The biggest threats to women's health are often preventable. Here's what you need to know to live a longer, healthier life.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Many of the leading threats to women's health can be prevented — if you know how. The top causes of death among adult women in the U.S. include heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Take the first step to protect yourself by talking with your doctor about your risk factors for these conditions. Then get serious about reducing your risk.
If you have health problems, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, follow your doctor's treatment recommendations. Also be sure to consult your doctor about when you should have mammograms and other cancer screenings.
While you can't eliminate risk factors such as family history, you can control many other risk factors for heart disease, stroke and cancer. For example:
- Don't smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. It's also important to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat, added sugar and sodium.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Losing excess pounds — and keeping them off — can lower your risk of heart disease as well as various types of cancer.
- Get moving. Include physical activity in your daily routine. You know exercise can help you control your weight and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. But did you know that it may also lower your risk of certain types of cancer? Choose activities you enjoy, from brisk walking to ballroom dancing.
- Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. For women that means no more than one drink a day. The risk of various types of cancer — including breast and liver — appears to increase with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you've been drinking regularly.
- Manage stress. If you feel constantly on edge or under assault, your lifestyle habits may suffer — and so might your immune system. Take steps to reduce stress — or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.
Many women don't realize that they're at risk of illness and even death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — which includes bronchitis and emphysema. Don't be caught off guard. To protect your respiratory health:
- Don't smoke. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit. Also avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Steer clear of pollutants. Minimize exposure to chemicals and outdoor air pollution.
- Prevent respiratory infections. Wash your hands often and get a yearly flu vaccine. Ask your doctor whether you need a pneumonia vaccine as well.
It's important to understand the common health risks that women face, but don't feel intimidated. Instead, do whatever you can to lead a healthy lifestyle — including eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking and getting regular checkups. Simple preventive measures can go a long way toward reducing your health risks.
Aug. 17, 2013
- FastStats: Leading causes of death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm. Accessed May 9, 2013.
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- Protecting your lungs. American Lung Association. http://www.lungusa.org/your-lungs/protecting-your-lungs. Accessed May 9, 2013.
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- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed May 9, 2013.
- Rethinking drinking: Alcohol and your health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/IsYourDrinkingPatternRisky/WhatsLowRiskDrinking.asp. Accessed May 9, 2013.
- Reiche EM, et al. Stress, depression, the immune system, and cancer. Lancet Oncology. 2004;5:617.