This week is National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) in the United States, a weeklong health observance led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH). From May 10th through May 16th, women and girls are reminded to make their health a priority and take care of themselves.
We encourage you to focus on your mental and physical health, to slow down and find what works best for you. To help, we put together a few steps women can take for better health.
6 Steps Women Can Take For Better Health
1. Eat Healthy
Healthy eating is important for your overall health and wellbeing and can prevent or manage many health problems that affect women. By eating healthy, you will help your body and brain get the energy it needs, as well as essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal health at any age.
As a simple guideline, aim to eat well-balanced meals and snacks each day. Some of the best healthy foods include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Lean proteins, such as seafood, skinless poultry, lean meats, eggs, beans and legumes, tofu and unsalted nuts
Try to avoid or limit the following:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fat
- Added sugars, such as corn syrup, fructose, glucose, etc.
If you’re interested in reading food labels, check out this helpful resource. You can also check out this resource from Office on Women’s Health for more advice on healthy eating for women.
2. Get Active
Getting regular exercise is one of the most important steps you can take to live a healthy life. Women should aim to be active for a minimum of 30 minutes every day, whether it’s indoors or outside.
Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure, help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your mental health, keep your bones strong, improve your sleep and lower your risk of diseases such as breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, to name a few.
For optimal results, try to do a combination of moderate intensity activities, such as a brisk 30-minute walk 5 days a week, and muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
Exercise and Your Period
Some people may wonder if it’s okay to exercise while on their period. The answer to that is yes, but most often a less rigorous workout is recommended. Keep in mind some people may experience low energy levels during their period, while others have more energy than usual. Either is normal due to changing hormones throughout your menstrual cycle.
For more information check out our blog post on exercise and periods.
3. Get a Good Sleep
It’s an unfortunate reality that women are more likely than men to have insomnia and other sleep problems. This is due to changing hormones during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause. But there are steps you can take to get the rest you need, and in turn, improve your mental and physical health and boost your immune system.
Most adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. However, this isn’t the reality for a lot of people. Many women who experience hormonal changes have trouble sleeping. For example, people with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) often report trouble sleeping. In fact, nearly 7 in 10 women with PMDD say they have a hard time falling asleep, and staying asleep, in the days leading up to their period.
If you find you have a hard time getting a good sleep, try these tips:
- Stick to a regular sleeping schedule and go to bed at the same time each night.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Get enough physical activity throughout the day. Keep in mind, exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
- Do not play on your phone or watch TV before bed. Instead, try reading a book or doing another quiet activity until you feel sleepy.
For more information on how to get a better sleep, check out our blog post on tips for better sleep during your menstrual cycle.
4. Take Care of Your Mental Health
There are many things that can affect your mental health, from trauma, stress, sleep problems, and more. Although you can’t necessarily prevent a mental health condition, you can take steps to protect and support your mental health throughout your life.
You should aim to eat healthy, get enough exercise and sleep, of course, but other things to consider are finding ways to manage stress, staying connected to family and friends, taking time for self-care, and seeking help if you are concerned about your mental health.
Hormones can affect a women’s emotions and moods throughout her lifetime. If you find your mental health feels worse at different times of the month, this could be linked to your menstrual cycle. Check out our post on how to help care for your mental health throughout your menstrual cycle.
5. Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to certain situations, such as sudden change or a challenge. During stressful events, your body will release hormones, such as adrenaline. This can be helpful at the time, but long-term stress can lead to serious health problems.
Long-term stress effects include:
- Skin problems
- Upset stomach
- Heart problems
- Lack of energy and/or focus
- Overeating or not eating enough
- Trouble sleeping
It’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress. Some things you can try are:
- Keeping a journal to express your thoughts
- Talk to family and friends
- Take time for yourself to listen to music, read a book, watch a movie or engage in a hobby
- Talk to your healthcare provider, who may suggest counselling or medication
Everyone deals with stress at some points in their lives, but how you manage it is what’s important. If you need help managing stress, please talk to a healthcare professional.
6. Talk to a Healthcare Provider
Many healthcare providers are offering over the phone appointments right now, so you don’t have to go in unless absolutely necessary. If something doesn’t feel right, if you are experiencing heightened feelings of stress or are worried about your mental health, or have any other health concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider or, if you are in the US you can use Telehealth.