Many of us women (and men, to be fair) see ourselves as ‘indestructible’—rather like a rock—until we come face-to-face with a health condition. These conditions can surface at any time, with or without warning. In actuality, however, there often are warnings that are overlooked because they mimic the “normal” of the body. For women, the fact that our symptoms often differ from those of men for the same condition can add to our own down-playing of the situation and make it harder for health professionals to identify a problem. In addition, we also face many health conditions at a level of prevalence than men, or other conditions that do not affect men at all.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women worldwide. Heart disease encompasses atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), hypertension, and conditions that affect the heart muscle, valves and functions. For some women the first symptom of a heart condition is a heart attack—which can and often does end in death. Per the American Heart Association, approximately 63% of women who die suddenly from hearth attack never experience symptoms.
Although we cannot control all risk factors for heart disease, we can reduce the risk from others factors. Blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, smoking and lack of physical activity are conditions or habits that we do have control over.
Eating a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol, moderate in sodium, and high in vegetables, fruits and fibers is a great start. Not only will eating in this fashion improve overall health, cholesterol and blood pressure, it can also help to reduce body weight. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake helps to improve blood circulation, reduce blood clots and promote a healthy blood pressure. Increasing physical activity or starting a workout program can contribute to improvements in body weight and over-all health, as well as reduce stress. Another way to keep a healthy heart is through supplementation. Omega 3 fatty acids, co-enzyme Q10, as well as other supplements support and promote overall heart health.
Depression is a condition that many women have, yet few of us will admit to having. For many of us, admitting that we are ‘depressed’ would be equivalent to admitting we are weak or inadequate. This is not the case!
Depression can occur for many different reasons, to anyone at anytime. Research has shown it to be a combination of both biological and environmental factors. Genetics, chemical and hormone imbalances, pregnancy, death of a loved one, stress, social and work pressures, illness and even a change in seasons all are factors that can influence the occurrence of depression. Moreover, simply as women, and for reasons not well understood, we are twice as likely to develop depression as men.
Depression is complicated and can be debilitating. There are various forms of depression which can cause its diagnosis and classification to be challenging. Diagnosis is based on the identification of certain criteria, including depression in mood, that have lasted over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, depression can be episodic in nature, meaning it comes and goes in intensity. Women, as well as men, often down-played these episodes as a ‘natural’ sort of depression or the occasional feelings of sadness that everyone has. Those suffering from depression often withdrawal from activities, family and work, which in the long run can result in a worsening of symptoms.
Though medication and therapy are often the suggested forms of treatment, they are not the only choices available to us. Research has shown that individuals that eat a diet including vegetables, fruits and lean meats have lower risk of developing major depression than those who have diets high in processed foods and fat or diets that are more ‘modern’ or ‘trendy’. Additionally, studies have identified that individuals with sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, are less likely to suffer from depression. Physical activity has been shown to stimulate the body to produce dopamine and other hormones that promote positive feelings, while relaxation exercises help to reduce stress while promoting calmness. Getting plenty of sleep can help the body to restore itself, while spending time with friends and family helps to keep us grounded in what is important.
By nature we, as women, are caregivers. We often allow concern for others to overwhelm and minimize our own needs. Though the idea that we can take care of others while allowing our own bodies to go unattended is noble, it is also self-destructive, and in the truest sense of the word. When a mother, sister, wife or female friend suffers from a health condition those around us also suffer.
We can make a difference for ourselves but getting up, getting out, staying active, eating right and being aware of what our bodies are trying to tell us. No one is a rock, so why act like one?