May 10-16, 2020 has been designated as National Women’s Health Week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. It is a time to highlight health topics that affect women and to understand how women and girls can take control of their health.
During the current pandemic, everyone is finding themselves in situations that add extra stress and new stressors to their lives. Women (and, of course, men too—but we are focusing on women right now) are having to take on different roles, juggling added household, childcare, and work demands. We are experiencing physical isolation from our usual family and friend support network. This can all lead to less time and resources that are vital for our needs and our health. And I’m sure you (or the women you love) are feeling these effects. We can all adapt and manage these things for short periods, but these demands have not yet lifted, and we find ourselves having to sprint a marathon, unsure of where the finish line will be. Right now it is as important as ever to make a little time for yourself to make sure you are navigating daily life in a healthy way. Not only will this make you more resistant to opportunistic infections (like viruses) and be able to more effectively fight infection if it occurs, it will make you stronger on the other side of this pandemic. It will also allow you to be there for your family and model healthy behaviors for them. Choose one thing to focus on. Give yourself the opportunity to do this one thing for yourself and your health. If you are able to make this one thing a part of your lifestyle and feel that you can work on one more thing, then please do.
Elements of a healthy lifestyle include:
1. Exercise and moving your body. Choose what you like to do. It can be walking, running, lifting weights, exercise videos, pilates, yoga, virtual exercise classes, or training sessions. Make sure you move every day.
2. Eating more plants. Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits every day. The more, the better. Also include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
3. Recovering with good sleep. Achieving 6-9 hours of quality sleep per night on a regular basis is critical for health and longevity, as well as stress management. See our recent blog for more information on developing healthy sleep habits.
4. Enduring with positive coping and stress management strategies. According to the American Psychological Association, women experience stress differently than men, and they use different strategies to manage it, including turning to their support network of family and friends. During the current pandemic, it is more difficult to connect with our support network, which can lead to increased stress and stress symptoms. Find ways to connect virtually with video conferencing or over the phone, or find ways to connect while maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance. This can help reduce stress levels.
Exercise, healthy eating, sleeping well, and using positive stress management strategies all interact and build on each other. Tackling one element will have benefits for the others. Choose one way that you can positively affect one of these elements, such as increasing vegetable and fruit intake to at least 5 servings per day, doing something relaxing before bed instead of watching the news, or going for a 20-minute walk each day. Master this one thing and make it a part of your lifestyle. You will notice a difference in how you feel, and you will be taking an important step in controlling your health.
The Office on Women’s Health has numerous resources for women and the array of health topics that specifically affect women. For more information you can go to their website: https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw/about.
For information and resources for topics that specifically affect girls and their heath, you can go to https://www.girlshealth.gov/.
For specific women’s health topics related to nutrition (such as osteoporosis and reproduction), please visit https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/womens-health/.
Written by Dr. Kim Richards, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy
Certified Applied Prevention and Health Promotion Therapist