With heart disease, cancer and stroke as the leading causes of death for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Adele Castaldi, family medicine physician at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., says that women need to realize how their unhealthy habits at a young age can lead to future health problems such as these.
“For young women, lifestyle choices made today lay the foundation for their health in the future,” she says.
Dr. Castaldi recommends five things women can do now to stay healthy:
1) Get a yearly physical
“Older women are typically very good about coming for annual physicals,” says Dr. Castaldi. “However younger women often do not come in for yearly exams because they aren’t sure if they need it and might not have any obvious health problems.”
An annual physical allows the physician to detect health issues early on and, along with the patient, work on strategies to prevent certain conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health strongly recommends women between the ages of 18 and 39 to have the following yearly screenings: dental and eye exam, immunization check, breast self-exam, pelvic exam and Pap smear.
Mental and emotional health concerns can also be addressed during a physical. Dr. Castaldi says concerns often arise regarding mental and emotional well-being which allows her to help women address issues including anxiety, depression and even abusive relationships.
2) Exercise regularly and follow a healthy diet
A healthy diet that is high in fiber and contains plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is most beneficial. Women should also limit the amount of animal fats, refined sugars and processed foods they eat.
Along with a healthy diet, having an active lifestyle is critical. Dr. Castaldi advises patients to aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. The exercise doesn’t need to be incredibly strenuous, but consists of anything that will get the heart rate up such as exercise classes, running, biking or even a brisk walk.
3) Do not smoke
“If you do not currently smoke, don’t start,” says Castaldi. “If you smoke, try and quit. Not smoking is one of the single most important things a person can do to stay healthy. A plan for quitting is something to discuss with your physician during the annual checkup.”
Quitting smoking will lower the risk for not only lung cancers but also a large variety of other types of cancers. Stopping smoking will also lower risk for cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, and peripheral vascular disease. Also, women who quit smoking during their reproductive years can reduce their risk for infertility.
4) Drink alcohol in moderation
Dr. Castaldi says women shouldn’t have more than one serving of alcohol each day. One drink is classified as one eight ounce can of beer, a four ounce glass of wine or a 1 ounce shot of hard alcohol.
Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to certain cancers including breast and liver cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Also, excessive alcohol consumption is often the cause of liver cirrhosis over time, she says.