Women’s Health 2012
David A. Johnson, DC, PT, DPT
Director of Clinics at
North Shore Spinal and Sports Rehabilitation
Women have unique health needs and much like men require a balanced approach to these needs. Proper diet, exercise and rest are key to remaining healthy for all human beings. This paper will briefly outline the basic components, which can be pursued by all women to achieve optimum health.
There is only one diet that has stood the test of time as well as medical scrutiny and that is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet consists of most of its calories coming from vegetable sources, a lean protein source like fish and a sprinkling of olive oil as a healthy monounsaturated fat source. This diet is best eaten in multiple small meals with an individual eating five to six smaller meals throughout the day. The diet steers one away from refined sugars/carbohydrates, trans fats and saturated fats. Lean red meat should be avoided but can be eaten during the menstrual cycle to replenish a woman’s iron levels. Water is also key to a good diet and one should consume at least eight 8 oz. glasses per day. A glass of red wine is permissible, but only a single glass and not if there is any chance that the woman is pregnant.
To supplement or not to supplement that is the question. The answer is women only need to supplement with calcium and vitamin D if they don’t get it in their diets and with outdoor sun exposure. Young women from age 9-18 need 1300 mg of calcium per day and probably get enough vitamin D if they play outside 20-30 minutes per day. Women age 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium per day. Women age 19-70 need 600 IU of vitamin D per day whereas woman older than 70 need 800 IU of vitamin D per day. Woman older than age 51 should get 1200 mg of calcium per day. In my opinion a calcium citrate magnesium complex with vitamin D is the most absorbable, so read the labels and get this preparation. Though calcium supplementation alone has not been shown as a good treatment for osteoporosis it is probably good as a preventative measure particularly if it is started before adolescents.
The only other supplement a woman might consider is fish oil. The fish oil should be cholesterol free, mercury free and PCB free. I personally take 1000 mg per day. I do this to try and shift my diet away from one high in omega 6 oils to one high in omega 3 oils. This could be accomplished with diet, but I find it easier to supplement.
The number one killer of women in the United States is heart disease. The best way to prevent heart disease is to have a good diet and to participate in daily aerobic exercise. I recommend daily aerobic exercise in the form of walking to many of my patients. Twenty-thirty minutes of brisk walking are all one needs to build and maintain good cardiovascular health. The pace should be conversational while maintaining a moderate level of exertion. Any other form of aerobic exercise is also good like running, cycling, aerobic dance and swimming. These forms of exercise may require that you cross train with other forms, so as not to cause an overuse injury. It is important to pick forms of exercise that you enjoy so you actually exercise on a regular basis.
Stretching is reported to help prevent injuries, though this has never actually been shown to be the case in medical literature. In my opinion you should stretch major muscle groups 1-2 x 30 seconds each day. The groups to stretch regularly are the gastrocnemius (calf muscles), hamstrings (back of the thigh), quadriceps (the front of the thigh), the hip flexors, the pectoral group (chest), the deltoids (shoulder) and the triceps/latisimus dorsi (the back and back of the arm). Never bounce when you stretch but rather hold the stretch at the most tension you can tolerate for 30 seconds and breath trying to relax into the stretch.
Falls in the elderly can be lethal. Falls are the number one cause of hip fracture in the elderly. Falls can be prevented. Balance training by practicing standing on one foot 2-3 times per day for 30 seconds may help prevent falls. Taking a Tai Chi class may also be helpful. Throwing out the throw rugs, using night-lights and never walking on hardwood floors while wearing socks are also good ideas to help prevent falls.
This is my personal favorite form of exercise. I have been training with weights since I was 13 years old and it helped to make me into the athlete I once was. When I was younger, women did not strength train. I am glad to say that this has changed. To help prevent osteoporosis women need to do resistance training. I like to see women focus on four key exercises: the dead-lift (it sounds worse than it is), the squat, the bench and the row. These are the key exercises that will build good core strength and help to maintain good bone density. Strength training should only be done 3-4 times per week with one to two days of recovery time in between workouts. 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions are all that is needed of each exercise. With weight training, form is everything and there are a lot of good books and trainers who can help the novice.
One cannot over estimate the restorative value of a good night’s sleep. I recommend eight hours per night on average. Children will need more depending on whether they are in a growth spurt or not. If you lose a night’s sleep, you cannot make it up, so don’t lose it. Cultures that take naps may actually be healthier than those that do not. People that work night shifts actually have shorter life expectancies, so get your sleep.
Hurray for the Dalai Lama! Meditation works and there is good science to back this statement up. It is the best way to calm your mind, reset serotonin levels, lower blood pressure, normalize respiration and reduce stress. I have been practicing this art twenty minutes a day for the last decade and I can’t begin to tell you the difference it has made in my life. Meditation is a healthy answer to dealing with stress. With the stresses of modern life crushing down on most women, daily meditation may be the key to releasing the stress and living in a more balanced fashion.
The word is out, smoking kills. If you do smoke quit, if you don’t never start. Smoking leads to heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer. It prematurely ages all of the body’s cells and can make a young girl look like a much older woman in a very short period of time. It is to be avoided at all costs.
The above is a small treatise on what women can do to enjoy better health. It explored proper diet, exercise and restful recovery. These simple things can help any woman achieve better health. Adopt these elements into your life and you are sure to benefit. The more you adopt the healthier you will be. The rewards of good health are immeasurable and they are each woman’s for the taking.