Celebrate National Women’s Health Week by making these changes to improve your physical and mental health.
By Dr. Patricia Ferguson
Over 13 percent of American women ages 18 and older are considered to be in fair or poor health. To combat statistics like these, National Women’s Health Week — an annual initiative that begins on Mother’s Day — focuses on empowering women to make healthier lifestyle choices while addressing the major health conditions impacting women across the world. Though every day is a good day to make better choices, this observance, which is spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health, serves as the perfect time for women to reflect on their personal health and make changes to positively influence their overall well-being.
When it comes to family care, whether that’s children, a husband or elderly parents, women tend to put their own health — and happiness — on the backburner. However, prioritizing time to disconnect from the responsibilities of being a mom, wife and/or daughter improves physical and mental wellness. It’s important to set aside at least an hour every day to read a book, exercise, meditate or just enjoy time alone. Asserting personal needs on a regular basis has the potential to increase satisfaction in all facets of life. Women also need regular health checkups just like everyone else. Some of the most prevalent health screenings for women to keep in mind include breast and cervical cancer screenings and basic lab tests such as blood count, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure testing.
2. Body Awareness
Serious health issues can present themselves in subtle ways throughout the body. It’s important to be aware of any significant changes that may occur, and talk to a doctor about any concerning, new developments. For example, it’s especially critical to stay on top of breast health by doing regular self-exams to check for warning signs of breast cancer such as lumps, dimpling of the skin, an inverted nipple or changes in the size or shape of the breast.
3. Environmental Changes
The home should always be a place to let go of the day’s worries. Unfortunately, that’s rarely true when considering the chores that generally await after the work day is done. Still, the home space has a profound effect on mental health. Increasing natural light by opening blinds or curtains is a great first step. It’s also helpful to shut down technological devices and disconnect, so there’s no temptation to check work emails or browse social media, which can trigger stress or anxiety. Using essential oils or aromatherapy can be soothing as well. Specific scents have been known to promote better sleep and decrease irritability.
4. Stress Management
Daily work and family responsibilities can weigh heavily on a woman. The constant pressure may lead to chronic stress, which increases inflammation and the risk of heart disease. Thankfully, a healthy diet and regular exercise promote the production of endorphins, feel-good chemicals in the brain, to help reduce stress and enhance positive thoughts. Deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques can also serve as effective options to induce relaxation and a sense of calm.
5. Skin Care
The skin is the largest organ of the body, and it requires a lot of care to remain healthy and vibrant. Since women typically use several products on their skin from cosmetics to moisturizers, it’s important to remember to properly cleanse and protect the body’s outer layer. Be sure to wash makeup brushes at least once a week as these tools can harbor dirt and bacteria. Sunscreen is of equal importance to shield the skin from harmful UV rays that can cause wrinkles and increase the risk of skin cancer. Lastly, don’t underestimate the effectiveness of drinking water and maintaining adequate sleep for glowing skin. Strive to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Your skin, and overall health, will benefit.
Dr. Patricia Ferguson is a women’s health expert and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.