What Women Need to Know (And DO) About Their Health

by Taru Fisher on July 20, 2017

What is going on with women’s health is both worse and better than you may think. We can do something about the situation and it starts with education.

Bad News

The two leading causes of death in women are still heart disease and cancer. Almost a quarter of women will die of heart disease and a little over one fifth will die a some sort of cancer. The cancer a woman will most likely experience is breast cancer BUT, the cancer she is most likely to die from is lung cancer.

If you look at cardiovascular disease (a bigger category than heart disease), about one third of all women will die as a result of cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association, significantly more women than men will die of cardiovascular disease.

Does that surprise you? It certainly surprised me.

Hover to learn CVD risk factors

Increasing age
High cholesterol
High blood pressure
Obesity and overweight
Mental stress/depression
Physical inactivity
Broken heart syndrome
Pregnancy complications

Heredity (including race). People with family history of the disease have greater risk. So do African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans.


Good News

These two causes of death can be greatly affected by the euphemistic term “lifestyle changes.” The blunt truth is moving more, eating more vegetables and fruits, eating much less processed food and quitting smoking can save your life.

According to the American Heart Association: 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education.

Excellent News

The wonderful news is you don’t have to run marathons, lift weights until you drop, turn into a vegetarian or forego all fun food to make a difference. It truly is easier than you think.

The majority of studies use walking as the form of exercise to measure whether exercise makes a difference. So scientific studies claiming that “exercise” is a “health improver” have studied walking at various paces for various amounts of time.

A number of studies in the last decade have shown that accumulating the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise in bouts of 10 minutes is just as valid as one 30-minute bout of exercise. Other studies have shown that exercise does not need to be done with vigorous effort. Moderate effort is enough.

What is “moderate effort”?
Generally, moderate effort is defined as walking 3-4mph. You don’t have to run or jog. A study from 2001 suggests that even a pace slower than 3-4mph is beneficial – that the time spent walking is more important than the pace. The benefits of walking go up if you increase your pace to “moderate” yet going from sedentary to light effort brings benefits, too.

Heart Disease vs. Cancer

Heart disease affects your cardiovascular system, i.e., your heart and arteries. Heart disease can go on to affect your brain by producing a stroke but you are more than 3 times as likely to die of a heart attack than to die of a stroke. Plus if you take care of your heart and arteries then you are also taking care of your brain.

Since heart disease is cardiovascular in nature that is why walking (a cardiovascular exercise) makes a big difference.

In simple terms, cancer is cells run amok by “forgetting” how to stop dividing with the addition of your immune system being unable to control the renegade cells. Cancer is not one disease but more than 100 different diseases. That’s why “curing cancer” is such a complicated problem and cancer prevention is also complicated.

Doing something about cancer risks

“Epidemiological evidence indicates that avoidance of smoking, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and control of infections will have a major effect on reducing rates of cancer. Other factors include avoidance of intense sun exposure, increases in physical activity, and reduction of alcohol consumption and possibly red meat.”

These are the generally accepted methods for decreasing your risk of cancer. For lung cancer, the number two killer of all women, quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke are at the top of the list.

Exercise might have a beneficial preventative effect on breast cancer but there is less evidence for lung cancer.

Exercise Post Cancer-Diagnosis

“There is now irrefutable evidence from large prospective studies that regular exercise post diagnosis will actually increase survivorship by 50%–60% with the strongest evidence currently for breast and colorectal cancers.”

Exercise, Healthy Eating, Screening

  • Moderate exercise – walking at 3-4mph for 30 minutes most days of the week
  • Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables – the recommendations for how much run a wide range depending on who you are talking to and your body type and weight. Here are some general recommendations:
    • Serving sizes:(American Heart Association)
      • Vegetables: 1 cup equivalent of vegetables is 1 cup raw vegetable or vegetable juice, 2 cups leafy salad greens
      • Fruits: 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup fruit or ½ cup of fruit juice (orange juice, etc).
    • Number of servings: “between five and 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This is equivalent to about 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups daily, depending on the amount of calories you need to consume for your weight and level of activity.”
  • Screenings are just as important as exercise and healthy eating. Screening information can tell you about things you really don’t know are going on in your body. Health Screens and Tests for Women is a collection of tests and screenings recommended by WebMD and broken out by age. Check them out and see where you stand.

As for strength training…

Strength training addresses many insidious health issues like osteoporosis, falls, diabetes, mobility/frailty, arthritis, depression, cognitive impairment, even self-confidence. My favorite is: quality of life.

These things don’t outright kill you but they lead to problems that eventually do shorten your life. Can you get by without strength training? I grudgingly admit many women do, but at what cost?

After watching my 70 year-old mother progress to 95 years with strength training, I want strength training to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.

P.S. She still lives by herself and takes care of herself.


Image Attributions
"Woman In Hat On Beach" Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"Pathway In The Forest Made Of Wood" Image courtesy of Yongkiet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"Fruits And Vegetables" Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"Yes No Buttons Shows Accept Or Refuse" Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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