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IMG_20140930_083909_lowThis is a guest post by Kristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.

In the U.S., October has become known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everyone from President Obama to NFL players to celebrities show their support by wearing pink. But, did you know there are other months that represent additional (and equally as important) women’s health issues? There is Cervical Health Awareness Month in January, National Endometriosis Awareness Month in March and Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month in April, among many others. The goal of these programs is to educate women about conditions they may be at risk for, explain available testing options and share prevention tips and resources.

Nurse talking with patient.

There’s good reason that organization including the American Heart Association, Susan G. Komen and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are committed to putting the spotlight on women’s wellness all year. The CDC estimates that 13 percent of women over the age of 18 are in poor health. The leading causes of death in women are heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease.

In recognition of women’s health issues this month, I’ve highlighted 10 ways women can maintain good health to feel their best and reduce their risk of several chronic conditions and diseases.

1. Get regular checkups for health screenings and vaccines
Ask your doctor how often you should be seen for a routine checkup and make sure you to address any health concerns or questions you may have during the appointment. Tell your doctor if you are feeling sad, lonely, or like you don’t have the interest or energy in doing things you once enjoyed. Visit for an age-based table with recommended screenings.

2. Get Moving!
Breaking a sweat is good for your physical as well as mental health. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day can lower your risk of heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, depression, breast cancer and colon cancer.

3. Know your numbers
Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) and blood sugar levels. Knowing and monitoring these numbers will give you a baseline and important information about your heart health. Talk to your doctor to find out what they mean.

4. Eat heart-healthy food
Eat low-cholesterol foods, such as fruits and vegetables; whole-grain breads and other foods; low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk and dairy products; nuts, seeds and beans; and moderate amounts of skinless poultry and fish. Make sure the foods you are eating are rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, protein and fiber, and low in saturated fat, trans-fat and total fat. Limit red meat, salt, sweets and sugary drinks in your diet.

5. Maintain a healthy body weight
The more overweight you are, the higher your risk of heart disease. Being overweight or obese also raises your chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, stroke, breathing problems, arthritis, gallbladder disease and some kinds of cancer. Talk to your doctor and use a BMI chart to determine a healthy weight for you. Safe weight-loss programs set a goal of slow weight loss – one to two pounds per week.

6.Be safe when drinking alcohol
Your body responds differently with alcohol as you age, and many medicines do not mix well with adult beverages Make sure you discuss your alcohol use and the medicines you are taking with your doctor. Too much alcohol can damage the heart muscle, leading to heart failure.

7. Stay connected to your social network
You can protect yourself from isolation and depression by interacting with others. Get involved with work groups, volunteer, in your community or pick up a new hobby. Depression, anxiety, and anger have all been shown to increase your chances of developing or dying of heart disease.

8. Stop smoking!
Smokers have twice the risk of dying from heart disease as nonsmokers. After 15 years of not smoking, past smokers’ risk of heart disease is similar to those who have never smoked.

9. Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
These infections can damage reproductive organs and make it hard to get pregnant or cause problems during pregnancy. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for women 13 through 26 years of age if they didn’t get the vaccine when they were younger. Everyone aged 13 to 64 years should be tested routinely for HIV infection. Talk to your doctor about how often you should get tested for HIV.

10. Rest and recharge.
In today’s world, getting enough sleep is hard to do. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep to feel well rested during the day. Sleeping five hours or less each night doubles the risk of high blood pressure for people between the ages of 32 and 59.

Want to learn more? Check out these additional resources on women’s health:

[small]The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions.[/small]

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