Women's health: Preventing the top 7 threats

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Women's health: Preventing the top 7 threats

Many of the leading threats to women's health can be prevented — if you know how. Consider this top seven list of women's health threats, compiled from statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading organizations. Then get serious about reducing your risks.

No. 1: Heart disease

Heart disease isn't just a man's disease — it's also a major women's health threat. Take charge of heart health by making healthier lifestyle choices. For example:

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. It's also important to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat and sodium.
  • Manage chronic conditions. If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's treatment recommendations. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Choose sports or other activities you enjoy, from brisk walking to ballroom dancing.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure.
  • Manage stress. If you feel constantly on edge or under assault, your lifestyle habits may suffer. Take steps to reduce stress — or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.

No. 2: Cancer

Various types of cancer are of particular concern to women, including breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer and colorectal cancer. To reduce the risk of cancer, consider these general tips:

  • Don't smoke. Using any type of tobacco puts you on a collision course with cancer. Avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke counts, too.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing excess pounds — and keeping them off — may lower the risk of various types of cancer.
  • Get moving. In addition to helping you control your weight, physical activity on its own may lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Although making healthy selections at the grocery store and at mealtime can't guarantee cancer prevention, it may help reduce your risk.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. When you're outdoors, cover up and use plenty of sunscreen.
  • Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. The risk of various types of cancer — including cancer of the breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver — increases with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you've been drinking regularly.
  • Breast-feed, if you can. Breast-feeding may help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
  • Take early detection seriously. Consult your doctor for regular mammograms and other cancer screenings.

No. 3: Stroke

You can't control some stroke risk factors, such as family history, age and race. But you can control other contributing factors. For example:

  • Manage chronic conditions. If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's treatment recommendations. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit.
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet, being especially careful to limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Include physical activity in your daily routine. If you're overweight, lose excess pounds.
  • Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation — for women, no more than one drink a day.

No. 4: Chronic lower respiratory diseases

Chronic lung conditions — which include bronchitis and emphysema — also are a concern for women. To protect your respiratory health:

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit. Also avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Steer clear of pollutants. Minimize exposure to chemicals and outdoor air pollution.
  • Prevent respiratory infections. Wash your hands often and get a yearly flu vaccine. Ask your doctor whether you need a pneumonia vaccine as well.

No. 5: Alzheimer's disease

There's no proven way to prevent Alzheimer's disease, but consider taking these steps:

  • Manage chronic conditions. Conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and diabetes may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
  • Don't smoke. Some research suggests a link between smoking and Alzheimer's.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Any movement counts.
  • Maintain social and mental fitness. Stay socially active. Practice mental exercises. Take steps to learn new things.

No. 6: Accidents

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of fatal accidents among women. To stay safe on the road, use common sense. Wear your seat belt. Follow the speed limit. Don't drive under the influence of alcohol or any other substances, and don't drive while sleepy.

No. 7: Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes — the most common type of diabetes — affects the way your body uses blood sugar (glucose). Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to heart disease, eye problems, nerve damage and other complications. To prevent type 2 diabetes, get serious about your lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet. Include physical activity in your daily routine. If you're overweight, lose excess pounds.

The bottom line

It's important to understand common women's health risks, but don't feel intimidated. Instead, do whatever you can to lead a healthy lifestyle — including eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking and getting regular checkups. Simple preventive measures can go a long way toward reducing your health risks.

Last Updated: 2011-02-05
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