National Women’s Health Week is being celebrated May 9-15 this year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health promotes this week as a reminder for women of all ages to make their health a priority. They and other health-related organizations also use this week as an opportunity to provide information about a wide range of health topics that can benefit women’s short- and long-term health.
Evaluating one’s health means taking a broad view of all the variables that define health. Examples of issues related to health include sleep habits, hydration, diet, physical activity, bone health, heart health, cancer risks, alcohol habits, drug use/misuse, lung health, reproductive health, mental health, immunity, eye health, intestinal and urinary tract health, personal safety, and the impact of various other medical concerns.
Let’s take a closer look. Although there are many factors related to health, each is not necessarily unique when it comes to actions steps for improvement. For instance, attention to appropriate physical activity and a nutritious diet can assist with a healthy body weight, a good immune system, eye health, and reducing the risks of diabetes/ heart disease/some cancers. They can also improve sleep/mood/some intestinal issues, and can benefit bone and brain health.
Another example of a multifunctional action step would be consuming adequate fluids. Sufficient hydration is important for the brain and many other body functions, and allows them to operate more efficiently. Staying hydrated can also maximize performance during physical activity, and is essential for the body’s cooling system.
Addressing mental health and mood issues can positively impact all the topics related to self-care. For many women this may need to be the starting point when it comes to self-care action steps. Ongoing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or poor self-image, may counter health as it can lead to poor dietary habits, over or under exercising, smoking, drug use/misuse, inappropriate alcohol intake, and sometimes risky behaviors. Improving mental health can therefore potentially assist in reversing a number of factors that counter health and wellbeing.
Women are often juggling many commitments and responsibilities, so self-care tends to get pushed to the end of the list. Some women verbalize that they feel guilty when they take time for themselves. It is important to consider that when we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot be at our best for others or be as efficient in accomplishing daily tasks. Better self-care can also affect how long we live and how that can impact those who love and depend on us. This suggests the importance of establishing priorities and finding a balance among all the demands of everyday life – including time for self-care.
Women may also want to consider the impact their actions have on those around them. Mothers can choose to be good role models for their children in the arena of self-care. Women can also influence other family members and friends with how they live their lives.
This designated week gives women an opportunity to assess how they are taking care of themselves (or not). Do your priorities align with how you spend the hours of your day? How much of each day is allotted to self-care? Do you take time for relaxation and pleasurable activities? How do you feel emotionally? Are you feeling sad, stressed, anxious, and/or depressed? Is there anything in your life that you are taking to extremes (exercise, eating, drug or alcohol use or misuse, smoking/vaping, work, etc.)?
Maybe use this week as a chance to make a list of how you could improve your health. What overall goals could you work towards? Once you write down these bigger goals, break each one into smaller realistic action steps that will start you on the path towards better health and life balance. Maybe create a daily check list for reminders. Depending on your personal goals, the list might include items such as do 30 minutes of physical activity today, eat three servings of fruit, get 8 hours of sleep, and consume a particular fluid intake goal.
Take note of what obstacles are preventing you from better self-care. Do any obstacles need to be addressed before some of your actions steps can happen? An example might be emotional issues (like anxiety or depression) that are paralyzing you from moving forward with healthy eating or exercise goals. Another example might be addressing sleep issues that are currently leaving you more emotionally vulnerable, mentally exhausted, or too low in physical energy to attend to self-care.
Do you need extra support or guidance from one or more health professionals and/or would you benefit from other resources to assist you in achieving your goals? Most women know what they should be doing for better health but the difficulty often lies in integrating those into their real life. Rather than trying to “reinvent the wheel”, consider asking others how they attend to self-care.
Are you attentive to annual medical check-ups and timely screenings that can identify potential health concerns? These might include timely paps/gynecological exams, mammograms, bone density tests, eye exams, colonoscopies, etc. Are you consistently taking any prescribed medications?
So, take advantage of Women’s Health Week as a great opportunity to look at how you are taking care of yourself. Think about how you can move self-care activities higher up on your priority list, not only for yourself, but also for those who care about you.
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She has also been the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and provides guidance in sports nutrition. (See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas).