Preventive Care, Self-care
Women typically serve as the gate-keeper for everyone’s health. We watch the symptoms…we put the “mom” in thermometer…we make the appointments and do all we can to keep our loved ones healthy. But what about your own health? Who gives you the same love and attention you provide for everyone else? We hope you know that Axia is always here for you, and we wanted to share this list of 10 great ways you can love your own health—so you can be the vibrant, productive picture of health you deserve to be.
It almost goes without saying, as nearly every one of our new year’s resolutions, daily affirmations, or long stares into the bathroom mirror include some form of self-reminder to eat healthier. Unfortunately, for many this often leads to dieting—which isn’t inherently bad, but often times comes with calorie deficits, improper nutrition, or routines which are simply not sustainable for long-term health.
Instead of dieting, consider less drastic, more sustainable healthy eating habits combined with regular exercise to get the results you want in a way that is realistic and replicable in your busy life. Trying simple things like chewing more slowly and thoroughly, controlling portion sizes, eating more protein and fiber-rich foods, and increasing the amount of water you drink (especially before meals), and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the positive effect it has on your energy, sleep, and overall health.
We’ve pointed to a healthy, balanced diet and exercise as a path to life-long health, but one element that can be overlooked (especially when dieting) is the need for women to monitor their intake of key vitamins and calcium. Beyond general nutrition, women need vitamin D and calcium, specifically, to regulate cardiac and nerve function, aid in blood clotting, and to avoid osteoporosis. Did you know that, of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, 80% are women? Talk to your doctor about your specific vitamin/calcium requirements, as the need for both can vary with a women’s age and bone density. Getting an adequate intake of key vitamins and calcium, combined with a healthy diet and exercise regiment, is fundamental to your life-long health.
Saying “women need to get more rest” is akin to saying “water can be wet.” By the time we’ve tended to everyone else’s daily needs and make time for our own to-do list, who has the luxury of 8 hours of sleep?! Experts suggest that adults need a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night to provide the rest your brain and body need, yet Americans only average between 6.5 and 6.8 hours of sleep each night, and the trend has been steadily declining increasing for the past 30 years, with nearly one-third of us getting fewer than 6 hours of restful sleep each night.
Lack of sleep is tied to serious health risks like heart disease, weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, and impaired memory, and recent studies show that these risks are elevated in women. The dangers of not getting enough rest go far beyond a groggy morning, so use the following tips to improve the quality of your sleep, and by extension, your physical & mental health:
Regularly scheduled preventive care, including crucial tests like your Pap smear, annual gyn exam, and breast cancer screenings, are critically important for maintaining your overall health and for nurturing an effective and ongoing dialogue with your doctor. This seems pretty obvious.
But what you may not have considered are the mental and emotional benefits that stem from checking these important items off of your to-do list. In a world where we are constantly affected by uncontrollable external factors, taking an active role in measuring and maintaining your health not only reduces the stress of the unknown, but also promotes a feeling of preparedness. Replace “I’ll have to get to that sometime” healthcare with “I’m on top of this!” action, and you’ll regain a sense of control over the important things, slim down that to-do list, and find yourself in a much healthier position to boot!
Habits are important. They enable us to manage, in stride, the many faceted challenges that come at us from every direction and afford us the chance to prioritize accordingly. But few things can be more disheartening than when your daily routine, which is often your lifeline to sanity, becomes too monotonous and makes you feel like you’re in a rut.
When your stress-relief mechanism actually becomes a source of stress, what do you do? Shakeup that routine! Prioritize your own mental health and carve out 20 or 30 minutes to step outside of your routine and stimulate your mind. There’s no secret sauce here…some women have found mindfulness/meditation to provide a relaxing distraction, others point to artistic outlets, while some have identified simply going for a walk by themselves provides enough of a relief. No matter what activity speaks to you, taking a few minutes every day to remind yourself and your brain that you are more than just a function of your daily routine will have demonstrable effects on your life-long health.
An old saying, to be sure, but one that is based in actual fact! First, when you laugh, your body naturally reduces levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and other stress-making hormones in your blood and alters the dopamine and serotonin levels to give you a genuine and lasting feeling of well-being and positivity. Further, when you laugh you naturally relax hundreds of facial muscles and other tensed muscle groups which, in turn, also trigger an endorphin release to reduce your overall stress.
A few other benefits that you may have not have considered:
Whether or not to become sexually active is a very personal decision in a woman’s life. For those who choose a sexually active lifestyle, the combination of emotional intimacy and physical activity has a number of health benefits, including:
It’s important to note that these health benefits are not exclusive to sexual activity—in fact, many of these benefits are also accessible through other stress-relief techniques. What’s of critical importance is that your personal choices surrounding sexual activity and reproductive health include consensual, safe, and informed actions, and that you discuss any sexual-health questions or concerns as a part of the ongoing wellness dialogue with your doctor.
When the stress of life starts bearing down on you, some find relief in a smoke-break or a quick drink. This may feel like it “got you through” that stressful moment, but the negative long-term effects of such habits are well documented. With so many far healthier ways to get through those tough moments such as exercise, meditation, or emotional/social support from friends, skipping that next drink or drag avoids fueling your system with artificial stimulants/depressants which, at best, simply prolong the stress that caused you to reach for them in the first place. Whenever possible, limit your exposure to smoking and drinking and give your body and brain a chance to help you develop healthier mechanisms to get through those tough times.
For most of us, the thought of not having our phone, laptop, tablet nearby sounds like the start of a bad horror movie. We are increasingly reliant on technology to work, play, and yes, even relax, but we can’t lose sight of the health price we pay for these tools. Studies focused on technology’s impact on our lives point to everything from eye strain and muscle fatigue, to weight gain and laziness—and all pretty much end up at the same recommendation: moderation!
No one is suggesting you skip your next binge-watch, or look for a new career without screens. We’re simply suggesting you take a break and follow the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20 second break from your screens every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. This will not only speak directly to the eye-strain, but you’ll also begin training yourself through repetition that this interruption is necessary and a good way to rest your eyes, move your muscles, and clear your mind!
You may not realize it, but your posture affects your state of mind as much as it affects the stress on your joints and back. It’s well known that poor posture takes its toll on your back, joints, circulation, and more, but what is becoming increasingly evident is that poor posture can also negatively affect your mood and increase stress. Setting aside the negative emotions which stem from operating with joint or back pain, being slumped or hunched over is a defensive physical position and triggers your body to, therefore, be in a defensive state…more irritable, guarded, or stressed.
How can you effect a positive change? It all starts with awareness. Studies show that simply sitting upright can help improve your mental state and self-esteem. Also, remember the 20-20-20 rule! As you take that 20 second break, be mindful of your posture and the position of your chair to your workspace. Evaluate whether you’d benefit from alternative aids for working such as ergonomic furniture or a standing desk. It may seem small, but your posture is your outward sign to the world of who you are and how you are feeling. Therefore, it’s worth an honest look at the position of your wellness.