Most women spend a lifetime assuming the role of family caregiver, often neglecting their own well-being. Although the function requires them to spend a lot of time and energy, their efforts mostly go unnoticed.
As the adage goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup; so the prerogative to build mind and body should start with the woman herself. To be at their healthiest and happiest best, women need to know their family medical history, understand body changes, integrate beneficial habits into their lifestyles and undergo routine preventive health screenings. Here are some pointers...
Build a strong foundation: Age 20–35
According to experts, staying healthy in your 20s is strongly associated with a lower risk of heart disease during your middle years. A study showed that most people who adopted four healthy habits in their 20s — a lean body mass index, no smoking, a healthy diet and regular physical activity — stayed healthy well into middle age.
In your early 20s, your skin will look radiant and healthy, no matter what your habits or routines are, as you still have a good store of collagen. Some of the biggest ‘skin-emies’ are overexposure to sun, inadequate UV protection and poor nutritional habits. Skin cancer is also becoming more prevalent among young women.
In your early 20s, you may struggle with acne and finding the best possible skin care products for your skin type.
Research shows that 27 per cent of women with acne also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This raises testosterone levels and causes the sebaceous glands to produce too much of the oily sebum, resulting in acne.
To treat acne naturally, focus on:
• Managing testosterone levels through diet
• Focusing on anti-inflammatory foods like wild salmon and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli; kelp, blueberries, ginger, green tea and sweet potatoes
• Taking supplements to help manage inflammation.
During this period, women come to know their own bodies better, gaining a deeper understanding of their menstrual cycles.
This is the stage where you may consider motherhood. Work out a plan with your partner about conception and pre- and post-natal care. Prepare yourself to take care of your body during pregnancy, child birth and child care. Eat healthy and consult your gynaecologist if you notice any issues regarding reproductive health.
Another issue is infertility. Apart from genetic factors, higher than normal androgen levels in women can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) during the menstrual cycle. Consult a fertility specialist with your partner to chart out a plan for conception.
Putting on too much weight during this time can set you up for health problems later in life, in particular diabetes or cardiovascular problems.
Your bones bear the burden of excess weight and poor habits, too. To build and maintain bone strength, increase your calcium intake and participate in high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Regardless of your age, establish a relationship with your healthcare provider. The first time you meet your doctor shouldn’t be in an emergency. A physician is able to offer better treatment if he or she is familiar with your needs and history.
Staying healthy at this age is strongly associated with a lower risk for heart disease in the middle age.
You may feel that your youth is a ticket to getting away with bad habits like smoking and alcohol, but it puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, cervical cancer and problems with menstruation and fertility. Also, there’s nothing glamorous about having low bone density, yellow and decayed teeth, or swollen, bleeding gums.
Practice mindfulness whenever possible. It is associated with lower levels of stress, extra brainpower, and has a lot of other positive side effects.
Take care of your mental health. If you’ve been dealing with psychological issues, don’t ignore them; seek help. Another very important point is to ensure that you enjoy 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
A healthy woman needs at least 1.5l of fluids per day. Drinking water is crucial to maintaining the function of every system in your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles.
This age is a time of limitless possibilities. So take advantage of your youth, energy, and resilience to create a strong foundation that can carry you along through a long, healthy, happy life.
Information: Dr. Fady Georges Hachem, Consultant — Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Burjeel Hospital
Too young to be old: Age 36–50
The transition into this phase can leave some women a bit confused — they feel they are too old to be young and too young to be old. Their most productive time is spent in child-rearing, doing household chores, managing careers and establishing a work-life balance. In the process they very likely neglect their health and well-being.
Establishing good food habits is very important. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange; as well as beans and peas. Include grains in your daily diet, half of which should be whole grains. Stick to fat-free or low-fat dairy. Have protein at every meal. Use healthy oils, such as olive oil.
Your body is your most important tool. According to Pamela Peeke, assistant professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland, US, four or more hours of exercising per week can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 60 per cent. Risk of colon cancer can be cut by 30-40 per cent if you include three to five hours of cardio per week.
As you approach 40s, women yearn to ensure the significance and value of their contribution to the family and workplace. You are continually feeling misunderstood and under-achieved in every sphere of life. While it can be termed as ‘midlife crisis’, it needn’t be. Find richer ways to apply your talent and skills. Pick up a hobby or revive an old one. Make sure you have enough ‘me’ time singularly and ‘we’ time with your partner and family.
Find time to meditate in spite of your busy schedule. Meditation is self-observation. It helps you develop concentration, emotional positivity, and gives clarity to the chaos around you. It has many benefits including reduction of stress and anxiety, enhancing self-awareness and generating kindness.
Talking about your feelings (especially to your partner) can help you stay in good mental health and deal with bad emotions. When you feel troubled, keep yourself active, eat healthy foods and take a well-deserved break.
Drinking fluids is crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every system in your body, including your heart, brain, and muscles. A simple way to make sure you’re staying properly hydrated is to check your urine. If it is colourless or light yellow, you are most likely well hydrated. Dark yellow or amber-coloured urine can be a sign of dehydration.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to take care of your slowly ageing skin. Cleanse it every day, exfoliate and use sun protection.
Though you may be bogged down by daily monotonous routines, it is imperative to develop a pattern for daily habits. Ideally you would need to:
• Get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night
• Spend time with loved ones
• Take a day out with your partner at least once a month
• Avoid smoking. If you can’t quit, reduce.
• Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet
• Stop drinking soda and eating junk foods.
• If you need to have a cheat day, restrict it to once per week
Increase your frequency of health check-ups, including reproductive health. These include:
• Papsmear every two years unless you notice abnormal symptoms like post coital bleeding and discharge/infection
• Self breast examination every month because in this age there is a 30 to 40 per cent risk of breast cancer
• Dental checkup
• Look out for blood in the stool and urine
Information: Dr. Azhar Schett, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Prime Healthcare Group
60 is the new 40: Age group 51–65 and older
For most women, the advent of 50s means menopause. But it need not really be a pause; it is more of a shift where your body transcends its child-bearing years into a new state of balance.
Due to drop in oestrogen, you may experience hot flashes, night sweats, disturbed sleep, stress, mood swings, irritability or depression. There could be an increase in risk of urinary tract infections. Oestrogen dips also cause loss in bone density, putting you at risk of osteoporosis.
Your changing body requires fewer calories but the lower metabolism makes you prone to belly fat. Switch high-fat foods for lower-fat options, and include leaner sources of protein, like chicken, fish, beans, or quinoa. Give your body an antioxidant advantage by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, and support healthy cholesterol and digestion with plenty of fibre. Cut back on salt and processed foods, aiming for half a teaspoon of salt per day.
Eat colourful vegetables and fruits.
Eat more fatty fish (like salmon) to get heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Learn to love whole grains, lentils, and skinless lean protein. Treat yourself to sweets, but only occasionally. When you use oils, lean towards the good ones like extra-virgin olive oil.
A 50-plus woman’s fitness should focus on maintaining a healthy weight, supporting strong bones, and building muscle to boost a lagging metabolism. Cardiovascular exercise will help keep your heart strong, but you also need flexibility and muscle strengthening training like yoga or Pilates to keep your joints mobile. You can also do weight-bearing workouts like climbing stairs, jogging, lifting weights to burn calories and support bones and muscles.
Your risk of colorectal cancer increases during this period, so screening becomes crucial.
The mid-60s is when you are at a greater risk for osteoporosis, so you should work to fortify and protect your bones. If you cannot reach your daily calcium quota of the recommended 1,200mg from the foods you eat, consider supplements. And pair your calcium with vitamin D to get the full benefits. You could also spend about 5 to 15 minutes outdoors, 2 or 3 times a week, to soak up vitamin D from the sun. Wear sunscreen to help prevent skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.
Women over the age of 50 are more likely to have urinary incontinence. This is because the pelvic muscles lose strength, and aren’t able to control the bladder as well as they did before.
Post-menopausal women are more prone to suffering from depression because there is a dip in the level of oestrogen, mood-regulating brain chemicals like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. Anxiety attacks can lead to panic attacks, high blood pressure, palpitations, dizziness and insomnia.
To ensure mental health, the main focus should be on self-renewal. Set aside quiet time to reflect on what you want out of life. You should also take time out to have fun and do all the things you missed out on earlier – like bungee jumping, dancing and adventure trips. Finding a creative outlet, like painting or gardening, helps prevent depression and stimulates your brain. Ensure you get adequate sleep. Maybe you got along with four hours a night when you were 40, but your body can’t take that abuse when you’re older. Quit smoking. With these life tips in place, your 60s could be better than your 40s.
Information: Dr Anil Grover, Head of internal medicine and Medical Director, International Modern Hospital