Self Care, the Key to Improving Women’s Health
Today’s women have more stress in their lives than ever before. After factoring in work, family, household, and volunteer responsibilities, women can often feel like there’s little time left to take care of themselves.
Thankfully, recognition for women’s unique health care needs is finally gaining ground. There’s a push to provide guidance and encouragement for women to protect their health, starting with preventative self-care.[1,2]
Show Self-Compassion with Self-Care
Self-compassion is the ability to be as thoughtful of yourself as you are your closest loved ones and is often the first step toward self-care. Self-care means taking time to meet your own needs in ways that keep you feeling your best.3
It’s not unusual for women to struggle with self-compassion and self-care.4 It may help to keep in mind that preventing health problems is a wise investment in yourself and that your wellness will also benefit the people you care for.
Eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, and scheduling preventative health screenings are all priceless gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones.[5,6,7,8]
Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Nutrient-dense food is packed with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that benefit your body. The right foods may help:
Prevent heart disease, cancer, and stroke, which are the top causes of death in women.
Maintain bone strength.
Keep hair and teeth healthy and looking their best.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Allow the digestive system to run smoothly by supporting regularity.
Choosing a plant-based eating pattern like the Mediterranean Diet is a good way to get plenty of nutrient-dense foods. This eating pattern encourages a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, omega-3 packed fish, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats like olive oil.9
Certain foods can also help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which may help people maintain good overall health. Beneficial bacteria living in our gut thrive when we eat certain “prebiotic” foods that are high in fiber.10 Probiotic foods contain good bacteria, adding to the population already living in the intestines.11
Some prebiotic foods include: 10
Vegetables like asparagus, jicama, onions, and Jerusalem artichokes.
Fruit like bananas, apples, and berries.
Legumes like chickpeas and dried beans
Whole grains like oats, brown rice, and whole wheat.
Some probiotic foods include:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic training every week along with two days each week of whole-body muscle-building movements. Regular exercise has been shown to help women maintain optimal health in many ways including maintaining muscle and bone strength, improving cognitive function, and reducing mood swings.6
Some research also shows that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can help maintain a healthy microbiome. A few examples of moderate-intensity training include:
Riding a bike
Medical Screening Through the Lifespan
Routine health screenings can detect problems before they progress too far for treatment. Here are some general guidelines and recommendations for women by age.[7,8]
Between Ages 11-12: Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is recommended.
During puberty: Teach girls the importance of knowing what their normal breasts feel like so they can report major changes to their doctor.12
Age 18: Begin having blood pressure checked at least every two years.
Have cholesterol checked if you’re at risk for heart disease.
Have a gynecological visit and pap-smear to screen for cervical cancer every three years, or more often if you’re at higher risk.
Age 35: It’s recommended to screen for diabetes by age 35 if you’re at high risk.
Age 40: Begin mammogram screenings for breast cancer. Newer research shows that surprisingly mammograms may also be a useful tool for detecting cardiovascular disease.
Ages 45: Colon cancer screenings are recommended for African American women at age 45, and age 50 for women at lower risk.
Age 65: Schedule bone mineral density scans for osteoporosis.
As with any type of screening, always speak to your doctor about what is recommended for you.
Don’t Forget Routine Primary Care Visits
Routine visits with your primary care manager can help women get assessed for risk of future diseases, receive vaccinations when appropriate, and help women build a trusted relationship with their health care team before problems arise.
By following these preventative health tips, women can give themselves a chance at living active, full lives.
Remes, Olivia, Carol Brayne, Rianne van der Linde, and Louise Lafortune. 2016. Brain and Behavior 6 (7): e00497.
Miller, Cindy Lynne, and Shaelyn M. Strachan. 2020. Women & Health 60 (7): 763–75.
CDC. 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 16, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/resources-publications/benefits-of-healthy-eating.html.
“Current Guidelines.” n.d. Accessed May 18, 2022. https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines/current-guidelines.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). MedlinePlus. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007462.htm
Tuig, B. V. n.d. Accessed May 22, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/womens-preventive-care-infographic.
Martini, Daniela. 2019. Nutrients 11 (8). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081802.
Gut Insight. n.d. Accessed May 21, 2022. http://www.gutinsight.com/prebiotic_food_sources_list.html.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. n.d. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Accessed May 21, 2022. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/microbiome/index.cfm
Printz, Carrie. 2016. Cancer 122 (5): 663.
Corliss, Julie. 2022. Harvard Health. June 1, 2022. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/mammograms-may-help-reveal-cardiovascular-risk
Rall, Brittany. 2022. Cleveland Clinic Newsroom (blog). May 10, 2022. https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2022/05/10/importance-of-routine-checkups-for-women/.