Common Health Mistakes Women Make in Every Stage of Life
From routine doctor's visits to wearing sunscreen regularly, here are some tips for staying healthy as you age.
Illustrations by Vlad Alvarez
Statistics show that we are living longer. That’s the good news. However, with a longer life expectancy comes the responsibility of taking care of our minds and bodies so that we can enjoy our “golden years” to the fullest. In his book, “YOU: The Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body That Will Make You Healthier and Younger,” Delaware’s own Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. makes it clear that we control our health destiny.
Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long also knows about healthcare. A nursing professor at the University of Delaware, she emphasizes to her students that, for women, “emotional health is at the forefront, and we mustn’t take nutrition, oral and visual health for granted.”
Worried you’re not taking care of yourself as best you should? Find out health mistakes you may be making, no matter what stage of your life you are in.
Ah, your 20s. You can still do somersaults and dance until dawn, but that doesn’t mean you should. You may think at this age you only need to visit the doctor when you have a specific ailment. The truth is, now is the time to establish an overall health care routine. Start an exercise regimen that you will stick with as you age. Be sure to ask for input from an expert. Johnnie Gillespie, owner of Empowered Yoga & Plexus Fitness Studios in Greenville, Newark and Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, says, “Some women don’t pay attention to how their bodies are moving when they exercise. You need to practice mindfulness as you move. Another mistake women make is being afraid to lift weights. But with proper technique, weight lifting can prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis,” he says.
During a well-check visit, your doctor will get base numbers for blood pressure and cholesterol and screen for any family-related conditions, such as diabetes. Pap smear screenings and pelvic exams should also start now.
And be sure to take care of your feet! The old adage, “If your feet hurt, your whole body hurts” is true. Foot abuse in your youth can lead to serious problems later in life. Ditch the cute shoes that don’t fit properly. Aabha Suchak, DPM at Advanced Foot & Ankle Center in Newark, advises, “It is easier to prevent than to cure.” She stresses avoiding shoes that are non-supportive (like flip-flops) and keep your toenails trimmed. Suchak adds, “Avoid fungal infections by only having pedicures at nail salons that maintain clean equipment.”
A beautiful tan is lovely, but you need to think about your future. If you don’t want to look like a dried up potato when you’re older, then start wearing sunscreen everyday (yes, even in the winter and when it is cloudy). “Typically, it takes 30 years for sun damage to appear, so damage you do now will start to show in the form of wrinkles during your fifties,” says Oz.
You are meeting your goals, have a fulfilling career and an ever-widening circle of friends. During this decade, the focus is on childbearing and child rearing. Lt. Gov. Hall-Long points out, “We are the air traffic controllers of our families,” but too often make the mistake of caring about everyone else in the family and ignoring our own health care. Make it a point to check in with your family doctor at least annually for cholesterol, glucose and thyroid labs. You may think you are tired because of your busy schedule, but you could be anemic due to poor nutrition or heavy menstrual bleeding. Lab results can reveal important information, including irregularities that could impair fertility.
You might also skip gynecology appointments. If you have a consistent partner, Pap smears may be spaced every three years. If you have a family history of breast cancer, be sure and tell your OB/GYN.
And it’s a mistake to avoid exercise. Any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all. Yoga is a popular form of exercise that has the added benefit of managing stress. “The worst thing you can do about exercising is to quit. If you sign up for karate and don’t like it, fine, sign up for something else. Just don’t quit exercising,” says Reese Rigby of Rigby Karate in Dover.
In your 40s, you should schedule your first mammogram. Newer recommendations suggest waiting until age 45, but if you have had many years of birth control or a family history of breast cancer, you should consider an earlier screening. You should continue regular wellness visits with your family doctor, which include blood pressure readings, cholesterol and glucose labs and Pap smears. You shouldn’t skip birth control because the risk of pregnancy doesn’t subside until you reach menopause.
You may notice that you are starting to gain weight, even though you still exercise and eat healthy. Skipping meals in an attempt to fool your body and the bathroom scales can throw your body out of whack and lead to diabetes. If you haven’t started already, now is a good time to start strength training, because your metabolism decreases as you lose muscle tone. Now is the time to end bad eating and drinking habits.
If you have always had 20/20 vision but have noticed yourself squinting lately, make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. “Women experience specific estrogen-related changes in their eyes in their 40s to 60s,” according to Harry A. Lebowitz of Delaware Ophthalmology Consultants. “Your eyes may feel less comfortable, especially if you wear contacts. In pre-menopause and menopause, there may be changes in the tear film in the eyes. You may develop ‘dry eye’ syndrome and need to add helpful eye drops to your daily routine,” he adds.
Illustrations by Vlad Alvarez
Did you know heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States? To reduce your risk, the National Institute of Health suggests not smoking, keeping your blood pressure under control, maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels, maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active.
Whether you like it or not, it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer. The preparation, commonly known as “the worst part of the procedure,” has improved greatly. Early detection and treatment of any problems far outweighs the risk of skipping the screening. Talk to your doctor about alternative procedures, too. Attention to your breasts also remains important. New and improved mammograms can catch irregularities early, making them much easier to treat. Remember, visiting specialists for various conditions doesn’t take the place of a yearly wellness visit to address new aging concerns. “Being proactive and planning for the future is essential,” says Dr. Kristine Diehl of Delaware Family Care Associates.
“Meditation is extremely important now because middle of life and end of life times are hard,” counsels Johnnie Gillespie.
“Women past the age of 60 have great diversity in health. Overwhelming health issues may occur, and the focus on treatment becomes a main goal,” advises Diehl. You often let yourself over-eat and drink in your retirement, adding to a potential health burden.
According to the National Institutes of Health, once a woman reaches menopause, her risks of heart disease and heart attack jump dramatically. One in eight women between the ages of 45 and 64 has some form of heart disease, and this number increases to one in four women over the age of 65. Maintaining good health habits can prevent you from having a stroke or heart attack.
Now is the time when a lot of people choose to undergo cataract surgery. This simple, life-changing procedure helps you read price tags without your glasses and even recognize your friends from afar.
As you age, balance is something that begins to deteriorate, especially if you aren’t physically active. Your reflexes are not as quick as they once were either. Falls can occur and you can break a bone or two if you have low bone density. You should have a bone density test as part of preventive screening every two years beginning at age 65. You should also continue to strength train to build or maintain strong bones.
YOUR SEVENTIES AND BEYOND
At this point in your life, you need to be alert for medical updates that might be relevant to you. You need to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about what you have read or heard. Your family doctor should be like a friend, advising you on tests and procedures you need to have, all while closely monitoring your medications.
You shouldn’t forget to get a flu shot, have your hearing checked, and visit the dentist. You should consult a dermatologist if you notice any marks or changes to your skin.
Finally, you need to keep moving. Rigby says, “We teach Tai Chi for senior citizens. There is a form of exercise for every person at every age.”