Tips to Live By

Head to Toe Women's Health Tips

May 30, 2024 - Kim Rivera Huston-Weber

Women's health looks different in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. Maintaining (or even improving) our health can include some simple actions that we can start or re-engage with at any time if we've been waylaid by any of the things that women often juggle: careers, raising children, maintaining family life, caring for elders and more.

Stay up to date on your vaccines

Vaccines aren't just for little kids. Keeping up with routine vaccinations is one way to stay on top of our health as we age. Vaccines help protect against getting — and spreading — largely preventable diseases. Common vaccines you may need can include:

  • COVID-19 vaccine
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • Meningococcal disease (MenB) vaccine
  • Influenza (flu) shot
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (Tdap) vaccine
  • Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
  • Zoster (shingles) vaccine

"Women must stay on top of their immunizations, no matter their age," says Dr. Ashley Drews, an infectious disease specialist with Houston Methodist. "A primary care provider can suggest the correct vaccine schedule based on your age and other risk factors, including yearly flu shots."

Know your risk and get cancer screenings

Getting cancer screenings is essential to women's health. Screenings can help find precancerous cells, tumors or polyps earlier and potentially before symptoms appear, when they're usually easier to treat. Once cancer symptoms appear, cancer may have grown or spread, when treatment is more difficult.

When you begin cancer screenings will be based on your age and family history with specific cancer types. For example, if your mother or grandmother had breast cancer, you may need to have your first mammogram before age 40. Same with colonoscopy — if a first-degree relative had colorectal cancer, you may have to start screening younger than the recommended start at 45 years old.

According to Dr. Drews, lung, breast and colorectal cancer are the top three causes of cancer death in American women.

Cancer screenings to talk to your doctor about can include:

  • Cervical cancer: A Pap smear, or Pap test, can be used to screen for cervical cancer. Pap tests are for women ages 21 to 65. How often you need a Pap smear will be based on your age, health history, and the results of your last Pap or HPV test.
  • Breast cancer: Screening mammograms are recommended for women at average risk of breast cancer starting at age 40. If you think you have any symptoms, talk to your doctor to schedule a diagnostic mammogram. Work with your doctor to discuss your personal breast cancer risk factors to understand if you need to begin getting mammograms at younger ages.
  • Colorectal cancer: Women at average risk of colorectal cancer should receive their first colonoscopy starting at age 45. Women with a family history of colorectal cancer or conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are at increased risk and may need to have their first screening sooner. Your doctor can recommend the schedule that's right for your unique situation.
  • Lung cancer: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends yearly lung cancer screening with a low-dose CT scan for people who meet all of the following:
    • Smoked for 20 pack-years or more — a pack-year is smoking an average of a pack a day for a whole year. You can reach 20 pack years by smoking two packs a day for 10 years or a pack a day for 20 years.
    • Currently smoke or have quit in the last 15 years
    • Currently 50 to 80 years old

"Cancer screening is an important part of preventive medicine for women," Dr. Drews says.

Practice healthy habits

The best way to stay healthy at any age, but especially as we get older (and wiser!), is to make sure we're practicing self-care. Not the trendy depiction of self-care that includes baths, scented candles and massages, but the World Health Organization definition: "The ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker."

Self-care includes all the actions one can take to stay healthy physically, mentally and emotionally in the long-term: eating a balanced diet, not being sedentary for long stretches, getting enough sleep, maintaining health care with regular checkups and the aforementioned vaccines and screenings. It can also include actions that support our mental and spiritual health, such as prioritizing rest, taking up a relaxing hobby, maintaining relationships with friends and family, meditating, attending religious services and much more.

And while we can't change our genetic makeup or family history of conditions, we can make lifestyle changes to help lower our risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death for women. These can include eating a heart-healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, limiting habits such as smoking and drinking, and getting enough sleep and exercise.

Eat a balanced diet

What's a balanced diet? One that limits the added sugars, saturated fats and excess salt that can be found in many ultra-processed foods and instead prioritizes vegetables, fruit, lean protein sources, healthy fats and whole grains. The Mediterranean diet, with its plant-based focus and anti-inflammatory effects, meets all the criteria of the American Heart Association's recommendations for a heart-healthy diet.

Get movement in your day

Whether it's the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association, most health organizations agree that a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity during the week can help you maintain your health. That's about 2.5 hours of exercising out of your week. The American Heart Association also recommends moderate to high-intensity resistance or strength training for at least two days a week for adults.

That can be tough for some people, whether the issue is making the time or mobility issues or joint pain that limit activity. Some movement is better than none at all — whether it's low-impact exercise or high-intensity interval training, there are benefits to all exercise.

So finding an activity you enjoy — walking, running, biking, Pilates, yoga, pickleball, you name it — will make it more likely that you can build a consistent routine. Start small if you've been inactive and build up to more rigorous activity to help prevent doing too much too soon and potentially injuring yourself.

Get quality sleep

Getting enough quality sleep is essential to help us regulate our mood and blood sugar levels and promote a healthy immune system. Keeping a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can go a long way to help you get restful sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping — perimenopause and sleep apnea are two common causes — it's important to talk with your primary care provider to get evaluated, so you can get back to catching your Z's.

Keep up with your health care

It's a stereotype that men must be repeatedly prodded and asked to get their routine checkups and health care. But women can be just as guilty of sidelining their own care by focusing on and caring for those around them.

"Women often take good care of others, sometimes at the expense of their own health," Dr. Drews says. "Making time to prioritize our health and well-being can help women not only live longer, but live better lives."

Dr. Drews emphasizes finding a primary care provider to get routine checkups is critical to maintaining our overall health, especially as we age.

"Working with a provider to manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar to keep them in range can help you lower your risk for heart disease and other conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease," Dr. Drews says. "Avoiding habits such as smoking, heavy alcohol use and drugs can also help prevent chronic disease."

Stay up-to-date
By signing up, you will receive our newsletter with articles, videos, health tips and more.
Please Enter Email
Please Enter Valid Email
Categories: Tips to Live By