During the month of May, we celebrated National Women’s Health Week, which helps spread awareness and encourage women and girls to make their health a top priority. Women sometimes care more about family members than themselves. People often think self-care is synonymous with selfish, but self-care goes beyond a spa night or getting a massage. Bath time, relaxation, or getting a manicure every now and then feels good, but self-care is more about taking care of your most precious asset . . . YOURSELF. That includes the physical, mental, spiritual, and intellectual aspects of your life.
Self-care is a conscious effort to take control of your own health, including your physical and emotional well-being. Staying healthy is a combination of avoiding unnecessary stress, eating healthy, maintaining an active lifestyle, and paying attention to all the different areas of your health.
Here are five ways women can practice self-care:
1. Preventive care
How do some people manage to stay so healthy? One of the secrets is not waiting to feel sick before going to the doctor. Prevention is the best medicine and regular check-ups are a must. Annual physical exams are crucial, and they are an important piece of preventive care and vital for your overall health. If you don’t know where to begin, the first step is to find a primary doctor you trust. Ask your friends for references, look for reviews, and check with your health insurance.
Did you know 48 percent of women either identified their OB/GYN as their primary care physician or didn't have a primary doctor at all?1 Women need an OB/GYN AND a primary care physician. Despite being a great resource, your OB/GYN may have some limitations. OB/GYNs are trained to handle specific areas like reproductive health, breast health, and pelvic health, and they may not be able to conduct a complete physical exam.
Here is a quick list of healthcare professionals you should see each year:
- Primary care doctor
Regardless of your age, make time for annual screenings with your doctors. This can have a huge positive impact on your overall health and may even save your life.
2. Bone health
Bones provide structure, support, and protection to vital organs in your body. Sadly, as you age, your bones start to weaken, and you start losing bone density. However, there are vitamins and minerals that can help strengthen your bones. Calcium and vitamin D are two important nutrients, and they are key to healthy bones. Calcium is a building block of bone tissue, while vitamin D helps the body absorb and process calcium.
Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your teeth and bones, and if you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your body will start taking it from your bones.2
To keep your bones healthy:
- Pay attention to your diet. Your diet affects your bones more than you may think. In fact, your body can’t produce calcium on its own, so the only way to get calcium is through foods high in calcium like dairy products, green leafy vegetables, or fortified foods.
- Fun in the sun. A great way to build and maintain bone mass is through weightbearing exercises for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 or 4 times a week. Also, walking or jogging outside could be a win-win situation for your bones and your overall health. Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is created from direct sunlight exposure on your skin when you're outdoors.
- Quit smoking and avoid drinking too much. Smoking and drinking decrease your overall health, including your bones.4 Smoking decreases your body’s ability to absorb calcium, which can make your bones more prone to osteoporosis and fractures. Alcohol can also result in weaker bones.6
3. Reproductive health
Hormone imbalance is a real thing. Women go through a lot of hormonal changes during their lifetime. Finding the right balance can seem really difficult, but there are lots of ways to support your hormone balance and maintain reproductive health, such as self-examining your breasts, scheduling yearly visits to your gynecologist, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
Good reproductive health opens the possibility for responsible, satisfying, and safe sex, as well as the possibility to have children. A woman is empowered when she takes charge of her reproductive health, which means being proactive and listening to her body. Don’t ignore even the most minor signs, since your body may be trying to warn you.
4. Skin health
You need vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), but you also need sun protection. One of the best things you can do for your skin is regularly wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen protects your skin by absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet rays from the sun. Be aware and use preventative measures and safe sun practices all year round, like limiting your sun exposure. Vitamin D is made quickly in the sun and most people don’t need more than 10–30 minutes to get their daily dose of sunshine.7
Remember: Healthy skin starts from within! You can start by maintaining a healthy diet, increasing the number of antioxidants you consume, drinking more water, and getting enough sleep. Another way to improve your skin is by treating it gently: avoid long, hot showers; choose mild cleansers; and use an effective moisturizer.
5. Mental health
You probably seek medical help when you feel physically sick, but many of us overlook mental health. Your mental health plays a big role in your life. Mental health not only determines how you handle stress, but it also affects how you think, feel, and act.
Everybody deals with stress on a daily basis, but this shouldn’t interfere with your ability to live a happy, healthy life. Staying connected with family and friends, taking time for yourself, staying active, and getting adequate sleep are all key to strengthening your mental health. Also, try including some yoga or meditation in your day. Multiple studies have shown the positive benefits that come from exercise, yoga, and meditation.8
If you feel that all these practices aren’t enough or don’t help, don’t feel discouraged. You are not alone. The most common mental health problem for women is depression. There is no shame in asking for help, getting therapy, or talking with a healthcare professional. Get the support and help you need. Seeking help can be liberating, and it can be the first step towards becoming a better version of yourself.