Fit for life: The ultimate women’s guide to staying in peak health
Life is precious, so we’ve rounded up the latest expert advice on the best ways to maximise your chances of living to a ripe old age.
“I am woman, hear me roar”, sang Helen Reddy back in the swinging ’70s.
Fast forward nearly half a century and rather than roaring, many of us are overwhelmed, stressed out and just plain T-I-R-E-D (with a capital T)!
Which means when it comes to health, that roar can very quickly become a whimper.
What better time than Women’s Health Week (September 2-6) to reset and start making positive changes that can last a lifetime?
Here’s 11 habits linked to a long life, to get you started.
1. Eat nuts
OK, we’re starting easy. Nuts are teeny weeny powerhouses, loaded with magnesium, vitamin E, fibre and a bunch of other nutrients.
Despite being high in (good) fat, they’re nutritious (and delicious) and need to be included on your weekly shopping list, pronto.
- Good snacks: Why you should go nuts for nuts
2. Take action to prevent osteoporosis
Nearly two million Australians (around 10 per cent of the population) have an osteoporosis-related condition and three quarters of those are women.
This common disease makes bones become brittle, leading to a higher risk of breaks.
The good news is you can take action to maintain and improve your bone health at every stage of life.
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D (the “sunshine vitamin”) and regular physical activity and exercise are all vital for healthy bones.
3. Know the signs of ovarian cancer
One in 70 women will develop ovarian cancer in Australia and two out of three of those diagnosed will die from the disease.
While signs and symptoms can be vague and can often be misdiagnosed as common female complaints, you should consult your GP if you have any of the following:
- Vague abdominal pain or pressure or feeling of fullness.
- Sudden abdominal swelling, weight gain or bloating.
- Persistent changes in bowel or bladder patterns.
- Low backache or cramps.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex or unexplained weight loss.
4. Get regular cervical checks
In case you missed it, cervical screening has changed in Australia – with the Pap test replaced with a new cervical screening test every five years.
The new test looks for the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection that can eventually turn into cervical cancer one step earlier than the Pap test could.
All women aged 25 to 74 are urged to have the test every five years. Like the Pap test, it’s a simple procedure that takes around two minutes and could save your life.
5. Have a mammogram
The biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older.
If you’re over 40 you can have a free breast screening mammogram, or X-ray of your breasts, through BreastScreen Australia.
You should also be familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts and see your doctor if you notice any changes.
- A mum’s story: What it’s like to have breast cancer
6. Get enough sleep
We hear you, easier said than done. But this one is a game changer. The importance of quality sleep can’t be overstated.
A lack of zzz’s can play havoc with our insulin resistance, disrupt appetite hormones and reduce mental and physical performance.
It’s also one of the strongest individual risk factors for weight gain and obesity. Enough said.
7. Drink water, every day
There’s a reason water is the one thing we crave when we’re really, truly thirsty – our bodies know it’s good for us.
As shown by US researchers, even mild hydration can impair our energy levels, and our mood, and lead to big reductions in our memory and brain performance.
- Hydration station: This is why you should drink more water
8. Look after your heart
Heart disease is still the leading killer of Australian women. Every day, 22 women lose their lives.
Ninety per cent of Aussie women have one risk factor for heart disease and 50 per cent have two or more.
The most common risks are high cholesterol, being overweight and physical inactivity.
9. Learn to love your gut microbiota
This might sound all science-y, but really it’s simple. The bacteria in your gut, collectively called your gut microbiome, are super important.
Science has found their “happiness” can play a major role in health and disease, so keep your microbiota happy by eating probiotic foods, like yoghurt and sauerkraut, along with plenty of fibre.
- Tummy time: 5 easy ways to boost your gut health
10. Don’t forget vitamin D
As mentioned above, vitamin D is an essential nutrient for women’s health.
We’ve known for a long time about its critical role in bone health, but it also helps our immune system to function effectively, reduces inflammation and helps our body absorb calcium.
The main source of vitamin D is production in the skin after exposure to sunlight. Usually 10 to 15 minutes outdoors will do the trick.
11. Nurture your mental wellbeing
Anxiety and stress can significantly decrease your lifespan.
This is the time to “take a moment for your mental health”, press pause on the busy button and learn how to tackle issues such as worry, anxiety, exhaustion and loneliness head on.
Be your best self
Women’s Health Week is a great time to unlock your own powers for good health – so sign up at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health to receive daily tips, tools, recipes and information.
It may just help you find a healthier path for a longer life, and you are so worth it!
Written by Liz McGrath.