Women’s Health at Any Age

On an average day, so many things seem more urgent than taking care of your health. Your job, your family, your relationships. Shopping for groceries, paying bills, attending school recitals, running errands, staying in touch with friends and relatives, doing chores, taking care of pets. The list can seem endless. The same is true for women in every profession, in every part of the country, of every race and ethnicity, of every faith, in every family structure.

All of those activities are important. But so are you! Beyond all your responsibilities to others is your responsibility to yourself. You must take an active role in your health. You are important. You matter. You are worthy of your own care. If you haven’t yet taken that first step to better health, or are uncertain where to start, why not begin your journey now?

Below you will find health tips and in-depth information about health issues aimed directly at you and where you are in your life phase. Each section contains information about nutrition, physical activity, sexual health, mental health and links for more information. Just click on the section that represents your age group:

Ages 16-24

Your Health as a Teen and Young Adult

Taking care of your body now paves the way for a long and healthy life. The habits you follow and the choices you make today—good or bad—will have a lasting impact on your health as you enter later adulthood. Check out the tips below:

Eating healthy means getting the right balance of nutrients your body needs to function properly every day. Along with getting plenty of exercise, it’s one of the best habits you can have. Sometimes it’s hard to know what and how much to eat. Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Published by the U.S. government in 2005, this booklet can show you how to: Make smart choices from every food group Find a balance between food and physical activity that’s right for you Get the most nutrition out of your calories Click on the headings below to expand: Make Smart Choices From Every Food Group The best way to give your body the balanced nutrition it needs is by eating a variety of nutrient-packed foods every day. Just be sure to stay within your daily caloric needs. Mix up your choices within each food group. Focus on fruits. Eat a variety of fruits—whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried—rather than fruit juice for most of your fruit choices. Most women need two cups of fruit each day (for example, one small banana, one large orange and 1/4 cup of dried apricots or peaches). Vary your veggies. Eat more dark green veggies such as broccoli, kale and other dark leafy greens; orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and winter squash; and beans and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas and lentils. Get your calcium-rich foods. Get three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk or an equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese (1½ ounces of cheese equals one cup of milk) every day. If you either can’t or don’t drink milk, choose lactose-free milk products and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages. Make half your grains whole. Eat at least three ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day. One ounce is equal to about one slice of bread, one cup of breakfast cereal or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta. Look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats or corn are referred to as “whole” in the list of ingredients. Go lean with protein. Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it or grill it. And vary your protein choices with more fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. Know your fats. Look for food low in saturated and trans fats. Choose healthier fats found in canola and olive oil, nuts, seeds and even avocados! Find a Balance Between Food and Physical Activity That’s Right for You If you eat 100 more food calories a day than you burn, you’ll gain about one pound in a month. That’s about 10 pounds in a year. The bottom line is that to lose weight, it’s important to reduce calories and increase physical activity. Being healthier isn’t just about eating healthier. Regular physical activity is also important for your overall health and fitness. It helps you control your body weight by balancing the calories you take in as food with the calories you burn each day. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes as many days as possible. Increasing the intensity or length of time that you are physically active can have even greater health benefits and may be needed to control body weight. About 60 minutes a day may be needed to prevent weight gain. Get the Most Nutrition Out of Your Calories: Right-Size Your Portions Choose the most nutritionally rich foods you can from each food group each day; they should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but lower in calories. Pick foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products more often. The biggest nutrition problem in America is not WHAT we eat, but HOW MUCH we eat. The key to a healthy diet is to downsize your portions at breakfast, lunch, dinner and especially snack time. Be mindful when eating. Here are some quick and easy ways to enjoy more taste and nutrition while eating less. Listen to your body’s cues. Your internal signals of hunger and satisfaction can help you eat right if you listen to them. Prepare less food per meal. Large quantities of food make people eat more. If you want leftovers, put them out of sight and out of mind. Start with a small serving. Small servings may be exactly what you want and you can always have more if you are still hungry. Use small dishes and glasses. It really works. Smaller plates and taller, thinner glasses make you think that you are getting more with less. Slow down the pace of eating. Eating slowly enhances enjoyment of food and beverages and gives your brain time to register fullness. Eat half, and then wait 20 minutes. When you wait (and listen to internal cues), you can be satisfied with smaller-than-usual portions. Never eat out of the bag. When you eat out of bags, boxes or cartons, you usually eat more. Take a small portion and then put the bag away. Eat regular meals and snacks. When you plan regular meals and snacks, it’s easier to be satisfied with smaller portions each time. Skipping meals may lead you to eat more high-calorie, high-fat foods at your next meal or snack. Eat breakfast every day. Avoid eating in front of the TV or while you are busy with other activities. It is easy to lose track of how much you are eating if you eat while doing other things. Take a Multivitamin These are great tips to get you started eating healthy for life. But let’s face it; our busy lives sometimes get in the way of our best intentions. Fill in those nutrition gaps with a multivitamin and take it every day. Be sure to check the label to make sure your multivitamin has 100% DV folic acid. Still taking those children’s chewable vitamins? That may be OK for now, but if you have begun menstruation you may want to start taking adult vitamins. They can take some getting used to, but they are worth the extra effort. If you want to continue taking chewables, you should switch to adult chewables to get all the nutrients you need. Talk to your health care provider about what kind of multivitamin supplement you should take. For tips on choosing and taking multivitamins, visit the multivitamin section of this web site. Some content courtesy of the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). A complete copy of this information can be found at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/take_charge.htm. Additional content is courtesy of the Eat Smart, Move More Campaign from the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Division of Public Health. The original content and additional information can be found at http://www.myeatsmartmovemore.com/.
Think the only way to exercise is by spending hours in a gym or running marathons? Think again! Exercise is about moving your body. Even simple routine changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make a big difference. It is important to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Like eating well, physical activity helps you feel good. Being physically active may help you: Control your weight Build lean muscle Reduce your body fat Strengthen your bones Increase flexibility and balance Reduce your risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure There are also emotional and social benefits associated with regular physical activity that can help you do better in school or at work, including: Improved self-esteem and mood Decreased feelings of anxiety and depression Enhanced teamwork skills through sports Make Active Choices During Your Day The key to lifetime fitness is simple: Find physical activities you enjoy and do them regularly. If you like what you do, you won’t be looking for excuses not to exercise. For overall health, your best bet is to enjoy a wide variety of physical activities that bring a smile to your face and a bounce to your step. The more fun they are, the more likely you are to stick with them. Just follow the 30-10-5 rule: at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, at least 10 minutes at a time, at least five days a week. For best results, give your body what it deserves: Fun activities—because they are the ones that you’ll stick with! Aerobic activities like a brisk walk or dancing to get your heart pumping Body-shaping activities like lifting weights or even groceries to maintain muscles Stretching activities like water aerobics or gardening for flexibility and tone Balance activities like yoga or bike riding to strengthen bones and prevent falls Tame the Tube How much TV do you watch? If you are like many Americans, turning on the TV is the first thing you do in the morning and turning it off is the last thing you do before going to bed at night. Women who watch more TV are more likely to be overweight. Here are some tips to help you break the TV habit: Don’t keep the TV on all the time; tune into specific shows. Plan how much TV you are going to watch. Set clear limits for yourself. Tape your favorite shows and watch them later. This cuts down on TV time because you plan to watch specific shows instead of zoning out and flipping through the channels indefinitely. Replace after-school or after-work TV watching and video game use with physical activities. Get involved with activities at your school or in your community. Make a list of activities you want to do instead of watching TV. Get the TV out of the bedroom. For more information on physical activity, you can also visit this section of the everywomannc.org. Some content courtesy of the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). The original content and additional information can be found at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/ take_charge.htm. Additional content is courtesy of the Eat Smart, Move More Campaign from the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Division of Public Health. The original content and additional information can be found at http:// www.myeatsmartmovemore.com/.
Now that you’re more in control of your own health care decisions, you’re probably wondering what’s necessary to keep you healthy. Your questions might include: How often do I need to go for a check up? Which tests should I have? What health problems are most common for my age? What kind of birth control do I need? Finding a health care provider with whom you can frankly discuss your health care questions and concerns is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your health in your teens and 20’s. These are prime reproductive years for women. Menstrual issues, sexually transmitted infections, contraception and pregnancy are among your biggest health concerns right now. When you turn 21 you should start getting a pelvic exam with a Pap test every other year until you are 30. Try to pick a time of year that you can easily remember, like your birthday or your half birthday. Getting routine gynecological care will help you: understand your body and how it works establish what is normal for you find problems early so they can be treated or kept from getting worse learn how to protect yourself if you do have sex prepare for healthy relationships and future pregnancies For more information on your sexual health, please visit the Center for Young Women’s Health: http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/sexuality_menu.html.
There is only one you, so love yourself! Have you ever thought that there was something wrong with the way you look? Do you think that you are too short or too tall, too heavy or too skinny? If you’ve had thoughts like these, you’re not alone. Body image and self-esteem are tied together since how you feel about your body can affect your sense of self-worth. When you put yourself down about how you look, it can lead to negative feelings about yourself in general. If you start to have negative thoughts about the way you look, think about all of the traits that make you special. Look at your whole self—body and mind—in a positive light and write down what you see. Need a hand getting started? Focus on the good things in your life. Or, before you go to bed at night, name three things you did that day that made you happy. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life, you can feel more positive about yourself! Don’t forget to give yourself compliments, too! Say it out loud when the day is done! If you are struggling with an eating disorder or just can’t seem to feel better, talk to someone right away. Remember: You are beautiful! You are one of a kind! Real beauty comes from inside! Content courtesy of the National Women’s Health Information Center. The original content and additional information can be found at http://www.girlshealth.gov/mind/ bodyimage.htm.

Ages 25-35

Your Health in Your Mid 20’s Through Your Early 30’s

Whether you are still in school, out in the working world or at home with kids, being in your 20’s and 30’s is a liberating time. You now know yourself and your body well. You are in your prime reproductive years and are probably figuring out whether or not you want to get married or start a family—assuming you haven’t already. You have established habits that suit you and have dropped habits that don’t.

Now is the time to take the independence you gained as a teen and young adult to the next level. You’ve come a long way; now it’s time to really take control of your life!

You probably know a bit about nutrition at this point and have most likely tried dieting to lose weight a few times, too. You know what you should be doing to stay healthy, but choosing those options can be hard when you’re so busy. Instead of going over nutrition information in detail, we are going to talk about what you need most to keep those eating habits in shape. If you want to find out more about basic nutrition, click here.
Fruits and veggies: More matters! Fruits and veggies provide the unrivaled combination of great taste and nutrition; they are nature’s perfect convenience food! Eating lots of fruits and veggies is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Research shows that women who eat lots of fruits and veggies weigh less and have lower risks of some diseases.
The nutrients you need most in your mid 20’s to mid 30’s are iron, calcium and folic acid. You need 18 milligrams of iron every day to help combat anemia and keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Lean beef, pork, beans and some fortified cereals are iron-rich foods. If you are concerned about your iron level, consider being tested for anemia. You may need to take an additional iron supplement; ask your health care provider which one is right for you. Bone mass peaks in your 20’s before starting to decline in the next decade, so now is the time to make your bones as healthy as possible. Get enough calcium and vitamin D each day. The Dietary Reference Intake for women is 1,000 milligrams or about three servings of calcium each day. Fat-free milk and low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of calcium. (Weight-bearing or impact exercises are good for maintaining bone mass, so don’t forget to move more.) We get vitamin D from the sun and also from milk. Some studies show that folic acid might prevent some cancers and help prevent neural tube birth defects. Take 400 mcg of folic acid every day. The best source of folic acid comes from a daily multivitamin, but you can also find folic acid in fortified cereals. For more information about folic acid, click here.
By the time you are in your late 20’s and early 30’s, you have probably figured out whether or not you like to exercise. Some people have been doing the same exercise program for years. Others may have fallen out of the exercise habit or never taken it up in the first place. All activity counts, so it isn’t just about “exercising.” Taking the stairs, parking your car further from the store, dancing around the house—they all add up in a day. Do at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity on most or all days of the week. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from regular physical activity. Even modest amounts of physical activity can improve your health. Start with small, specific goals such as walking 10 minutes a day three days a week and slowly build up from there. Keep an activity log to track your progress. Try these activities to add more movement to your daily life:
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Make sure the stairs are well lit.
  • Get off the bus one stop early if you are in an area safe for walking.
  • Park the car farther away from entrances to stores, movie theaters or your home.
  • Take a short walk around the block with family, friends or coworkers.
  • In bad weather, walk around a mall.
  • Rake the leaves or wash the car.
  • Take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV.
People are more likely to be active if they like what they are doing. It also helps to get support from a friend or a family member. Try one of these activities or others you enjoy:
  • Brisk walking or jogging
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Aerobic exercise classes
  • Dancing (square dance, salsa, African dance, swing, belly dance)
  • Basketball or soccer
Strengthening activities include lifting weights, using resistance bands and doing push-ups or sit-ups. Besides building stronger muscles, strengthening activities may help you to:
  • Use more calories. Not only does the exercise burn calories, but having more muscle means you will burn more calories—even when you are sitting still.
  • Reduce injury. Stronger muscles improve balance and support your joints, lowering the risk of injury.
  • Maintain strong bones. Doing strengthening exercises regularly helps build bone mass and may prevent bone loss as you age.
Strengthening exercises should focus on working the major muscle groups of the body such as the chest, back and legs. Do exercises for each muscle group two or three times a week. Allow at least one day of rest for your muscles to recover and rebuild before another strengthening workout. (It is safe to do aerobic activity every day.)
Some content courtesy of the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). The original content and additional information can be found at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/better_health.htm#getactive.

Did you know that your reproductive system is the one of the most fragile systems in your body? It can easily get infected or injured; if it does, you may have long-term health problems. Taking simple steps to prevent getting or transmitting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will pay off, both for yourself and those you love. Here are some tips to lower your risk of infections or diseases:

  • Know that some methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants or diaphragms, will not protect you from HIV or other STIs. If you use one of these methods, be sure to also use a latex condom or dental dam (used for oral sex) correctly every time you have sex. For more information about birth control, click here.
  • Don’t share needles or IV drug equipment for legal drugs like insulin or illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the needles are sterile.
  • Talk with your sex partner(s) about STIs, HIV and using condoms. For information, call the National STI Hotline at 800-227-8922.
  • Talk frankly with your health care provider and your sex partner about any STIs you or your partner have or have had. Talk about any sores or discharge in the genital area. If you are living with HIV, be sure to tell your partner and your health care provider.
  • Have regular pelvic exams. Talk with your health care provider about how often you need them and ask them to test you for STIs.

Cervical Health

Cervical cancer is a disease that you can help prevent. It occurs when normal cells in the cervix change into cancer cells. Before that happens, abnormal cells develop on the cervix. By detecting the presence of these cells with a Pap test and treating the cervix before they become cancerous, you can prevent future cancer. Here are some steps you can take:
  • Get a Pap test. The best time to get a Pap test is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your last period. Do not have the test when you have your period and don’t use douches, vaginal medicines (unless your health care provider tells you to), spermicide, foams, creams or jellies two days before your Pap test. Talk to your health care provider about how often to get Pap tests.
  • If you have sex, stay with one partner who only has sex with you. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that can be passed on through sex. HPV can cause abnormal changes on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. Using condoms every time you have sex may reduce your chances of getting HPV. HPV can also be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with sores or infected genital skin that looks normal.
  • Ask your health care provider about an HPV test. In combination with a Pap test, an HPV test can help prevent cervical cancer by detecting the types of HPV that cause it.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with delicious fruits and vegetables. Carotene and vitamins C and E in particular may reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Carotene is found in tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli. You can get vitamin C by eating fruits and vegetables. Load up on oranges, green and red peppers, broccoli and strawberries. Good sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds and peanuts.
  • Don’t smoke. The relationship between cigarette smoking and cervical cancer is unknown, but tobacco use increases the risk of precancerous changes as well as cancer of the cervix.
For more information about your reproductive cycle, check out our women’s health information for other age groups.
Content courtesy of The National Women’s Health Information Center. The original content, entitled “A Lifetime of Good Health,” and additional information can be found at www.womenshealth.gov or by calling 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446).

Learn to Love What You See in the Mirror

When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see? Women in the U.S. are under pressure to measure up to a certain social and cultural ideal of beauty, which can lead to poor body image. Women are constantly bombarded with “Barbie”-like doll images. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. It’s no accident that youth, along with thinness, is increasingly promoted as an essential criterion of beauty.

Celebrate and Nourish Your Body

Building a healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity is important for a healthy body image. We all want to look our best, but a healthy body is not always linked to appearance. In fact, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes! Developing and nurturing a positive body image and a healthy mental attitude is crucial to your happiness and wellness!

Do you have kids?

If you already have children, be sure to maintain a positive body image and teach your kids to love their bodies, too. More information on how body image issues can affect children is available at http://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/kids.
Some content courtesy of The National Women’s Health Information Center. The original content and additional information can be found at http://www.4women.gov/bodyimage/.

Ages 36-49

Your Health in Your Mid 30’s Through Your Late 40’s

From your mid 30’s through your late 40’s, you probably know more about what you want from life than you ever have before. Take care of yourself and accomplish your health goals without getting burned out. Take a little time to reassess your health status to see what changes you can make. If you can’t seem to lose that extra weight, decide if you can live with it or not. If your current weight puts you are risk for more diseases, consider making some simple changes in your diet. Your health and happiness now will greatly affect your well-being as you approach middle age. Use the tips below to make sure you stay on track.

You probably know a bit about nutrition at this point and have most likely tried dieting to lose weight a few times, too. You know what you should be doing to stay healthy, but choosing those options can be hard when you’re so busy. Instead of going over nutrition information in detail, we are going to talk about what you need most to keep those eating habits in shape. To learn more about basic nutrition, click here.
Fruits and veggies: More matters! Fruits and veggies provide the unrivaled combination of great taste and nutrition; they are nature’s perfect convenience food! Eating lots of fruits and veggies is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Research shows that women who eat lots of fruits and veggies weigh less and have lower risks of some diseases.
The nutrients you need most during this time of your life are fiber, calcium, folic acid and nutrient-rich low-calorie foods. As your metabolism slows down, your cholesterol and blood pressure can go up, putting you at higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Taking measures to protect your heart, bones and digestive system now will help prevent health problems in the future. Protecting your heart should be a priority. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. and it is often preventable. Making sure your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight stay in check are three important ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that soy products be used in a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and lean meats. Omega-3 amino acids found in flax seeds and fatty fish are also reported to stave off heart disease1; if you are pregnant, Omega-3’s may play a role in the brain development and visual acuity of your unborn baby. Keep getting adequate fiber, too. Fiber may help lower your blood cholesterol and blood pressure while also playing a role in preventing obesity. The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 grams of fiber per day2. It is estimated that most Americans only consume half of that amount. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds are the best sources of fiber. Luckily, foods high in fiber are usually low in calories and fat while being packed with vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients. Your calcium intake is more important now, too. Adequate calcium can help prevent osteoporosis. As you get older, your bones don’t make new bone quickly enough to keep up with the bone loss. After menopause, bone loss increases more quickly. Since bones are made of calcium, the best way to prevent osteoporosis is to get enough calcium in your diet every day. Generally, you need between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams per day. You can get it through foods and/or calcium pills available from the drug store. Vitamin D also helps your body take in calcium. Vitamin D is measured in international units (IU); you need about 600 IU per day3. You can get vitamin D through sunlight and foods like milk. You need 10-15 minutes of sunlight to the hands, arms and face two to three times a week to get the proper amount of vitamin D. The amount of time depends on how sensitive your skin is to light, use of sunscreen, skin color and pollution. You can also get vitamin D by eating foods or taking multivitamins. Additionally, if you are still capable of becoming pregnant, you will need 400 mcg of folic acid every day to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. Some studies also show that folic acid might help with Alzheimer’s disease, forgetfulness, cognitive decline and age-related hearing loss. So even if you are not in your childbearing years, you can still benefit from folic acid. Check out our folic acid section for more information on how folic acid helps women of all ages.
Sources: The American Heart Association: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4632 The American Dietetic Association: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6796 NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/
It is important to protect your heart and bones through physical activity at any age. You may not be able to keep up with all those 20-year-olds, but you should still strive for wellness or fitness without pushing yourself too hard. Physical activity is essential to achieve physical health, emotional well-being and a healthy weight. Physical activity may help you control your weight by using excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat. Most foods and many beverages contain calories and everything you do uses calories. This includes sleeping, breathing, digesting food and, of course, moving around. Balancing the calories you eat with the calories you use through physical activity may help you maintain your current weight.

How much physical activity do I need for general health?

Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. This amount of physical activity may reduce your risk for some chronic diseases. To lose weight, experts recommend that you do 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. In addition, you should follow a nutritious eating plan and consume fewer calories than you burn each day. Remember that your weight may be affected by the balance of “calories-in” and “calories-out.” In order to keep off excess weight once you’ve lost it, experts recommend that you do 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity while continuing to eat nutritious foods that do not exceed your calorie requirements. Studies show that physical activity is very important to successful long-term weight control.

Becoming Physically Active

Physical activity may include structured activities such as walking, jogging, strength training or sports. It may also include daily activities such as household chores, yard work or walking the dog. Pick a combination of structured and daily activities that fits your schedule. If you have been inactive for a while, start slowly and work up to at least 30 minutes per day at a pace that is comfortable for you. If you are unable to be active for 30 minutes at one time, accumulate activity over the course of the day in 10- to 15-minute sessions. For example, whether you take three 10-minute walks or walk for 30 minutes all at once, you will achieve the same health benefits. If you want to lose weight, you may need to do more than 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Remember that you can be active in several shorter sessions and that your daily activities count towards calories used.

Make Active Choices During Your Day

Here are some ideas to help you start your physical activity program:
  • Take a brisk walk around the block with family, friends or coworkers.
  • Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator when it is safe to do so.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Take an activity break at work or home. Get up, stretch and walk around.
  • Park your car farther away from entrances of stores, movie theatres or your home and walk the extra distance when it is safe to do so.
  • Take a beginner’s level low-impact aerobics or step class.
Some content courtesy of the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). The original content and additional information can be found at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/physical.htm.
Your hormones may start to fluctuate in your mid to late 30’s. This time is called perimenopause and it is different for every woman. The best indicator of when you will start this hormonal change is genetically linked to when your mother started going through her body changes. Staying healthy by keeping a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) and exercising regularly, along with self-care and positive thinking, will help you through this change. It’s nothing bad or something to fear; rather, it is a normal process that you can take with all the grace and dedication that has already brought you so far in life.

What is perimenopause?

Perimenopause covers the time leading up to menopause when you start to notice menopause-related changes as well as the year after menopause occurs. Perimenopause is what some people call “being in menopause” or “going through menopause.” But menopause itself is only one day—the day you haven’t had a period for 12 months in a row. During perimenopause, your ovaries start to shut down, making less of certain hormones (estrogen and progesterone), and you begin to lose the ability to become pregnant. This change is a natural part of aging and signals that your reproductive years are drawing to an end.

When does perimenopause start?

Women normally go through perimenopause between ages 45 and 55, but some women start perimenopause as early as their 30’s. When perimenopause starts and how long it lasts varies from woman to woman. You will likely notice menopause-related symptoms such as changes in periods.

Can I get pregnant while in perimenopause?

Yes, you can get pregnant until you’ve gone 12 months in a row without a period. Talk to your health care provider about your birth control options. Keep in mind that birth control pills, shots, implants or diaphragms will not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or HIV. If you use one of these methods, be sure to also use a latex condom or dental dam (used for oral sex) correctly every time you have sexual contact. Be aware that condoms don’t provide complete protection against STDs and HIV—the only sure protection is abstinence (not having sex of any kind). But by making sure to always—and correctly—use latex condoms and other barrier methods, you can help prevent STDs.
Content courtesy of The National Women’s Health Information Center. Additional information can be found at http://womenshealth.gov/menopause/basics/#b.

There is Only One You, so Love Yourself

The truth is that there is only one you. That means you can’t do everything and be everywhere. You have unique needs and special talents, but that often makes you feel crunched for time and energy. By managing demands and stress well, you are telling yourself that you value you! During stress, women tend to care for their children and find support from their female friends. Women’s bodies make chemicals that are believed to promote these responses. One of these chemicals is oxytocin (ahk-see-toe-sin), which has a calming effect during stress. This is the same chemical released during childbirth and found at higher levels in breastfeeding mothers, who are believed to be calmer and more social than women who don’t breastfeed. Women also have the hormone estrogen, which boosts the effects of oxytocin. Men, however, have high levels of testosterone during stress, which blocks the calming effects of oxytocin and causes hostility, withdrawal and anger.

How can I help handle my stress?

Don’t let stress make you sick. As women, we tend to carry a higher burden of stress than we should. Often we aren’t even aware of our stress levels. Listen to your body, so that you know when stress is affecting your health. Here are ways to help you handle your stress.
  • Relax. It’s important to unwind. Each woman has her own way of relaxing, including deep breathing, yoga, meditation or massage therapy. If you can’t do these things, take a few minutes to sit, listen to soothing music or read a book.
  • Make time for yourself. It’s important to care for yourself. Think of this as an order from your doctor, so you don’t feel guilty! No matter how busy you are, try to set aside at least 15 minutes each day in your schedule to do something for yourself, like taking a bubble bath, going for a walk or calling a friend.
  • Sleep. Sleeping is a great way to help both your body and mind. Your stress could get worse if you don’t get enough sleep. You also can’t fight off sickness as well when you sleep poorly. With enough sleep, you can tackle your problems better and lower your risk for illness. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
  • Eat smart. Try to fuel up with fruits, vegetables and proteins. Good sources of protein include peanut butter, chicken and tuna salad. Eat whole grains such as wheat breads and wheat crackers. Don’t be fooled by the jolt you get from caffeine or sugar. That extra burst of energy will wear off.
  • Move more. Believe it or not, getting physical activity not only helps relieve your tense muscles, it improves your mood, too! Your body makes certain chemicals called endorphins before and after you work out. They relieve stress and lift your spirits.
  • Talk to friends. Talk to your friends to help you work through your stress. Friends are good listeners. Finding someone who will let you talk freely about your problems and feelings without judging you does a world of good. It also helps to hear a different point of view. Friends will remind you that you’re not alone.
  • Get help from a professional if you need it. Talk to a therapist. A therapist can help you work through stress and find better ways to deal with problems. For more serious stress-related disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), therapy can be helpful. There are also medications that can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help promote sleep.
  • Compromise. Sometimes, it’s not always worth the stress to argue. Give in once in awhile.
  • Write down your thoughts. Have you ever typed an email to a friend about your lousy day and felt better afterward? Why not grab a pen and paper and write down what’s going on in your life! Keeping a journal can be a great way to get things off your chest and work through issues. Later, you can go back and read through your journal and see the progress you’ve made!
  • Help others. Helping someone else can help you. Help your neighbor or volunteer in your community.
  • Get a hobby. Find something you enjoy. Make sure to give yourself time to explore your interests.
  • Set limits. When it comes to things like work and family, figure out what you can really do. There are only so many hours in the day. Set limits with yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to say NO to demands on your time and energy.
  • Plan your time. Think ahead about how you’re going to spend your time. Write a to-do list. Figure out what’s most important to do.
  • Don’t deal with stress in unhealthy ways. This includes drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking or overeating.

I heard deep breathing could help my stress. How do I do it?

Deep breathing is a good way to relax. Try it a couple of times every day. Here’s how to do it:
  1. Lie down or sit in a chair.
  2. Rest your hands on your stomach.
  3. Slowly count to four and inhale through your nose. Feel your stomach rise. Hold it for a second.
  4. Slowly count to four while you exhale through your mouth. To control how fast you exhale, purse your lips like you’re going to whistle. Your stomach will slowly fall.
  5. Repeat five to 10 times.
Content courtesy of The National Women’s Health Information Center.

Your Health in Your Mid 30’s Through Your Late 40’s

From your mid 30’s through your late 40’s, you probably know more about what you want from life than you ever have before. Take care of yourself and accomplish your health goals without getting burned out. Take a little time to reassess your health status to see what changes you can make. If you can’t seem to lose that extra weight, decide if you can live with it or not. If your current weight puts you are risk for more diseases, consider making some simple changes in your diet. Your health and happiness now will greatly affect your well-being as you approach middle age. Use the tips below to make sure you stay on track.

Ages 50 & Above

Your Health in Your 50’s and Beyond

Now is the time to reward yourself for all that dedication and hard work you put into your life and your family. If you’ve been neglecting yourself due to family and work demands, take the time to take care of your body and mind now. It’s never too late to start healthy habits for life.

Healthy eating and regular physical activity are keys to good health at any age. They may lower your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases. They may even help ward off depression and keep your mind sharp as you age. Talk to your health care provider for more specific advice if you have health problems or concerns. Remember, it’s never too late to make healthy changes in your life.
Fruits and veggies: More matters! Fruits and veggies provide the unrivaled combination of great taste and nutrition; they are nature’s perfect convenience food! Eating lots of fruits and veggies is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Research shows that women who eat lots of fruits and veggies weigh less and have lower risks of some diseases.
Your most important nutritional needs are getting plenty of B vitamins, antioxidants, calcium and vitamin D. Some studies suggest that folic acid might help with Alzheimer’s disease, forgetfulness, cognitive decline and age-related hearing loss. Check out our folic acid section for more information on how folic acid helps women of all ages.

Tips for Eating Healthy

  • Don’t skip meals. Skipping may lead you to eat more high-calorie, high-fat foods at your next meal or snack.
  • Select high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose lean beef, turkey breast, fish or chicken with the skin removed to lower the amount of fat and calories in your meals. As you age, your body needs fewer calories, especially if you aren’t very active.
  • Have three servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese every day. Milk products are high in calcium and vitamin D, and help keep your bones strong as you age. If you have trouble digesting milk products or simply don’t like them, try reduced-lactose milk products, soy-based beverages or tofu. You can also talk to your health care provider about taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
  • Choose foods fortified with vitamin B12. Many adults over the age of 50 have difficulty absorbing adequate amounts of this vitamin. Therefore, they should get this nutrient through fortified foods such as breakfast cereals or from a multivitamin. Talk with your health care provider to ensure that you are consuming enough vitamin B12.
  • Keep nutrient-rich snacks such as dried apricots, whole-wheat crackers, peanut butter, low-fat cheese and low-sodium soup on hand. Eat only small amounts of foods like dried apricots and peanut butter because they are high in calories. Limit how often you have high-fat and high-sugar snacks like cake, candy, chips and soda.
  • Drink plenty of water or water-based fluids. While you may feel less thirsty as you get older, your body still needs water to stay healthy. Examples of water-based fluids are caffeine-free tea and coffee, soup and low-fat or skim milk.
Ask your health care provider if you should take a daily multivitamin supplement. No pills have been proven to “stop aging” or “improve your memory.” Taking a “one-a-day” type, however, may help you meet your body’s nutrient needs every day.

What is a healthy weight?

Maintaining a healthy weight may reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. It may also help you move better and stay mentally sharp. If you know how tall you are and how much you weigh, you can learn your body mass index (BMI). Click here to access an online calculator. A healthy BMI means you have a reduced risk for health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, breathing problems, arthritis, and some cancers. Ask your health care provider what weight is right for you. If you start to gain or lose weight and don’t know why, your health care provider can tell you if this change is healthy for you.
Content courtesy of the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). The original content and additional information can be found at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/young_heart.htm.
Exercise and physical activity are good for you, no matter how old you are. In fact, staying active can help you:
  • Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent
  • Have more energy to do the things you want to do
  • Improve your balance
  • Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer
  • Perk up your mood and help reduce depression
You don’t need to buy special clothes or belong to a gym to become more active. Physical activity can and should be part of your everyday life. Find things you like to do. Go for brisk walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Climb stairs. Swim. Rake leaves. Try different kinds of activities that keep you moving. Look for new ways to build physical activity into your daily routine.

Who should exercise?

Almost anyone at any age can do some type of physical activity. You can still exercise even if you have a long-term condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help. For most older adults, taking a brisk walk, riding a bike, swimming, lifting weights and gardening are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But check with your health care provider if you are over 50 and aren’t used to energetic activity. You also should check with your health care provider if you have:
  • A chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease
  • Any new symptom you haven’t discussed with your health care provider
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing or fluttering
  • Blood clots
  • An infection or fever
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
  • Joint swelling
  • A bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery or laser treatment
  • A hernia
  • Prior hip surgery

Safety Tips

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:
  • Start slowly. This is especially important if you haven’t been active for a long time. Little by little, build up your activities and how hard you work at them.
  • Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. That could cause changes in your blood pressure. It may seem strange at first, but the rule is to breathe out as you lift something and breathe in as you relax.
  • Use safety equipment. For example, wear a helmet for bike riding or the right shoes for walking or jogging.
  • Keep hydrated. Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure to drink often when you are doing activities.
  • Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist. If you keep your back straight, you’re probably bending the right way. If your back “humps,” that’s probably wrong.
  • Warm up your muscles before you stretch. Try walking and light arm pumping first.
  • Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort or a bit weary but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active will probably make you feel better.

How to Find Out More

Local fitness centers or hospitals might be able to help you find a physical activity program that works for you. You also can check with nearby religious groups, senior and civic centers, parks, recreation associations, YMCAs, YWCAs or even area shopping malls for exercise, wellness or walking programs. Looking for a safe exercise program? Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging has strength, balance and stretching exercises you can do at home. You can order a free copy in English from the NIA Information Center. A Spanish version is available online at http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation. NIA also has a 48-minute exercise video/DVD for $7.
Content courtesy of the National Institute on Aging. The original content and additional information can be found at http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/exercise.asp and http://www.nia.nih.gov.
Menopause, or the “change of life,” is different for each woman. For example, while hot flashes and sleep problems may trouble your sister, you could have a new sense of freedom and energy. Your best friend, meanwhile, might hardly be aware of a change at all.

What is menopause?

Menopause is a normal part of life, just like puberty. It is the time of your last period, but symptoms can begin several years before that and can last for months or years after. A full year without a period is needed before you can say you have been “through menopause.” Postmenopause follows menopause and lasts the rest of your life. Menopause doesn’t usually happen before you are 40, but it can happen any time from your 30’s to your mid 50’s or later. The average age is 51. Smoking can lead to early menopause.
Source: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4632
Content courtesy of the National Institute on Aging. The original content and additional information can be found at http://www.niapublications.org/agepages/menopause.asp and http://www.nia.nih.gov.

There is only one you, so love yourself!

Research continues to show a link between the mind and the body. Having a negative outlook or feeling badly about yourself can lead to poor health. Many mature women lead fulfilling lives without suffering major declines in physical or mental health that often come later in life. They cope well with the physical changes that might make them less active and mental changes that might affect memory. For others, however, the physical and mental challenges brought on by aging can make their mature years a lonely, hopeless and difficult time.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems in older adults. Depression is a serious concern for older women. When depression develops, it is often played down as a normal part of aging. Older women with generalized anxiety disorder may feel worried almost all of the time. Nervousness and worrying often worsen during stressful situations. Older women often worry about health, safety or money.

Staying Connected

Keeping up with friendships and social connections—and making new ones—is key to beating the isolation and loneliness that can lead to later-life depression. Older women who volunteer or participate in community organizations enjoy much higher levels of mental and physical well-being than those who don’t. Helping others also boosts self-esteem. Older women have long felt that volunteering helps them:
  • Make an impact on their community
  • Learn a new skill
  • Expand their social network
Staying active can also boost your physical and mental health.

Keeping Your Mind Sharp

Just as physical activity keeps your body strong, mental activity keeps your mind sharp. One way to do this is to keep challenging yourself by learning new skills. If you do this, your brain will keep growing. Activities that can help keep your mind sharp include:
  • Learning to play a musical instrument
  • Playing Scrabble or doing crossword puzzles
  • Starting a new hobby such as crafts, painting, biking or bird watching
  • Staying informed about what’s going on in the world
  • Reading

Remember that everyone is different; you may experience health changes or concerns at different times than other women your age. If you can’t find the information you need within your age group, please check out other women’s health sections or contact your health care provider.

Additional information about women’s health can be found at the Office of Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources website: womenshealth.gov.