Alan Tichenal and Joannie Dobbs

Health Options


Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Daily personal time
vital to health

Keeping to our theme for Women's Health Month, this week we focus on the top-priority nutrition and health concerns of adult women. Women, the universal caregivers, typically take care of everyone but themselves. This selfless behavior can backfire on a woman's health if taken to extremes.

Many animal species have this figured out. Animals that live in communities typically place great value on the health and welfare of the adult female. If she becomes weak or ill, the rest of the clan suffers, especially the young.

It is really the same for us. Women need to consider their own health first.

But what does it take for a woman to stay healthy? Perhaps the highest priority should be to put aside some personal time each day.

This could be spent just relaxing and reflecting, exercising, talking with a dear friend, etc. But it should be something that helps to relieve stress. Ideally, it also bolsters feelings of self-esteem and self-worth.

These stress-busting breaks can lower stress hormones that inevitably get cranked up, putting both physical and mental health on the edge.

Here are a few other health concerns that are not entirely unique to women but are especially important for them:

1) Balance "calories in" with "calories out." Doing more of the physical activities that increase "calories out" is much more important than cutting down on "calories in." This primarily includes exercises that keep you moving for at least a half-hour. Adding some strength-training types of exercise a couple of times a week can be a great addition.

Exercising enough allows a woman to eat normal amounts of food. Eating too little can set the stage for health failure. Some women are so restrictive on food intake that they can't even get enough protein to maintain their lean muscle tissue. This lowers their calorie needs and sets them up for weight gain, even with a rather low calorie intake.

2) Eat enough dietary fiber. Fiber does not contain calories but it is beneficial for health. Frequent constipation generally slows anyone down and can cause both short- and long-term health problems that really get you in the gut.

3) Get enough vitamins and minerals. It is best to get vitamins and minerals from a wide variety of wholesome foods, but a low-level multiple vitamin and mineral pill can be an inexpensive insurance policy.

But don't overdo the supplements. There are upper limits that can be toxic.

4) Get adequate iron. About one out of 10 pre-menopausal women have anemia due to iron deficiency. The result can be serious fatigue, frequent chills, even impaired heart function. Since excessive iron can cause similar problems in some people, see a doctor if you think iron is a problem.

5) Get plenty of dietary calcium. Preventing osteoporosis involves many factors, but eating enough high-calcium foods also helps to provide many of the other nutrients needed for healthy bones.

In addition to these health basics, women need to consider long-term health.

Heart disease, stroke and various types of cancers affect women at rates that are similar to men. A focus on prevention, awareness of the health problems that run in your family, and quick detection of a problem can go a long way to set the basics for a long and health-filled life.

A woman needs to eat well, exercise and be happy. A healthy woman can be a more effective caregiver while also having the energy to achieve her own personal goals.

Health Events

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses
indicated by an asterisk in this section.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionist in the
Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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