Melanie Hutchinson, DO, a physician at St. Mary’s Family Medicine North, discusses how women can stay on top of their health.
Q. Why is it important for women to make their health a priority?
A. In primary care, one of the main goals is to modify risk factors and prevent disease. Whether it is caring for an elderly loved one, chasing kids from one activity to another, working a full-time job or any combination of these, it is easy to get caught up in the business of life. I would much rather be proactive than reactive.
Q. What check-ups are important for women?
A. It is important to distinguish between well and sick visits. When one of my patients is ill or develops a new problem, I want to see her for her acute issue. However, I also want to see her when she is feeling well to get a complete picture of her health. Once a problem is recognized, some women need to be seen every three to six months for monitoring.
Women without chronic illness should be seen at least once a year. A “well-woman” exam includes age-appropriate breast and cervical cancer screening, and discussions about abnormal periods, menopause signs and symptoms, family planning and sexual health.
Q. What are healthy diet tips for women as they age?
A. Diets should be varied and include fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein. I favor moderation: Cut out most unhealthy eating but keep a favorite as a treat; have an occasional cheat day and eat smaller portions. Avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks like soda and sweet tea helps prevent weight gain. The USDA website “MyPlate” at choosemyplate.gov is a great resource with recipes for balanced meals and a diet-tracking program.
Q. How much should women exercise to control weight?
A. Regular exercise helps maintain weight and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If a woman wants to lose weight, she needs to burn more calories than she consumes. This entails 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days. However, any amount of physical activity has health benefits at all ages, and in elderly women, decreases the risk of falls.
Q. How can women manage stress?
A. Eating healthy, exercising and adequate sleep helps make us resilient. During stressful times, I encourage women to lean on their support systems and take time for self-care. They may find comfort in a religious leader or joining a support group. Counseling is another option to address specific topics and gain coping mechanisms to help handle future situations.
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