Women—they do a great job of caring for others but not always for themselves. National Women’s Health Week was this month, and women were asked to make their own health a priority.
What does it mean to be a well woman? It means being as healthy as you can, and taking more steps to improve your physical and mental health. This can be achieved through the four following steps: get active; eat healthy; get enough sleep; manage stress through recreation, social support, meditation, mindfulness.
First, tell yourself you have the time to be active. Then walk, jog, bike, or play a sport for 10 minutes a day; use stairs instead of the elevator; join an office or community sports league; and set specific short-term goals, and reward yourself when you achieve them.
A balanced diet is the first building block of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, low-fat dairy and lean protein. But women also have additional needs, including iron-rich foods such as red meat, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, kale, spinach, beans, lentils and fortified breads and cereals; folic acid during reproductive years; and daily requirements for calcium, which keeps bones strong and prevents osteoporosis, found in foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, sardines, tofu (if made with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified juices and cereals.
Getting the right amount of sleep is vital, but just as important is the quality of your sleep. These tips can improve your quality of sleep: exercise regularly, but not right before bed; don’t drink alcohol at bedtime; don’t just lie there — if you wake and can’t fall back asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed; establish regular bed and wake times; make dietary changes with less or no caffeine and alcohol; and improve your sleep environment so it’s restful.
Mindfulness and meditation can benefit women of any age, whether it’s to relieve the stress of a multi-tasking mom or reducing the symptoms of menopause. Evidence shows that mindfulness can increase life enjoyment by expanding the ability to cope with illness, and benefiting physical and emotional health. Focusing the mind can be an antidote to the stresses of everyday living.
Try paying attention to your breath for 15 minutes a day or even at shorter intervals if you need to. Consider focusing breathing when you stop at red light, just before you pick up the phone or answer an email. Before you go to sleep and when you wake up, take a couple “mindful” breaths. Find a task that you do impatiently or unconsciously and concentrate on the experience in a mindful manner.
Making your own health a priority for a few minutes a day can help you live a healthier life. Those who love you will be glad you did.
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Marnie Blount-Gowan teaches meditation and mindfulness and is a member of the Crouse Hospital Integrated Health Alliance in Syracuse.