Heart disease top health issue for Boomer-age women

In modern medicine, thankfully, there is no “one size fits all” approach to helping patients stay healthy. Even in women’s health, social differences and age-related physical stages shape every individual’s personal health status and needs.

For many female baby boomers, defined by most as between 46 and 64 years old, health often starts to be more of a priority than ever before. Women realize the better they take care of themselves, the better their quality of life, and they are willing to take steps to be their healthiest.

In my practice, these are the top eight health concerns among my boomer-aged female patients.

1. Heart disease is the leading killer in women, and risk increases dramatically after menopause. What can you do to prevent heart disease?

Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke; eat a well-balanced diet; maintain a healthy weight; exercise at least 30 minutes a day; treat blood pressure and cholesterol; diagnose and treat diabetes; and treat depression

2. Weight management. Today, half of all women are overweight and one-third are obese. Excess weight increases risk for arthritis, breast and endometrial cancers, heart disease, incontinence and more. Consider these actions if you need to lose weight:

• Exercise. Find activities you enjoy, such as sports, dancing, hiking and biking

• Eat a balanced diet of non-processed foods that are low in fat

• Don’t buy into fad diets and easy solutions

• Eat at home, where you’re in control

3. Osteoporosis causes weak and brittle, easily breakable bones. Women are especially vulnerable after menopause. How can you prevent it?

Get adequate calcium and Vitamin D; engage in regular, weight-bearing physical activity; don’t smoke; minimize alcohol intake; reduce the risk of falls; and ask your doctor about drug therapy and a bone density scan

4. Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the second leading cause of cancer death. You can’t avoid certain risk factors, such as gender, aging, family history and ethnicity. But there are things you can do to help prevent breast cancer: limit alcohol intake; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy weight; and get regular mammograms.

5. Cervical cancer can occur at any age. Risk factors include history of infections such as HPV, HIV and chlamydia, smoking and taking oral contraceptives. Women with family history and multiple full-term pregnancies are also at increased risk. There is little you can do to prevent cervical cancer, so have regular Pap smears, which can catch it early.

6. Urinary Incontinence. Lack of bladder control is not life-threatening, but it can have a significant, negative impact on quality of life. Risk factors include pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, decreased mobility, aging and bladder infections. Don’t accept urinary incontinence as a fact of life; there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can improve the condition: eat a high-fiber diet; drink plenty of fluids; don’t smoke; limit caffeine and alcohol; treat constipation; maintain a healthy weight; and ask your doctor about pelvic-floor-focused physical therapy

7. Menopause usually occurs in women between the ages of 45 and 55. Many women experience symptoms related to menopause, but you can reduce symptoms if you: exercise; avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods; dress lightly and in layers; get adequate calcium and vitamin D; try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi or meditation; use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse; and talk to your doctor about hormone therapy.

8. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in women. Risk factors you can’t avoid are family history, inflammatory bowel disease and age. Early detection is important for effective treatment, and colonoscopy can treat and screen colon cancer if it is found early. A few things to do for prevention: eat a high-fiber diet; decrease red meat; exercise and maintain a healthy weight; don’t smoke; and minimize alcohol intake.

The Overlap

My best advice to all my female patients is to keep informed about the health conditions for which they may be at particular risk, and then focus on being healthy overall. Note the overlap in lifestyle habits that help prevent any disease. Develop these universally healthy habits:

• Exercise

• Don’t smoke

•Limit alcohol intake

• Eat a well balanced diet

• Maintain a healthy body weight

Dr. Tanya Wilke is a board-certified family physician who specializes in women’s health. She practices at Enumclaw Medical Center, a part of the Franciscan Medical Group.

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