National Women’s Health Week (May 13-19, 2018) is a perfect reminder to female healthcare providers to practice what we preach. As caregivers and as women who serve our communities’ health, we all too often focus on the health needs of others before our own. In the immortal words of every flight attendant, “Put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.” Meaning, of course, that if you’re neglecting your own well-being, it will be difficult for you to help your clients and loved ones.
And as we age, it becomes increasingly important to monitor our health. That’s because older women are more likely than men to have chronic health conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.
Happily, a great deal of what it takes to boost your chances for staying physically and mentally healthy is within your power. Below is what the experts with the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation recommend.
See your healthcare provider regularly. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, get a check-up at least once a year, or as often as your provider recommends.
Take medications, vitamins, and supplements only as directed. When you visit your provider, bring all the pills and other supplements you take—even those you buy over the counter without a prescription. Your provider should check all of your pills to make sure they’re safe for you, and you should check with her before taking any new medication or supplement.
Let your provider know right away if a medication or supplement seems to be causing a problem or a side effect.
Get screened. Certain screening tests can help diagnose health problems early. Ask your healthcare provider which tests are right for you.
Get vaccinated. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re getting:
- A flu shot every year in late summer or early fall before the flu season begins.
- Pneumonia vaccine: there are two types available now, called pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) 13 and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) 23. Talk to your healthcare provider.
- A tetanus shot every 10 years.
- The shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine: once after age 50 or older.
Reduce falls and fracture risks. Take 1,200 to 1,500 mg of calcium and 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily. Do weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, and aerobic dancing. If you’ve fallen in the past, ask your healthcare provider about exercise programs in your area that include strength training, balance and stretching exercises.
Use sunscreen daily. As skin ages, it becomes more susceptible to sun damage—and that boosts risks for skin cancer. Use sunscreen all year round on exposed skin, and wear a wide-brimmed hat for added protection.
Quit smoking. Tell your healthcare provider about your smoking habits and enlist his/her aid to help you stop. For additional help, call 1-800-QUITNOW. It’s never too late to stop smoking.
Eat a rainbow. Later in life you need healthy foods but fewer calories. Visit the USDA’s updated Choose My Plate for older adults to learn what a healthy diet looks like. Suggestions include:
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily (less than 1/3 of older adults do this). Select a variety and choose the deepest colors—dark green leafy vegetables, orange fruits and vegetables, and blue and purple vegetables, too. Choose fiber-rich whole grain breads, pasta and rice instead of the white stuff. Pick lean meats and avoid processed meats and cold cuts.
- To keep your bones strong, enjoy two daily servings of low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Try to eat twice-weekly servings of heart-healthy fish, like tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel.
- Use healthier fats, such as extra virgin olive oil or canola oil instead of butter or lard.
- Drink responsibly. Some—but not all—women may benefit from one alcoholic drink a day. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure this is right for you. Remember, one drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Exercise your mind and body. Regular exercise is essential for good health at any age. It improves heart health and circulation, strengthens bones, helps keep the pounds off, lifts your mood and can help ease depression. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that’s right for you.
Get involved. Social involvement is a key to staying healthy and happy as we age. Sign up for a class, do puzzles, find an interesting hobby or club. Challenge your brain by trying new things.