International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th to honour the social, economic, and political achievements of women. This day serves as a reminder of the importance of gender equality and the need to address the challenges and barriers that women face around the world.
Martin Luther King famously said – ‘Of all the forms of inequality injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane‘~ Martin Luther King
One of the critical areas that remains a concern even today is women’s well-being and health. PCOS, Thyroid diseases are rampant – especially among urban working-class women. Women are 2-3 times more likely to develop an autoimmune disease than men. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases; about 75% of autoimmune diseases occur in women. Breast cancer, Cervical cancer, Osteoporosis (weak bones) and reproductive health etc all areas of concern, when it comes to women’s health. On this International Women’s Day, let us look at some essential tips that can help women maintain good health and lead fulfilling lives.
A healthy and balanced diet helps to prevent chronic diseases, maintain a healthy weight, and promote overall well-being. It is crucial to consume a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Additionally, women should aim to limit their intake of processed foods, saturated fats, and added sugars. Women have unique nutritional needs that differ from men due to various physiological differences such as hormonal changes, menstruation, and pregnancy. Therefore, it is essential to keep in mind the following points when it comes to diet for women:
- Calcium & vitamin D: Women need adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D to support healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. They are more prone to osteoporosis (weak bones) around and after Menopause. Foods rich in calcium include milk, yoghurt, cheese, and leafy greens. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, fortified cereals, and exposure to sunlight.
- Iron-rich foods: Women need more iron than men due to blood loss during menstruation. Good sources of iron include red meat, poultry, fish, beans, and leafy greens.
- Folate: Folate, also known as Vit-B9, is essential for women of childbearing age as it helps to prevent birth defects. This is the reason the gynaec immediately starts pregnant women on folic acid tablets. Foods rich in folate include pomegranate, leafy greens, beans & citrus fruits.
Apart from the above, certain other nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health and may also help to reduce the risk of depression. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Fiber is yet another important nutrient to support healthy digestion and prevent constipation. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are all good sources of fiber. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene are great additions to a woman’s diet as it can help to protect against cancer and other chronic diseases. Good sources of antioxidants include turmeric, berries, citrus fruits, nuts, and leafy greens.
Magnesium is yet another micronutrient that women often fall short off. Magnesium deficiency causes muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, anxiety and even depression! Nuts and seeds like almonds and pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado, whole grains etc are all good sources of magnesium
Think of exercises, many restrict it to just aerobics! While cardio exercises are essential for maintaining cardiovascular health, combining them with weight training and yoga can provide even more significant health benefits for women. Weight training, in particular, can help to improve bone mineral density, which is crucial for women, who are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men. Additionally, weight training can reduce insulin resistance, which can help women manage conditions such as PCOS and other hormonal issues. Weight training does not make a woman look manly or bulky; it makes the person more toned and with better lean body mass and endurance!
Meanwhile, yoga provides a range of benefits, including improved flexibility, strength, and stress reduction. By incorporating all three types of exercise, viz. – cardio, weight training and yoga, into their fitness routine, women can enjoy a well-rounded workout that promotes overall health and well-being.
Common Health Conditions & Management
In most cases, a person suffering from PCOS will also be either overweight or have bad body composition i.e., lower muscle mass and higher fat mass. Reducing body fat while preserving lean muscle mass is very important and hence, it is important not to get into a crash diet. A sensible calorie-deficit diet with weight training is immensely helpful in managing PCOS.
A person with PCOS can eat 500 calories less than the total energy requirement in the day, and also make sure that carbohydrate calories are not more than 50% of the total calories. Include a lot of fibre (vegetables) & lean protein whenever carbs are consumed, thereby keeping a check on the insulin spike that leads to excess testosterone production.
Some women make the mistake of completely cutting out dietary fat from their diet, being scared of ‘fat making them fatter’! While fat is indeed dense in calories, it is extremely important to include the right amount of fat in the diet – and more so for Women’s Health! This is because dietary fat is crucial for proper hormonal balance and to absorb many micronutrients like Vit -A, Vit-D, Vit-E, Vit-K, etc., from the food we eat. The sex hormones are all steroid-based hormones and are essentially similar to fat hence, the right amount of dietary fat is extremely crucial. However, it is also very important to understand that some fats are good for the body, while some are not! As far as a person with PCOS is concerned, one should include more MUFA (Monounsaturated fat) in the diet. Some examples are almonds, nuts, avocados, olive oil, etc.
A proper nutrition plan with the right kind of exercise – especially weight training can help in reducing weight and perhaps even improving thyroid functioning (depending on the root cause). Those with hypothyroidism are usually asked to stay away from certain kinds of vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, kale, etc! The mentioned vegetables are also called cruciferous vegetables or goitrogenic vegetables because it interferes with thyroid functioning.
That said, these vegetables are also good sources of many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Hence, instead of completely avoiding them, it will be a better idea to include them in moderation. However, make sure they are thoroughly cooked and not eaten as a salad or half cooked. This is because most of the goitrogenic properties of these vegetables are destroyed in the process of cooking and high heat. Apart from iodine, including food rich in selenium is also beneficial for thyroid health. Brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, sunflower seeds, eggs, spinach and other leafy greens are all good sources of selenium.
Menopause is a normal part of ageing, and it usually happens after 40 years when the ovaries stop/reduce producing the oestrogen & progesterone hormones and the ovulation stops. While this is a natural phenomenon, women go through a huge change both physically and psychologically during this period. Hot flashes, mood swings, depression, headache, insomnia, etc., are common symptoms around this time. Women are also more prone to osteoporosis, heart disease, and muscle loss after menopause.
Since oestrogen levels drop significantly during menopause, women are more prone to osteoporosis. Include food such as dairy products, meat, and fish that are rich in calcium, Vit-D, and phosphorus for bone health. Omega-3 fatty acids (Fish oil capsules) can reduce inflammation and hot flashes, apart from even fighting depression and improving mood. Include antioxidant-rich food as they reduce the effect of ageing. Phytoestrogen (plant oestrogen such as isoflavones) containing food such as soy chunks, peanuts, chickpeas, etc., may also relieve the symptoms of menopause. Further, reduce the intake of alcohol, caffeine, high sodium, and spicy food.
Exercise during and after menopause offers great benefits. Women tend to lose muscles during menopause, and they are more prone to gaining body fat. Exercise also evokes the pleasure centres of the brain and produces happy hormones – serotonin and dopamine which are amazing mood elevators. A combination of aerobic, strength training & yoga will do wonders – especially during the perimenopausal stage and beyond.
Read More: Menopause & Fitness
Breast cancer and cervical cancer are two of the most common types of cancer that affect women. Although the exact causes of breast cancer are still unknown, several factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease, including age, genetics, and lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and physical inactivity. Early detection and treatment are crucial for the successful treatment of breast cancer, and regular mammograms and breast self-exams can help with early detection.
Cervical cancer, on the other hand, is highly preventable through routine screening and vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that can cause cervical cancer. Routine Pap smears can help detect cervical cancer in its early stages when it is highly treatable.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption will help to reduce the risk of developing these cancers
Autoimmune diseases are a group of conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body, leading to inflammation and damage to various organs and tissues. While autoimmune diseases can affect anyone, they are more prevalent in women, with an estimated 80% of people with autoimmune diseases being female. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases that affect women include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The exact causes of autoimmune diseases are still unknown, but several factors, including genetics, hormones, and environmental factors, can play a role in their development. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing autoimmune diseases, as they can cause significant damage to the body if left untreated. Women with autoimmune diseases should work closely with their healthcare providers to develop a treatment plan that meets their unique needs and helps manage their symptoms. This may include medications, lifestyle changes, and regular monitoring to prevent flare-ups and complications.
Read More: Autoimmune Diseases
Women face unique health challenges throughout their lives, from puberty to menopause and beyond. By prioritizing regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, and getting routine check-ups and screenings, women can take steps to protect their health and well-being. Lifestyle changes should focus on reducing inflammation and thereby improving the quality of life. Adequate sleep, proper nutrition that is rich in fruits & vegetables, and lean protein, coupled with routine exercises will dramatically improve the quality of life.
NuvoVivo is an online health and fitness company that helps its client manage lifestyle diseases. Our clients join us from across the world to manage or reverse conditions such as diabetes (and its complications), cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, high cholesterol), fatty liver, PCOS, thyroid disorders, IBS etc. We help them reduce their reliance on medications through structured and scientific lifestyle changes that suit their cultural habits and medical conditions. Our team provides a diet plan, exercise plans and the necessary follow-up and support in helping them achieve this
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