The following is part one of a five-part excerpt of the new book, Women’s Health for Life (DK 2009). Women’s Health for Life is a unique compilation of women’s health information, designed to help women optimize their health, well-being, and quality of life. Edited by women’s health expert and advocate, Dr. Donnica Moore, this book is team written by women physicians for women readers. It discusses topics from contraception to infertility; migraines to menopause; cervical cancer to colon cancer; and heartburn to heart disease. While many readers will want to read this book from start to finish, it provides easy access to specific information when it’s needed. Uniquely, this book provides clear illustrations, graphs, and charts making it as easily understood as a cookbook. While, there is no single “recipe” for good health, the many ingredients are discussed in this book’s 16 chapters. Organized by bodily system, each chapter starts out with an explanation of how that system works and ways to maintain healthy function through diet, exercise, and other self-help measures. This is followed by an explanation of some of the medical conditions affecting that particular system and how they should be treated, focusing specifically on recommendations for women. To order Women’s Health for Life from amazon.com, click here
The following segment is taken from Chapter 2, “Understanding the Changes” which gives a decade-by-decade overview of the physiologic and psychologic changes women experience as we age. It also serves to remind us of the common sense rules of health that many of us are liable to forget. Much of that information is given in the section focusing on the 20’s, so don’t skip over this, even if you’re older!
The moment you are conceived, the stage is set for a life of individuality. The genes you inherit from your parents distinguish you from everybody else on the planet, unless you’re an identical twin! These genes contribute to who you are, what you look like, what your constitution is, and what diseases you may inherit. At the same time, your changing environment-everything from your time as a developing fetus in your mother’s uterus and as a newborn infant in the cradle, to the hormonal merry-go-round of your adolescence-contributes not only to your health but also to the kind of illnesses from which you may suffer. These two influences-your genes and your environment-make up the two components of the “nature versus nurture” discussion. Together, they determine the essence of your mental and physical well-being. This is also the melting pot from which psychologists draw the biophysical/social model to explain the workings of mental health. But while we know that genes and environment are extremely important, both can be influenced tremendously-both positively or negatively-by the crucial lifestyle choices that we make.
Women differ from men in many ways but one of the most distinctive is the way we age. Women go through unique stages in life and experience particular changes, not only based upon our reproductive and hormonal status but also the kind of health problems associated with the various decades of our lives. On average, women in the US live six years longer than men. Yet, as time goes by, we also tend to suffer from more chronic illnesses and take more medication.
Usually, when you read or hear the term “the change” in conjunction with women’s health, you think about menopause. Yet there are many other age-related transitions that women experience, such as reaching the “magic age” of 35. These changes are not always dictated by age per se, but by when-or if-you choose to start a family. As this chapter shows, these transitions are also linked to the development of any acute or chronic medical problems you may have. These problems may affect your risk of developing other illnesses in the future, your need for additional preventive measures, or your need for further diagnostic or health screening surveillance checkups.
Prevention is better than cure Age inevitably causes a physical decline and your risk of developing certain disease, such as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis, increases. Using a decade-by-decade approach, this chapter looks at the typical changes in women’s bodies as we age, the health risk factors associated with each decade, and our changing nutritional needs. However, not all diseases have risks that depend on age, so the chapter offers many tips and tests for prevention and for taking care of your health. Recommended checkups and screening tests begin in your 20s and should continue throughout your life. If the list of what you need appears to mount from your 30s onward, don’t be dismayed! These are just precautions. You may feel healthy now, but many medical conditions can be prevented or treated more effectively if they are caught early. These issues are discussed further in this chapter along with tips of good health habits (which will be discussed in our next excerpt) and re are suggested questions to ask your doctor as you start each decade.
Whatever your age and whatever your circumstances, the best way to minimize any health risks and prevent many problems from developing is to adopt healthy habits. And remember two things: first, even taking small steps toward improving your health is better than doing nothing at all; and second, it’s never too late to start improving your health.