When it comes to preventing diseases that affect women more than men, such as breast cancer and osteoporosis, experts say that it simply comes down to lifestyle choices.
“Our position is that women should concentrate on their health habits,” said Cindy Pearson, executive director of The National Women’s Health Network. “Most women who are middle aged now can expect to live into their 80s.”
Of course, there is a catch of sorts to live that long.
“To be able to keep activity in their daily lives women need to avoid weight gain, keep an eye on blood pressure, stop smoking and eat a range of actual real food, eat healthfully,” said Pearson.
Experts are in agreement on these points: women need to develop these healthy habits as young as possible and maintain them as they age since unhealthy habits such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking, not exercising, and overeating can all lead to a myriad of diseases, including the need for senior home care and home care assistance.
“When you get to how to you avoid risk for cancer and osteoporosis, it’s about when to intervene in a less debilitating way and have a chronic condition and not a death sentence,” said Pearson. “For women who are caregivers, it’s hard to keep those health habits in place.”
What Pearson suggests to all women is to organize their life in a way that supports healthy aging.
“If you’re stressed out and eating bad foods and not getting enough sleep and your only physical activity is taking care of someone else, then it’s going to be diabetes, high blood pressure, being overweight, that’s going to put you on a course to a stroke or a heart attack.”
Whether the concern is high blood pressure or osteoporosis or some other illness, being physically active can have the greatest benefits.
“In general for all those things, don’t smoke and try to stay active and don’t gain weight,” said Pearson. “It’s not just mildly good advice, it’s really good advice for things women are more likely to get.”
The goal of maintaining the healthy habits, Pearson said, is for women to enjoy living on their own and manage well, rather than be incapacitated by illness as an elderly person. According to the Centers for Disease Control only 42 percent of women 18 years and over met the 2008 federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity through leisure-time aerobic activity; 36 percent of women 20 years and over are obese (2005-2008); 33 percent of women 20 years and over have hypertension (2005-2008); the leading causes of death in women were heart disease, cancer, and stroke (2009).
Making changes to prevent women’s illnesses is doable — even for caregivers.
“Find time for yourself, even if it’s just 15 minutes,” said Pearson. “Work it in at the beginning and the end of the day. Just relax, find that place where you let go of the stress.”
Reducing stress can be preventative as a person’s sleep improves from relaxation, blood pressure can go down, and stress hormone levels decrease.
“Too many women, especially those with a care giving responsibility that is not of young children who will grow up and take care of themselves, never get that moment to just unwind,” said Pearson. “So it’s bittersweet advice to simply relax and make time for yourself. To so many it seems like a fantasy to get those moments to themselves.”
To get the needed respite care in order to develop healthy habits and prevent illness, Pearson recommends relying on a friend or family network or finding professional organizations to help out.
For more information about women’s illnesses and specific preventative care, visit the websites for the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health, as well as the National Women’s Health Network.