Self-Care for Women: 5 Simple Steps
March 24, 2023
So many women spend their days, indeed their lives, taking care of others – often ignoring their own health and wellness needs. Our experts offer five easy ways to help you stay healthy and active so you can achieve your personal best, now and for a lifetime.
ONE: Get Plenty of Good Sleep
Getting enough quality sleep is essential as it can affect every aspect of your mental and physical well-being. A chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk for a wide range of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, stroke and depression.
Women, in particular, are more likely to experience insomnia and other sleep disorders due to changing hormones during their menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause. Lack of sleep can also disrupt the hormonal processes that trigger ovulation, thereby affecting fertility.
In addition, studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can affect your immune system and lower your ability to fight infectious diseases. During sleep, the body releases protective proteins called cytokines that help fight infection and inflammation. Sleep deprivation decreases the body’s production of these proteins, making you more likely to get sick when exposed to certain viruses.
To ensure 7-9 hours of good, restorative sleep every night, experts recommend practicing good sleep hygiene, which includes:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends
- Avoid all screen time (TV, computer, phone) for at least one hour before bedtime
- Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark
- Avoid eating, caffeinated beverages and alcohol in the evening
- Get some exercise each day, but not within three hours of bedtime
TWO: Eat a Healthy, Colorful Diet
Although women generally have higher life expectancies than men, they also tend to experience higher rates of debilitating illness in their lifetime, including macular degeneration, autoimmune diseases and dementia. This may be due in part to simply living longer; however, studies suggest that women can reduce their risk for degenerative diseases by eating the right foods, including plenty of lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and a wide variety of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables like yams, kale, spinach, watermelon, bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges and carrots are high in pigmented carotenoids – beneficial antioxidants that can protect you from disease, prevent visual and cognitive loss and enhance your immune system. Women require significantly more carotenoids than men for optimal health.
Along with carotenoids, colorful fruits and vegetables also contain many other vitamins and nutrients that you need to stay healthy. Specifically, dark green vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale, along with certain beans and legumes, contain folic acid, an essential nutrient to lower the risk of birth defects. Government guidelines suggest that all women of childbearing age get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.
THREE: Find Time for Peace and Calm Every Day
Women today are under more stress than ever. Between career, family and household responsibilities, the to-do list can feel never-ending. The resulting stress can lead to serious health consequences, including a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression and gastrointestinal problems. For women who are trying to get pregnant, high stress levels can also affect their ability to conceive.
Finding time each day to de-stress through yoga or meditation can help women achieve better physical and mental health, restore energy levels and boost self-esteem. Even just five minutes of meditation a day can help boost metabolism, lower blood pressure, release muscle tension and slow heart and breathing rates. Regular yoga practice can sharpen concentration; create mental clarity and calmness; ease stiffness and tension in the lower back; and lessen anxiety and depression by controlling hormone levels in the body.
Check out the free guided audio meditations and yoga therapy classes that are available through the UH Connor Whole Health Network.
FOUR: Walk, Run or Stretch to Stay Flexible and Strong
Regardless of age or fitness level, regular physical exercise is essential for everyone. It can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, improve cognitive function and, in older adults, prevent or slow bone loss and reduce the risk of falls.
Exercise plays a particularly essential role in a woman’s life. At every stage from puberty, to young adulthood and pregnancy, to midlife and menopause, staying fit and active can ease women through these transitions in unique ways.
Exercise releases natural painkillers called endorphins, which, during the reproductive years, can help relieve menstrual pain. Women who have normal (not high risk) pregnancies are encouraged to engage in doctor-approved workouts to minimize the risk of C-section, gestational diabetes and hypertension. Being fit will also help during labor and can reduce the risk of post-partum depression.
It’s important to note that while moderate exercise may increase fertility, intense exercise may inhibit ovulation. Being underweight or overweight can have the same effect due to hormones.
Older women, during perimenopause, menopause and beyond, benefit from aerobic exercise and strength training in particular, which can prevent or slow bone and muscle loss. It can also delay or prevent chronic diseases from developing and reduce the risk of falling and bone fractures. If exercise is consistent, the natural endorphins released may also minimize menopause symptoms and allow for better sleep.
You should always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, particularly if you have a medical condition, are pregnant, overweight or over 40 years of age.
FIVE: Get Regular Checkups and Preventive Screenings
All women, even those who are young and healthy, should commit to annual checkups with both their primary care physician and OB/GYN. Routine physicals and age-appropriate health screenings can detect potential health concerns early and prevent them from becoming serious issues. Take the time to take care of yourself – it will be time well spent.
University Hospitals has a wide network of women’s health specialists at convenient locations across the region. Schedule an appointment today and take control of your health for a lifetime.
Tags: Prevention, Wellness