From Generations Magazine Seventh Issue
By Lannette M. Fetzer
Women are the foundation of the family. They have meticulous trouble shooting abilities, excellent critical thinking skills, and often place the needs of others before their own. The goal of this article is to assist women in achieving their optimal state of health. Additionally, it will raise awareness for age specific screenings.
The first step towards achieving an optimal state of health at any age is to believe in yourself. As the famous quote by Roy T. Bennett states “Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you imagine.” Another step in achieving your optimal state of health is engaging in preventive medicine. The American College of Preventive Medicine defines preventive medicine as the focus on the health of individuals, communities, and defined populations. Its goal is to protect, promote, and maintain health and well-being and to prevent disease, disability, and death. Preventive measures for women should include exercise, healthy nutrition, self-breast exams, annual physicals, dental, and eye exams, age appropriate screenings and vaccinations.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) state that regular annual examinations provide an excellent opportunity to counsel patients about preventive care and when necessary refer for recommended services. These assessments should include screening, evaluation, counseling, and immunizations and vary based on a patient’s age and risk factors. These recommendations serve as a framework for care which may be provided by a single primary care provider or a team of health care professionals and should be adapted as necessary to meet each patient’s needs. The scope of services provided by the health care provider fluctuate from practice to practice. Fundamental to a person’s health is an understanding of one’s family history. The USPSTF website offers 99 entries for women and screenings. They can be viewed at: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/BrowseRec/Index.
Each decade of life requires specific annual physicals that could be lifesaving. They serve as a strong baseline for future wellbeing, empowering the patient to make informed decisions about their health. Prior to an annual exam, the patient should prepare in advance any questions. Keeping in mind that they are the expert about their body. Clinicians are in a greater position to help when armed with pertinent information pertaining to their patient’s health and family history. Further, patient compliance plays a major role in optimal outcomes of medical recommendations. If it means stop eating the sweets and get regular exercise, then do it. Often, people may say “The doctor didn’t help me.” If you feel that way, ask yourself “What have I done to promote my own health?” Providers do their best in helping their patients, however they can only do so much. It is up to the patient to put the plan into action. Equally important, always check with you primary care provider before starting any exercise program, diets, vitamins, supplements, and alternative medicines.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend age specific vaccinations. Vaccines play a pivotal role in preventing disease and infections as well as promoting health. “Vaccine-preventable infections are dangerous. Every year, approximately 50,000 U.S. adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. (National Foundation for Preventing Disease 2019).” You may view the CDC’s age appropriate recommended vaccines on their website.
A pivotal age for focusing on healthy behaviors and lifestyle for young women can begin as early as age 13. During this time, the body is having a plethora of changes, including increased hormone production, physical and mental changes, and formation of self-body image. This is a time when young women should have a female mentor to guide them through milestones. Annual exams for women 13 to 18 years old include early screenings, which in conjunction with laboratory tests may be a precursor for a woman’s future health.
If a woman decides to become pregnant, preconception and prenatal health care are important and necessary steps to a healthy outcome. Scheduling an exam with a gynecologist, midwife, or primary care physician/provider (PCP) is essential. They are the experts and will provide information and education on a healthy lifestyle. For example, in the preconception phase, the CDC recommends 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily for a month in the prevention of major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine (Planning for Pregnancy | Preconception Care | CDC. (CDC, 2018).
For women ages 26 to 35 is considered an athletic time. A woman’s strength peaks at age 25 and her bone mass will peak at age 30 with a healthy diet, Vitamin D and calcium supplements, and exercise. Consider this, the average elite marathon runner is age 28! Again, annual health examinations include breast screening, vision, and dental screening. After the age of 30 women begin to lose muscle mass and function, referred to as sarcopenia. Heavily supported by evidenced-based research, the best way to treat sarcopenia is through exercise, specifically resistance and strength training. With exercise, the body naturally increases production of vital hormones that improve overall health. Some of those benefits including, weight loss, increased energy, feeling healthier, increase muscle tone and mass, improved skin, improved cognitive functioning, reduction of pain, improved relaxation and sleep, better sex, and most importantly reduction of chronic illnesses.
Women ages 36-65 are at a very busy, productive time in their life. Whether it is taking care of their own family or taking care of their parents (or both), often women become very consumed with the care of others. During this age, self-care is crucial. Schedule time in your day for you to have one on one time with yourself! Learn gentle yoga, practice meditation, go for a walk, or just sit down with a good book and a cup of tea for relaxation. It is okay to be selfish. Make it a point to schedule annual exams, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and if over 50, schedule a colonoscopy.
Women ages 66-80 may notice fewer life distractions and notice more time for themselves. “Sexual satisfaction among women rises with age, a recent University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine study found. In this study, two-thirds of sexually active women (with a median age of 67) were moderately or very satisfied with their sex lives. Unfortunately, this age group is at an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, falls, osteopenia, and osteoarthritis. Risk factors for osteoporosis include low body weight, excessive alcohol consumption, current smoking, long-term corticosteroid use, previous fractures, and history of falls within the past year. The USPSTF updated its 2011 recommendation for osteoporosis screening, recommending that women over the age of 65 years continue to get screened while issuing new information about how clinicians should use screening tools to evaluate women younger than 65 years who are at high risk for developing the bone disease. Unfortunately, this age is also at an increased risk of aneurysms and cancer. Again, annual health checks and routine screenings with a PCP can aid in early detection and prevention.
Women age 80 and over kudos to you!! Continue with annual exams and recommended screenings. Share with peers, younger women, and others the wisdom and life experiences that have worked well for you! The knowledge you have is priceless! Most importantly, never lose your enthusiasm for life. “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” – Sophia Loren
There may be times when we feel vulnerable, are introduced to unpleasant and challenging situations and feel like giving up. When this happens, try your best to handle the situation carefully with a diplomatic, astute approach. Our perception to the challenge and how one reacts is very important in determining the outcome. Handle these challenges with a calm demeanor. Be gentle with yourself and reach out for support. Having a support system in place is as essential as preventive care. Understand that advances in medicine take place every day. If needed, reach out to a mental health provider to seek an expert consultation.
Be a strong woman, mentor and guide others. One of my favorite quotes is this: “Strong women build each other up, it’s the weak ones who tear each other down.” Author unknown. Another favorite: “A strong woman loves, forgives, walks away, lets go, tries again, and perseveres… no matter what life throws at her.” – Author unknown.
Collins-Bride, G. M., Saxe, J. M., Duderstadt, K. G., & Kaplan, R. (2017). Clinical Guidelines For Advanced Practice Nursing: An Interprofessional (3rd ed). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Hollier, A. (2016). Clinical Guidelines In Primary Care (2nd ed). Scott, LA: Advanced Practice Education Associates, Inc.
CDC Recommended Vaccines, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/adult/adult-schedule-easy-read.pdf
CDC Women’s Healthy Living Age: Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-living-age
Planning for Pregnancy: Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/planning.html)
- Believe in yourself
- See your PCP annually and as needed for illness/concerns
- Practice compliance with PCP recommendations
- Eat healthy and get plenty of sleep
- Exercise, strength train, and walk often
- Protect your skin, use the sunscreen
- Smoking/tobacco cessation is imperative
- Always demonstrate good character and conduct
- Support, encourage, and empower other women
- Be optimistic, listen/read inspirational material