blood pressure, engage your abdominal muscles, reduce stress levels and trigger the release of endorphins, which are the “feel-good” chemicals in the body which act as a mood booster and a natural pain reliever.
M - Menopause
Menopause is the natural decline in reproductive hormones that occurs during a woman’s 40s or 50s until the ovaries eventually stop producing eggs and menstrual cycles end. It marks the end of menstrual cycles. Symptoms include irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, slowed metabolism, thinning hair and more. Symptoms will vary by woman, but most will experience irregular periods before they eventually end. Menopause symptoms may be reduced by eating a healthy diet, especially foods rich in calcium, protein, phytoestrogens and vitamin D, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water and reducing consumption of refined sugar and processed foods.
N - Nutrition
Because nutrition is such a vast topic, and nutrition needs vary by woman, it is difficult to minimize women’s nutrition needs to one simple paragraph. Consider meeting with a registered dietitian throughout life to help ensure you are properly fueling your body. Your nutrition needs as a 30-year-old expecting mother may look different from your needs as a 50-year-old woman experiencing symptoms of menopause. Check out this article that appeared in the Spring 2017 To Dragma about nutrition through the ages.
O - Osteoporosis
As mentioned earlier, osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women worldwide. When you have osteoporosis, bone fractures are a major risk. While there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are many things you can do to help prevent it. You should have a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, avoid smoking and second-hand smoke, and participate in regular physical exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise. (Click on “W – Weightlifting” for more info.)
P - Prenatal & Postnatal Health
One of the most obvious differences between men and women is the ability for women to carry and birth children. Like nutrition, pregnancy is a vast (and personal) topic. Your annual female wellness exam at your OB/GYN is a great time to ask questions related to pregnancy and postnatal health.
Q - Quality Time With Loved Ones
Social interaction with people you love may help you cope stress and improve your overall psychological well-being. If things are hectic at school or work, schedule some time with loved ones to help you relax and unwind a bit!
R - Relationships
Speaking of loved ones, how are your relationships? Women’s health encompasses a variety of things including relationships. Are relationships with friends, family, co-workers, peers and your significant other helping or harming your health? Toxic relationships can take a toll on your mental, emotional and physical health. Understanding signs of an unhealthy relationship can help you know when to leave. There are many resources available in your community, college campus and online to help you if you need it.
S - Skin Exam
According to the National Institute of Health, estimates show two to three million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer each year, and among women, it is those under 45 who are disproportionately affected. Additionally, there are increasing rates of melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer) in women before the age of 45. While there are many factors that contribute to your likelihood of getting skin cancer, you can help prevent your risk by using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every day, reducing your exposure to UV rays (click on “U – UV Rays” for more info.) and completely avoiding tanning beds.
T - Tobacco
Surely you know smoking contributes to a variety of health problems, including lung cancer. Annually, cigarette smoking kills an estimate 202,000 women in the U.S. In Canada, 14,200 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017, and 10,000 died as a result. Cigarettes are perhaps the most well-known product, but there are many forms of tobacco on the market today. It is important to know, there is no safe form of tobacco.
U - UV Rays
As mentioned in the Skin Exam section, UV rays should be avoided, as they are a major risk factor for most skin cancers. UV stands for ultraviolet radiation, and sunlight is the main source of UV rays. There are three types of rays, according to the American Cancer Society. UVA rays will age your skin cells and damage DNA. These rays are linked to wrinkles and play a role in some cancers. Tanning beds tend to give off significant amounts of UVA rays. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn. They also directly damage skin cells’ DNA, and they are the rays that cause most skin cancers. Finally, UVC rays have more energy than the two other types, but they do not penetrate through our atmosphere or sunlight. They are not typically a cause of skin cancer. It is important to note there are no safe UV rays. The strength of rays depends on many factors including time of day, season, altitude, distance from equator and more. Wearing UV-protective clothing and sunscreen can help reduce your risk of skin cancer and other effects.
V - Vitamins
Have you ever visited the vitamin aisle recently in your grocery or drugstore? It seems like there are a million vitamin varieties on the market today. With so many choices, it’s hard to know what your body truly needs or how each product will impact your health. A daily multi-vitamin is probably the most common vitamin in every woman’s bathroom cabinet, but before you start a vitamin regimen, be sure to meet with your physician to discuss your individual needs.
W - Weightlifting
We know we need to exercise (see “X – Exercise), but when you wander into your local gym do you head straight for the stair climber or do you hit the weights? If strength training is not part of your regular exercise program, add it in! There are dozens of reasons it is important for women to lift to weights. Despite the common thought, women will not get “bulky” as a result of weightlifting, simply because women lack the amount of testosterone needed to “bulk up” that men have. So go ahead and hit the weights! As a result, you will see a reduced risk of heart disease, injury, back pain, arthritis, diabetes, body fat percent and osteoporosis. Weightlifting can increase spinal bone mineral density, which, coupled with adequate calcium and vitamin D, is a great line of defense against osteoporosis.
X - Exercise
We all know exercise is an important component to a healthy lifestyle. The benefits are countless, and it can help prevent so many diseases, conditions and illnesses. Current guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. There is a method of exercise for every interest: swimming, boxing, tennis, volleyball, dance, pilates, cycling… The list goes on and on. Find what you like and get your exercise in!
Y - Yoga
We bet you’ve heard of yoga, but have you ever tried it? Yoga has tons of mental and physical benefits including increased flexibility and muscle ton, improved energy, mental well-being, respiration, athletic performance and metabolism, weight reduction, injury protection and stress management. Check out yoga studios on your campus, in your community or even online videos!
Z - Zzzs
Women need more sleep than men, according to Dr. Jim Horne, Britain leading sleep science expert. Pregnancy and menopause are two things that obviously impact only women’s sleep, but women tend to also be more prone to losing sleep as a result of worrying or being disturbed by a partner’s tossing and turning. In addition to eating well and participating in regular exercise, having a healthy, regular bedtime routine can help you catch a few more zzzs. Limiting caffeine and exposure to screens such as cell phones, laptops or TVs are a few good components to a healthy bedtime routine.