Women's Health and Wellness
Healthy lifestyle habits promote a longer and more enjoyable life. As OB-GYNs, we not only treat diseases and health problems in women as they arise, but we educate our patients on how to prevent them.
With the proper information, women can take charge of their overall health, and rely on their doctors as needed. Relatively simple steps for maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol and skin health can yield great results:
- Controlled body weight
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Good reproductive health
- Improved mental health
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Outlined below are some general tips for achieving and maintaining optimum health.
Lifestyle habits for excellent women’s health
Maintain a healthy body weight
According to the World Health Organization, obesity is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide. It causes serious health complications including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is a simple measurement that uses a ratio of height to body weight.
Obesity isn’t the only weight issue that can negatively affect a woman’s health. Being overweight (BMI = 25-29.9), but not obese, also carries greater risks for many health problems. Women should also be on guard against being underweight (BMI = <18.5), as this too can be detrimental to overall health.
Remember, BMI is just a gauge, and it has some limitations. It cannot measure body fat percentage, and it cannot account for certain factors that influence body composition such as age and muscle mass. BMI is also not an accurate indicator of obesity in pregnant women since some weight gain is a normal part of a healthy pregnancy.
Another indicator of weight-related health risk is waist/hip ratio. Waist/hip ratio can be obtained using a measuring tape and following these instructions:
- Measure the narrowest part of the waist just under the lowest rib
- Measure the widest section of the hips (around the buttocks)
- Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement.
For women, this number should be less than 0.85. A waist/hip ratio over 0.85 indicates an unhealthy body fat percentage and therefore an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Women with a high BMI and/or waist/hip ratio can improve their overall health by reducing calorie intake and increasing calories burned through activity and exercise. Even a small reduction in weight – as little as 5 percent – can lower a woman’s risk of weight-related health complications.
Eat a nutrient-rich, calorie-conscious diet
Developing lifelong healthy eating habits pays great dividends in the prevention of disease and controlling weight.
Every woman should understand her daily caloric needs. This can be done by calculating basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is an approximate measure of how many calories the body burns each day, without accounting for any physical activity.
BMR should be used in conjunction with the Harris Benedict Equation. The Harris Benedict Equation applies a calculation of a woman’s physical activity to her BMR to determine the approximate number of calories she burns on any given day. The equation assigns a value to levels of activity, from sedentary to extremely active.
For example, a sedentary woman would multiply her BMR by 1.2 to get a rough idea of how many calories she should consume each day to maintain her current weight. An extremely active woman would multiply by 1.9.
Once a calorie goal is calculated, developing healthy exercise and eating habits can help one reach that goal. Women can make healthy food selections by the following the latest dietary guidelines from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion that include:
- Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, focusing on a variety of colors and subgroups for a full range of vitamins and other key nutrients.
- Get at least half of grains from whole grains such as barley, brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread.
- Obtain protein from a variety of sources, focusing on lean meats, seafood, beans, legumes and soy.
- Avoid saturated fats and focus on eating monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, nuts and fish.
- Avoid food and drink containing added sugars.
- Limit sodium intake to 2300mg/day (processed and canned foods often contain high amounts of sodium).
- Consume alcohol in moderation (women should not exceed one drink per day).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise each week to obtain measurable health benefits, which equates to a half hour of exercise five days per week. Some moderate-intensity aerobic exercises include:
- Brisk walking
- Cycling (less than 10 mph)
- Water aerobics
More substantial health benefits occur when weekly exercise increases to 5 hours per week of moderately intense exercise or 2.5 hours per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two). Some vigorous aerobic exercises include:
- Cycling (faster than 10 mph)
- Hiking uphill
- Jumping rope.
Aerobic exercise should be accompanied by strength training activities such as weight lifting or body-weight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc.)
When paired with a healthy diet, regular exercise benefits a woman’s health by controlling body weight, strengthening muscles and bones, and improving mental health. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Monitoring body health
Regularly check and control blood pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of the veins and arteries. It is considered one of the core vital signs alongside heart rate, oxygen levels, respiratory rate and body temperature. If high blood pressure is uncontrolled for a long period of time, it can lead to serious and fatal complications including heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure usually does not cause any symptoms at first, so regular monitoring and diligent efforts to keep it controlled are very important. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers, usually presented as a fraction (e.g. 116/78). The upper number (systolic blood pressure) represents the pressure exerted while the heart is beating, and the lower number (diastolic blood pressure) is the pressure exerted between heartbeats.
|Blood pressure guide|
|120 & less/80 & less||Healthy blood pressure|
|121-139/81-89||Prehypertension, action required to prevent hypertension|
|140 & up/90 & up||Hypertension (high blood pressure)|
Healthy blood pressure should be less than 120 systolic (the upper number) and less than 80 diastolic (the lower number). Pressure readings from 121 to 139 systolic and 81 to 89 diastolic are called prehypertension, indicating a strong likelihood that high blood pressure will develop in the absence of lifestyle adjustments.
When systolic blood pressure reaches 140 or higher and diastolic reaches 90 or higher, a patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Depending on the severity and amount of time a patient has had high blood pressure, a doctor may prescribe medications to control it. Blood pressure can also be reduced by eating a balanced and low-salt diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Monitor and control blood cholesterol & lipid levels
Healthy adults over the age of 20 should get bloodwork done every five years to monitor cholesterol and lipids. Cholesterol is an important component of the body, playing a key role in the formation of cell membranes and hormones. It is transported in the body by lipids, which are fat cells within the blood.
Most cholesterol is produced by the liver, but it can be absorbed from certain foods, particularly those high in saturated fat.
High levels of lipids and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to serious complications such as heart disease and stroke. LDL is often known as “bad cholesterol.” High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol can help remove plaque from arteries and is often referred to as “good cholesterol.”
Bloodwork will also measure triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood that can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
When a woman reviews her blood work with her doctor, she should keep the following goals ranges in mind:
- Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dl
- LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dl
- HDL cholesterol should be greater than 40 mg/dl
- Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl.
High cholesterol and lipids can be managed through prescription medication as well as lifestyle changes.
Protect the skin
When outdoors, particularly in sunny climates like Colorado, it is important to wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Skin cancer rates have been on the rise for three decades. It is more common among older people, but can sometimes be seen in young adults (particularly in young women).
Here are some important tips for protecting the skin and preventing skin cancer:
- When buying sunscreen, look for active ingredients zinc oxide or parasol and protection against UVA & UVB rays.
- Liberally apply sunscreen a half hour before going out in the sun.
- Re-apply after going in water, or every two to three hours when not in water.
- Wear a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing.
Routine gynecologic exams
Routine exams performed by an OB-GYN should be part of every woman’s healthy lifestyle. Beyond an annual well-woman exam, which every woman over 18 should receive once a year, the type and frequency of exams may vary based on a woman’s age and risk factors. Gynecologic exams monitor a woman’s reproductive health, and can prevent or detect certain types of cancer.