by Dr. Kim Thorburn

Is there a perfect prescription for staying strong and disease-free? Medical experts agree that creating a healthy lifestyle is a great start. Prevention is the key to living long and well. Steps to a healthy life include eating a balanced diet, getting daily-recommended nutrients such as calcium and vitamins, engaging in regular exercise, not smoking, relieving stress and getting regular medical checkups.

Become a partner with your health care provider: Share your family history, speak up, voice your concerns and always ask questions. Various screening tests, examinations and immunizations are also important. For adult women, these may include a pelvic exam and Pap smear; measuring height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol; a mammogram; a flu shot; testing for diabetes; a bone-density test; and screening for colon cancer. If it's been a while, make an appointment with your health care provider today. You owe it to yourself.

We've known for decades that regular exercise contributes to cardiovascular fitness. There is also growing awareness about the impact of heart disease on women, emphasizing the importance of physical activity for both women and men. More recently, research has shown that, on average, physically active people outlive inactive people. Regular physical activity helps older adults stay independent longer and improves quality of life for people of all ages.

If you're like a lot of people, you know you should exercise more but you may have trouble finding the time and energy for a full workout. The good news is that even a small increase in physical activity can benefit your health. We recommend the "30-10-5" system: 30 minutes a day, 10 minutes at a time, five times per week. The benefits are proven.

We lead busy lives, and it can be hard to get motivated to do more. You may be surprised how many opportunities to exercise you can find in your daily life; for example, dancing, pushing a stroller, taking the stairs, going for a walk on your lunch break, parking a little farther away in parking lots. Consider doing short errands on a bicycle. Try to find ways to add just a little bit of physical activity throughout your daily routine. If you haven't been exercising, start slowly by just stretching or walking for short periods of time.

The advantages of regular physical activity extend beyond heart health. For one, daily activity helps to relieve stress. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, body chemicals that promote a sense of well-being. It also improves sleep patterns - all of which counteract the stresses of balancing family, home and work demands.

For years, the Big Tobacco companies targeted women with marketing messages of glamour. Women joined our male counterparts in lighting up in large numbers, bringing down on us all of the harmful health effects of tobacco use. From poor birth outcomes to cancer, women's health has been impacted. Fortunately, quitting tobacco is easier than it used to be with many proven strategies now available. Washington's quit line at 1 (877) 270-7867 is a good place to start.

Often women think of reproductive health only during their reproductive years, but it should be a consideration throughout the life-span. Prevention is very important to promoting reproductive health. It encompasses sexual health, such as planning pregnancies and practicing safe sex by using condoms and having monogamous relationships. Breast self-exam and periodic pelvic exams, Pap smears, and mammograms also contribute to reproductive health by assisting with early detection of cancers so that they can be treated while cure is still possible.

There may not be a perfect prescription to health, but a lot is in our control. The bottom line is that we need to turn our caregiving inward and take better care of ourselves, beginning today.

Publication date: 09/30/04

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