Maintaining a woman’s active lifestyle
By Jessica Smith, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t something that just occurs naturally. You have to work at it, plan it and then incorporate it into your daily life. Women deal with a particular set of health risks and issues, many of which can be anticipated and even prevented with a little bit of planning and foresight.
Check in and check up
While there is no official age cut-off for yearly checkups, most healthy women don’t need to worry about that kind of consistency until they’re around 65, says Jeannine Benson, a primary care physician at Kaiser Permanente in Edwards. The exception would be if a chronic condition needed to be monitored, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
Pap smears only need to occur every few years for women ages 21-29. These checkups also include updating immunizations and monitoring cholesterol levels. From age 30 onward, women should have pap smears every 3-5 years unless something abnormal is detected, plus the routine checkup list including cholesterol, immunizations, diabetes risk, weight and stress management.
Age 50 is the general age for colon cancer screenings, but those individuals who have a family history or other risk factors for colon cancer may need to get screened sooner. Breast cancer screening is generally recommended every 1-2 years starting at age 50. Women in their 40s should talk with their primary care physician about the risks and benefits of mammography starting at age 40 and discuss any other risk factors they may have which could influence how often they get screened.
Heart disease is the leading killer of women, says Benson. Therefore, it’s important to plan preventive measures to keep cardiac health at its peak. This includes managing aspects such as exercise, weight control and possibly light medication. Since everyone is different, Benson recommends discussing medication options for cardiac health with a primary care physician.
“When it comes to the need for medication, that’s really patient-specific,” she says. “In general, keeping a healthy weight and exercising 30 minutes a day is really good for the heart.”
Also good for the heart is avoidance of processed foods and refined sugars. Benson suggests a diet of lean meats, vegetables and fruits. Cooking at home tends to be healthier than eating out, and that will impact overall health in addition to cardiac health.
The high altitude of the Rocky Mountains is also important to factor in when it comes to heart health.
“Folks that have a history of cardiac (issues) always need to be careful and in communication with their physicians about how hard they should push things when they are at high altitude, especially someone who doesn’t live up here,” Benson says.
She also recommends women at this altitude keep an eye on their hydration levels and practice good skin care, wearing sunscreen and watching out for any strange spots, and getting those checked out.
The big ‘M’ — menopause
Menopause is the main health issue that differentiates women from men as they grow older. While it can’t be prevented, women can be prepared for the symptoms and take steps to lessen them, even before menopause occurs.
While medical treatment for menopause symptoms is available, many women may not know that a lot of non-medical treatment is lifestyle-based.
“As women get older, having a good exercise regimen actually decreases a lot of the menopause symptoms,” says Benson.
Benson’s other tips include decreasing caffeine, avoiding spicy food and avoiding alcohol. Stress management and exercise can relieve many of the effects as well. Basically, it’s all about “living that healthy lifestyle,” Bensons says.
However, if symptoms persist or become more difficult, medical and hormonal treatments are available, for which Benson recommends women speak with their doctors to find the right course of action.
Those who live in the mountains tend to be rather active, even as they grow older. It’s all part of the mountain lifestyle, which Benson praises for creating healthy exercise habits. However, people need to be careful not to overdo it.
She commonly sees biking and skiing injuries, but all too often, people don’t follow the recommended healing practices with such injuries, and as a result, “they end up having chronic problems,” Benson says. “As they get older, that’s going to cause problems. It’s going to be harder and harder to be that active.”
Overall, Benson recommends a healthy diet and consistent exercise practices, without going overboard, for maintaining overall health.
“It really does come back to that lifestyle,” she says.