Daughter, wife, mother and friend – the role of a woman is multifaceted and the challenges of managing work, family and home can take its toll on even the healthiest person. August is Women’s Month and provides the perfect platform to create awareness about some of the health issues with which women are faced.
“Through self-care and making smarter overall health choices, women can reduce and curb the risk of certain diseases,’’ says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA). Here are a few general guidelines to help you make the best choices when it comes to your health – no matter your age:
MOMS AND MOMS-TO-BE
Be prepared: Minor injuries and the common cold and flu are bound to strike. Keep your medicine cabinet well-stocked with the essentials to treat minor ailments and injuries. For a handy medicine cabinet checklist visit www.selfcare247.co.za
Reduce risks: Women with gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy have an increased chance of developing heart diseases later in life. Visit a doctor for guidelines on how to improve your health before conception, during pregnancy and post-pregnancy.
Know your family history: Determine which diseases and conditions from which your family suffers. Knowing your family’s medical history can help you reduce the risk of either you or your child being diagnosed with a ‘family’ disease.
LATE TEENS AND 20’s
“You may think you’re invincible in your late teens and early twenties and poor health choices may not seem an immediate threat, but those choices can lead to diseases and other health complications in future. Start taking care of your health when you’re young, so that you can reap the rewards as you get older,’’ advises Vienings.
Don’t smoke: Some of the health risks associated with smoking include lung cancer, heart disease, cervical cancer and osteoporosis. Though many of these illnesses may only occur later on – the harm caused from prolonged smoking can become irreversible.
Safe fun in the sun: Protect your skin against the sun’s rays by wearing sunscreen and protective gear such as a wide-brimmed hat whenever you head outdoors – and avoid sunbeds!
Reproductive health: Consult your gynaecologist or reproductive healthcare specialist to help you choose a contraceptive that is the best option for you long-term. For optimal fertility, incorporate foods that are high in folic acid into your diet.
30’s AND FABULOUS 40’s
Healthcare in your 40’s should focus on developing and maintaining a doctor-patient relationship, a healthy lifestyle and regular check-ups. A few common health issues to which women in their 40’s should pay particular attention include the following:
Blood pressure, cholesterol: Blood pressure and cholesterol levels tend to increase as you get older, so too does your risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol within healthy levels by leading a healthy lifestyle and with medication if necessary. Consult your healthcare professional if medication is required.
Diabetes: Diabetes and the risk for type 2 diabetes increases with age. By monitoring your blood sugar at home, following a healthy diet and exercising, you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and better manage it if you’ve been diagnosed. Smoking worsens diabetes, therefore quitting will prove beneficial not only for managing diabetes, but for your overall health.
Osteoporosis: A healthy diet and regular weight-bearing exercise can help prevent osteoporosis as your risk increases after the age of 40. 1,200 mg of calcium a day is recommended for strong bones and can be ingested in the form of foods rich in calcium or a calcium and vitamin D supplement (vitamin D helps your body process calcium).
FIT AT 50+
Knowing which screening tests you need and medicines that may prevent diseases, as well as steps to take for good health is important for women aged 50 and above. Healthcare at 50 and over include some of the following:
Screening tests: Some of the important screenings for women over 50 include:
- Cervical cancer screening: a pap smear every three years. If you are older than 65 or have had a hysterectomy, speak with your doctor or healthcare professional about whether a screening is required.
- Colon cancer screening: For women aged 75 or younger.
Preventive medicines: Some of the medicines and supplements that you may require include:
- Aspirin: A healthcare professional can advise you on whether the use of Aspirin as a means to prevent strokes is the correct preventative treatment for you.
- Vitamin D: If you are 65 or older and have a history of falls or mobility problems, ask your doctor about the use of a vitamin D supplement to help reduce your chances of falling. Vitamin D affects muscle strength, thus potentially reducing the risk of falling.
Immunisations: A few vaccinations that may prove beneficial if you are 60 or older include shots for tetanus, flu and shingles – and pneumonia shot if you are 65 or older. Consult a doctor or healthcare professional to determine whether you require these and other vaccinations.
“It’s important for women of all ages to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and follow an overall healthy lifestyle,” concludes Allison. Speak to your doctor or healthcare professional for more information on ways to keep healthy and fit through the different stages of your life.