Thanks to ongoing advances in medicine and a relatively high standard of living, most women in the United States today can look forward to living well into their late 70s or early 80s. But while you may enjoy a greater life expectancy than your mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother did, a longer life doesn’t necessarily mean a healthier one.
In fact, it’s precisely because you can expect to live longer that you should do everything in your power to ensure you’re as healthy as possible. But what, exactly, does that mean?
Here at Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, we believe that good health is more than just a concept — it’s a lifelong commitment to mindful action. Making healthy lifestyle changes at any time, whether you’re in your 20s, 40s, or 60s, can help you avoid chronic illness and slow down the aging process, inside and out.
In celebration of National Women’s Health Week, we offer six of our best tips for taking steps toward personal optimal health, no matter where you are in life.
Be physically active more often
It’s hard to overstate the importance of regular physical activity. In general, women who exercise tend to have healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and also have a lower risk of developing serious chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. As you approach menopause, staying physically active can also help curtail or alleviate bothersome symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and moodiness.
Finding the time for 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week can help you sleep better, give you more energy, help control unhealthy food cravings, and keep you at a healthy body weight.
Easier said than done, right? Fortunately, there are easy and practical ways to boost your activity level. Simply getting a fitness tracker can give you the motivation to increase your daily step count. To make it even more interesting, try challenging your friends and coworkers to weekly step competitions.
Take the stairs as often as possible to work more activity into your day, or work in more steps by routinely parking your car a little further away from your destination. Walking is a great way to get centered, decompress, or enjoy the weather, too. Go for an early morning walk before you head to work, or just after you get home before you wind down for the evening.
If you’re already active, chances are you can find ways to improve your fitness routine. A well-rounded exercise program places as much emphasis on strength and endurance as it does on flexibility, balance, and mobility.
Make sleep a top priority
For many women, the demands of modern life make it increasingly harder to get a good night’s sleep. But here’s the thing: Your to-do list isn’t nearly as important as the health benefits that quality sleep can provide.
Getting the amount of sleep you need to feel rested and balanced can help you stay productive, preserve a higher level of reasoning, and keep your emotions steady. It also helps protect your long-term health.
Sleep is an important factor at all stages of life. It’s restorative for mind and body alike. Women who routinely don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have weight control issues and memory problems — plus an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Start by cultivating better sleep habits. Don’t consume caffeine after 2pm. Avoid screen time within 30 minutes of going to bed — put your phone on silent or sleep mode and turn off all alerts. Instead of watching TV or using a computer or tablet, read a book or listen to relaxing music.
You may find it helpful to use meditative practices and deep breathing to clear your mind, or try bedtime journaling to release any thoughts that are weighing you down.
Schedule an annual well-woman exam
If you only see your doctor when you’re not feeling well, you’re missing out on a major chance to safeguard your long-term health. You can’t take care of an underlying health problem if you don’t know about it.
Preventive care is a cornerstone of good health, and that means you’re never too busy to make time for your annual well woman exam. It’s an excellent opportunity to check for serious health concerns that typically go unnoticed, including high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels. It’s also a good time to evaluate your need for a mammogram, Pap test, HPV screening, and osteoporosis screening.
Quit smoking for good
Smoking is a devastating habit that has a negative effect on every bodily system. Besides increasing your risk for various types of cancer, it also makes you more likely to develop osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, and gum disease. Women who smoke are also more likely to go through menopause at an earlier age than those who don’t.
Come in for a visit to talk with us about ways you can quit smoking for good. Know that you’re not alone — tobacco addiction affects 14% of American women — but there are support groups, medications, and substitutes that can help. The good news is that quitting smoking, even if you’ve already reached middle age, can cut your risk of early death in half.
Improve your diet
Pay attention to what you’re eating! Eating healthy doesn't mean boring or bland food. On the contrary, it can mean fresh and fun flavors, colorful appetizing plates, and a whole new world of ingredients you've never tried before. Try to eat whole, fresh foods as often as possible. Even when time doesn't permit a home-cooked meal, take a look at the ingredients in the packaged foods you buy at the store.
Pay particular attention to sugar and carbohydrate content, especially in foods that are labeled "low-fat." Consider whole-grain or vegetarian alternatives that are less processed and more nutritious — faro, quinoa, or cauliflower rice are healthier alternatives to white rice and traditional pasta, for example. Add herbs and spices to expand flavors and make healthy meals more interesting.
Put more fiber in your diet, which is found in plant-based foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Women who eat a fiber-rich diet are more likely to maintain a lower body weight, avoid chronic illness, and live longer.
Escape the monotony of daily routine
When you have a lot going on in your life, having a solid routine can help you get through the day with greater ease. But when your routine starts to feel like a rut, you can lose touch with yourself.
To stimulate your mind and bring a little creative energy back into your life, try shaking things up. Turn off your phone, and give yourself 20 minutes each day to engage in something you love. Whether you choose to meditate, head outside for a walk, paint a picture, or spend a few minutes learning a new language, your 20-minute moment will reinvigorate your mind for the rest of the day.
As women’s health experts, there’s nothing more exciting for us than being able to help you find your best personal wellness. Let us know how we can help you. Call our office in Princeton, New Jersey, or schedule an appointment online any time.